For how long should an employer keep an employee or ex-employee's personnel files?

The Employment practices data protection code, published by the Information Commissioner's Office, provides guidance on compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998 regarding the retention of employees' and former employees' records. The Act itself sets no specific period, stating only that personal data should not be kept longer than is necessary for the purpose or purposes for which it is being processed. Employers can therefore set their own retention periods, so long as these are based on business needs and take into account any professional guidelines. The code says that employers should "eliminate personal information that is no longer of any relevance, once the employment relationship has ended." Statutory requirements must also be taken into account. For example, national minimum wage records must be kept for three years after the pay reference period following the pay period that they cover. Where the data is kept after the termination of employment for the purposes of defending possible tribunal and court claims, the time limits for bringing claims will inform the retention period.