Being concerned by my privacy and the data held by my former employers, I am wondering how long German companies can keep data about their employees?

The question is quite open on purpose, since I am wondering about all kind of data (application documents, personal information, salary slips, etc.).

Best regards

  • Usually record retention policies and laws are posed in the form of "how long must the company keep data" of some type, and not "how long can the company keep data". I have never heard of a law that requires a company to destroy data after a period of time (although U.S. credit reporting agencies are barred from reporting old data after 7 years for most data and 10 years for bankruptcy data, but even they don't have to destroy old data). There may be a German exception of which I am unaware, but various news reports about historical records there leads me to doubt that this is the case.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 21:54
  • Hello ohwilleke, maybe the language barrier doesn't help and feel free to correct my question. I am obviously asking after which minimum time data destruction could be asked.
    – brclz
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 22:01
  • 1
    The point is that normally you cannot require a business to destroy its records, even if it is allowed to destroy its records. It can destroy its records if they are old enough and it doesn't want the cost or trouble to keep them. But, you don't have a right to go to a business and say, my records are X years old, I insist that you destroy them now. Data destruction laws don't protect your interest in personal privacy.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 3:15

1 Answer 1


I worked for a Germany company and a similar question came up. An HR member (not a lawyer) mentioned six years for the average Joe though on some special situations (banking industry or some health/government jobs can have ten years). This is specific to salary slips and anything directly related to it to assist with tax audits.

Emails and documents that you created for the business belong to the business. If you were employed to write instructions on disaster recovery for example, just because you left, it does not mean they need to get someone to re-write everything.

Private/personal emails or other stuff on your company laptop falls into a gray area. If your work contract said you could or could not use email/web for personal usage for example, or if you were in sales, and were in regular touch with the outside world, a combination of private comments might be contained within professional emails based on work relationships you had built up. It is less clear on how this is controlled.

A Company does not have to give you a positive work reference (nor can they give you a bad reference). I believe the most they are required to do is confirm if you worked there or not. How long they need retain that piece of information is also not clear.

  • Hello, thank you for your information, this helps quite a lot and gives me already a background. I actually got in contact with my legal advisor about it and might get more information soonish, so I will see if I can give a full answer with more details
    – brclz
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 20:15
  • 1
    Based on a separate phone app privacy project I shared responsibility for, I learned you need be specific with your question to get a specific answer. I suspect this will be the same with your lawyer. Thus, if your question is general, you will get a general reply. I suggest you specifically ask about your name, profile/security photo, documentation you produced, emails you have written, intranet postings. Then ask about offline information. How it can be used and how it can be retained. And I suspect laws will differ if any of your data is held with any office outside of Germany...
    – fiprojects
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 21:29
  • To complete your first answer @fiprojects: minimum data retention regarding HR is from 3 to 10 years depending on the documents. After that time, the company is required to delete the data especially if the employee is asking for it (exceptions might apply, but this for the general case).
    – brclz
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 23:50

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