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What should be in an employee personnel file?

What should be in an employee personnel file?

Every business needs to keep employee personnel records. However, knowing what needs to be kept and for how long can be confusing. We have outlined everything you need to know about managing your employees’ records below, along with a useful personnel file checklist for businesses in the UK.


What is an employee personnel file and why do you need it?

An employee personnel file is the main employee file that contains a full history of the employment relationship from the start through to the exit interview and employment termination date.

It’s important to have all of this information stored in one place so it’s easy to find any relevant details about their role and responsibilities. These documents will protect you in the case of a claim against your business, as the employee file serves as a record of what support and treatment the employee received within the business.

Who needs access to employee personnel files?

Only HR and the employee’s manager/supervisor need access to the information in an employee’s personnel file and it should be kept securely. Managing access to employee records is a key requirement of GDPR in the UK.

Scanning employee records and storing them digitally

The confidentiality of the employee information in the personnel file is really important, so files should be locked away unless in use. Digitally scanning HR files and storing them securely off-site is the most secure method. Digital files have greater security over paper records as they can be password protected – they are backed up, too, preventing loss of data. Storing them off site also creates room in the office and there’s no need to buy multiple filing cabinets.

Employee personnel files are also some of the most frequently accessed records, and they can be found and retrieved more quickly when stored digitally from any device. For reasons of accessibility and data security, we would always recommend scanning employee records and password protecting the digital copies via document management software.

Most common contents of an employee personnel file

The following list is a recommendation on what documentation an employer should keep in an employee personnel file:

From the recruitment process

  • Job description and a copy of the advert
  • Job application
  • Cover letter and CV
  • Full notes from the interview
  • References and employment verification
  • DBS and background checks
  • A copy of the job offer letter

Throughout their employment

  • Emergency contact details
  • Any signed contract, written agreement or acknowledgement between the employee and the employer (such as a non-compete agreement or employment contract).
  • Signed employee handbook
  • Probation documents
  • Leave records
  • Tax codes and statements
  • Relocation agreements and relevant documentation

Development and performance documents

  • Training documents and certifications
  • Performance appraisals and development plans
  • Promotion documents and letters of variation
  • Notes on attendance
  • Employee expenses
  • Competency assessments
  • Disciplinary actions and records of any complaints made

Termination records

  • Letter of resignation
  • Exit interview notes
  • End of employment checklist
  • Financial documents relating to pay, settlements, and holidays.

What not to keep in employee files

Only keep documents that are about your employee’s role (nothing about their ethnicity or details about a disability). Keep only facts about the employee, avoiding anything that might be deemed too personal or opinionated – above all, keep it professional.


How long should I keep employee files?

The GDPR provides strict rules surrounding an employer’s responsibility to protect their employees’ data. Never assume you can destroy all of an individual’s information as soon as they leave your business. You may be legally required to keep some data such as payroll details and its best practice to keep additional information in case an ex-employee makes a claim against you.

It’s beneficial to keep unsuccessful candidates’ information for at least 6 months after they apply. For past employees, the general rules are:

  • 2 years for details of when the employee worked for you
  • 3 years for any payroll details about any maternity and paternity leave taken
  • 6 years for P45/P60, personnel files and training records

Managing requests for employee records

The GDPR states that an employee has the right to:

  • Identify what information you have about them and how you use it
  • Know the confidentiality of the records
  • Be told how these records can help with their training and development at work.

The employee must first submit a Subject Access Request (SAR) asking to see the records that are held on them, as well as any relevant communications such as emails. Although this can happen at any time, SARs are often submitted in the context of a dispute, so it is vital that employers engage with the process fully.

You have 30 days to respond to any requests that are made. As an employer, you have the right to ask why the employee wishes to see their record and communications about them, but in almost all cases you must comply with the request.

Personnel file checklist for UK organisations

So, we’ve considered the information that should and shouldn’t be held in your employee records – and how long files should be kept for. Below, we’ve collated all of this information into a helpful personnel file checklist designed for companies operating in the UK.

Access to personnel records

  • Only HR and an employee’s manager or supervisor can access their personnel file.
  • Employee records are stored in a secure digital database with password protection.

Contents of employee records

  • Employee personnel files contain full documentation from the recruitment process (including all documents submitted by the applicant and any DBS certificates).
  • The organisation keeps a record of all employees’ emergency contact details, signed contracts, probation documents, leave records, tax codes and statements, and relocation agreements.
  • All personnel files contain a complete record of performance, training and development, and any disciplinary actions.
  • When employees leave, we retain their letter of resignation, exit interview notes, and end of employment checklist, as well as any financial documents relating to pay, settlements, and holidays (see below for the appropriate retention periods).

Personnel file retention periods

  • The P45/P60, personnel files, and training records of ex-employees are retained for a period of six years.
  • We retain details of when previous employees worked at the organisation for two years after they leave, and payroll details relating to maternity and paternity leave are held for three years.
  • The organisation holds onto the documents associated with all unsuccessful job applications for at least six months.

Need help? Our shredding, scanning and storage services help manage your personnel files and other HR documents from the start to the end of their lifecycle. Get in touch with our team to arrange a service.

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