All information and documents relating to the employment relationship of an employee are usually collected by the HR department in a personal file. This personnel file, which is sometimes kept for decades, is in the traditional paper form. In the meantime, however, it has been replaced by a digital or electronic personnel file. The important thing here is how to handle the data in terms of labor law and data protection.

What Belongs in a (Digital) Personnel File, What Does Not?

In principle, there are no regulations regarding the content, at most there are exclusionary ones. Documents from the following subgroups, among others, have proven to be useful:

  • Settings
  • Master data (name, address)
  • Contact data
  • Employment contract
  • Remuneration
  • Working hours
  • Performance appraisals
  • Qualifications
  • Correspondence, personal changes
  • Additional agreements
  • Warnings
  • Wage garnishments

What Data Does Not Belong in the Electronic Personnel File?

The Following Data Is Not Stored in the Personnel File:

  • All data, private matters concerning the personal rights of the employee.
  • Public profiles in social media
  • Records of sick days or
  • Personal expert opinions obtained from unlawful access

Electronic Personnel File – What Happens after Termination?

After termination of the employment relationship, the dismissed employee may not simply take “his” complete file with him or demand deletion. Retention obligations and limitation periods from tax law, social security law, labor law and the principles of proper computer-aided accounting systems (GoBS) must be considered. Anything beyond this must be destroyed for data protection reasons; DIN 66399 specifies exactly how.

What the Employer Must Hand Over from the Digital Personnel File

  • Job reference
  • Wage tax certificate
  • Registration certificates for social insurance
  • Certificates of earnings (employment agency)
  • Certificate of vacation entitlement

Limitation Period

According to the German Civil Code (BGB), a former employee can still assert claims three years after the year of termination: claims for damages or issuance of a job reference, for example. The electronic personnel file therefore remains stored at the company at least until this 3-year period expires.

Retention Requirements

Remuneration data must be kept for six years in case of a tax audit. To prove that all contributions and taxes have been properly paid. Receipts for total social security contributions must be kept for five years. For company pension plans, six years and at least until the employee claims the benefit.

Who Has Access to the Personnel File?

In principle, this is confidential information that requires special protection. Strict precautions must be taken to reliably prevent unauthorized access from outside. However, not just any employee may have access. Only the employer in person and individual personnel managers, even the works council alone in the “presence” of the person concerned.

The employee, in turn, has the right to unrestricted inspection, but not to be taken away. He can demand the removal of inaccurate or irrelevant data. Furthermore, he or she can comment on certain processes.

The individual data protection obligations are governed by the German Federal Data Protection Act (Bundesdatenschutzgesetz), and not only in the case of electronic personnel files by the German Data Protection Regulation (DSGVO). In the case of a digital personnel file, the prior written consent of the employee is required. A common alternative is a company agreement on the electronic personnel file for all company employees.

Electronic Personnel File – Advantages

  1. Operational simplification through automated processes
  2. Integration into the company’s internal IT
  3. Simplified regulated accessibility
  4. Fast evaluability is obvious
  5. Seamless versioning of documents

Employees also benefit enormously if they can actually view their documents freely. Given data security, transparency, cost and space efficiency are also clear winners.

The advantages of electronic personnel files outweigh their disadvantages many times over, such as increased data protection requirements and one-time conversion costs, including digitization work.

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