UPDATE 2/12/2016: This article has been updated to reflect six new free or open source HR systems that have been brought to light since the original post was published. Additionally, existing free HR tools in the list have been updated with new information, and two were removed because they are no longer free. There are now 16 total HR software solutions in the list instead of the original 12.
I always felt a bit bad taking one of the free samples at the supermarket.
Yes, I know that’s what they’re there for. And I know the reps passing out cups of chips, or cheese, or (at Whole Foods, at least) nice red wine are only doing it to entice me to buy something.
I felt like I was taking advantage of their generosity by eating what they gave me, but then not buying what they were selling.
In fact, it turns out this is a well-known principle of social psychology. Companies count on you feeling bad about not reciprocating the “favor” of a free sample in order to sell you more stuff.
Once I learned this, it became much easier for me to accept that free sample without the accompanying pang of guilt and burning need to somehow escape the judgmental gaze of everyone at the grocery store (I’m great fun in social situations).
The HR software solutions below are all free, and not in the “free sample” kind of way that will make you feel guilty after a limited trial. These are all free in perpetuity (though some are subject to a few limits) and many are especially good options for smaller and startup companies.
I’ve broken up the below 12 between free/freemium (i.e. free up to a certain point) offerings, and open source systems.
This freemium product is free for up to three users, but caps off data storage for free accounts at 500MB (vs. 3-5GB for upgraded accounts) and also doesn’t offer phone support or full access to mobile apps for the free version.
Being organized as a suite of cloud-based “apps” rather than a single software product gives Apptivo a lot of flexibility, and allows users to mix and match for the functionality they need. With HR apps for employee info, recruitment, vacation tracking, and team communication it’s easy to build a basic HR tool for most needs.
On the other hand, Apptivo isn’t built specifically as an HR tool; it covers tons of other business disciplines like CRM, financials, project management, and marketing. That means it’s not quite as specialized for HR managers, and may be missing some functionality like training and performance appraisal.
Well, you don’t get much more straightforward than that name.
freeHR is a web-based human resources system run by UK-based company Isys. The system is totally free, with no limits on number of users, how long, or how much you use it. Isys makes money with ads, and by charging for optional premium services like setup/configuration, training, support, and custom reports.
The cloud-based nature of freeHR allows it to play well across multiple devices and mobile apps, and the ability to get alerts and send responses from a phone or tablet are strong suits of this product. Employee self-service is also a focus with the ability for employees to request vacation and sick time themselves, clock in/clock out, track their own employment contracts and documents, and keep all their personal records updated.
However, freeHR does not seem to include any modules or functionality for payroll or recruiting, so keep that in mind.
A free solution for any organization with ten employees or less, HRtrack is a downloadable software product by Canadian company First Reference. The system runs on your desktop, and its appearance will make any user of Outlook feel right at home.
This software is ideal for Canadian companies, with its strong focus on and inclusion of province-specific compliance information. HRtrack also has the ability to track employee training, vacations, performance, and benefits. Calendar integration with Microsoft Outlook is another big plus.
HRtrack is an older software, however, and its installed nature means if you need something that you can access across multiple computers or via mobile, this is likely not a great fit.
A web-based, “social” HR software aimed at SMEs, WebHR is free and ad-supported for ten employees or fewer. Based in Pakistan, but with over 9,000 customers from around the globe, WebHR has been around in its current SaaS form since 2010.
A natively web-based solution, WebHR plays nice with mobile and has good reviews in the Google Apps store. Attendance tracking, recruitment, and payroll functionality round out the system’s helpful features.
Unfortunately the free version is limited and does not include discussion boards, document uploads, or custom reports.
This HR tool is free for five employee logins and ten employee profiles. A web-based software, People also integrates with many of Zoho’s other offerings (and there are many).
Zoho is a large, established company, and their HR offering reflects that with its polished look and feel, and functionality that includes time tracking, leave management, and employee information and self-service.
That said, the free version is feature-limited and doesn’t include timesheet or attendance tracking capabilities, and storage is limited to 250MB.
Free for up to 19 users, this India-based HR tool includes modules for employee management, leave and attendance, and payroll. As a cloud-based system CollaBrill also has very little setup and installation needed.
With a higher free user threshold than most other freemium products, the free version of CollaBrill will support a larger team for longer. A clean dashboard also gives a good overview of your team and HR needs.
Unfortunately, while the free version includes a payroll module, it’s only set up currently for India, so users seeking to run payroll in other countries may want to look elsewhere for now. Additionally, the free version is somewhat limited in not including CollaBrill’s recruitment, performance appraisal, and task management modules.
A couple years old now, this free tool is nevertheless stripped-down and focused on essentials. Leave management, employee self-service, and payroll processing are all included in the system. Available as a free, online solution, HR.my is run and updated by Chrysanth Software, a company based in Malaysia that is continuously adding new features and updates to the software.
Development of HR.my is continuous and responsive, and user suggestions are implemented frequently. Additionally, the tool is likely to stay free forever, as it seems to be used primarily to drive interest and traffic to some of the developer’s other, paid tools.
While it is web-based, the look-and-feel of the tool is a little dated, so if aesthetics is your thing it might not be a perfect fit. Additionally, the focus on Malaysia may limit some of the functionality, especially from a payroll perspective, for users in other countries.
Free for up to five employees, Sleekr is a good option for small or freelance startups. The free version of this cloud-based HR tool includes all the features of their paid plans, like performance management, mobile access, payroll, onboarding, and vacation and time-off tracking.
Sleekr is, as the name suggests, sleekly designed, with a clean, modern interface and a slick mobile-responsive theme. The free version is, additionally, full-featured and can be used for an unlimited time period. That said, with a limit of five staff members on the free version, it’s likely only a fit for very small start-ups and entrepreneurs.
A terrible oversight kept Zenefits off the first version of this list, but it’s one of the most popular free HR systems out there. Zenefits’ core system is totally free, and includes benefits administration, employee self-service, onboarding and offboarding, payroll, PTO and vacation tracking, and tons more. The company makes money if you decide to manage your benefits through their software, and they get paid by the benefits companies directly. Zenefits also offers optional paid modules.
Zenefits is one of the most full-featured free HR products on the market, and with millions in venture-backing has been able to build a really cool, clean tool. Their business model also means the system is likely to remain free forever, no matter what size team you have.
That said, the company has experienced some volatility recently, with accusations of improper regulatory compliance, and the departure of their CEO. Additionally, some users say it can be challenging to perform certain tasks in the software, like creating org charts or pulling employee health data.
A1 eHR, by Alliance Technologies, targets mid-large sized companies and organizations. Alliance makes money off the open source HR solution through charging for optional support and maintenance. Download of the source code does require you to fill out a form on their site.
Covering everything from organization management, to recruitment, leave tracking, training, and payroll, A1 eHR has all the functionality necessary for larger organizations.
Its complexity may be a turn off to more casual users, however, and the amount of information it captures can be overwhelming. Payroll also seems limited to only U.S. and Canadian employees.
iceHRm offers both a paid hosted version, and the ability to host your own instance by downloading the source code for free. The paid version starts at $1.49 per employee per month.
With one of the more modern user interfaces among the open source contenders, iceHRM comes across as eminently easy-to-use. It covers leave management, time and attendance tracking, employee information, and document upload, as well as the ability to download reports in .CSV format. Robust issue support also helps to make this a strong open source option.
However, as it’s aimed squarely at the smaller end of the market, it may not have the depth of functionality for larger companies.
This open source tool is somewhat niche, focusing, as it does, primarily on leave and overtime management. However, it includes leave and overtime request approvals, built-in reports, org structure design, and a calendar to see who’s in and who’s on vacation.
Jorani is a cleanly designed system that aims to do one thing, and one thing well. If you just need a free leave management and tracking tool, and can host it yourself, it’s a great option. But if you need other functionality, or a more full-featured and complex tool, Jorani may not be ideal for you.
This open source HR software has a paid, SaaS version, which comes with added support and hosting, as well as its free source code version that you can host yourself (the download link on the OrangeHRM website requires registration, but the source code can be downloaded on SourceForge without registering).
One of the most popular free HR software products, OrangeHRM is a modular system and also has a marketplace where tailored modules and plugins can be purchased.
With modules for everything from leave management and recruiting, to performance management and time and attendance tracking, there’s no denying that OrangeHRM is extremely comprehensive. An easy-to-use interface, and the ease with which it can be installed over a pre-existing LAMP stack make OrangeHR a good fit for any organization willing to invest the time and resources into hosting an open source HR application.
Some users have complained of poor support from Orange if you decide to pay for that option, however.
A crowd favorite of a lot of our commenters here on this post, Sentrifugo is an open source HRMS tool with all the features of larger, paid HR software suites. Sentrifugo offers performance appraisal, employee self-service, lots of built-in reports, leave management, time tracking, and recruiting/interview functionality as well.
If you need a solid, comprehensive HR tool, and have the tech savvy to handle an open-source installation, Sentrifugo definitely deserves a look. Many users have compared it to OrangeHRM as far as depth of functionality. That said, some users have also said Sentrifugo can be overly complex, given all the features and modules it offers.
This open source HR solution is aimed directly at SMEs, and includes a free version and a paid, “professional edition” with additional modules and functionality. Paid support is also available on a one-time or ongoing/annual basis.
With the ability to handle a diverse range of HR needs including leave management, travel and expense management, benefits, task reporting, and the ubiquitous employee information, SimpleHRM provides a good solid HR foundation for most small and medium businesses. A slick UI adds to the appeal of this open source program.
That said, some users have complained of difficulty installing the source code, particularly with file paths, so ensure you have someone technically proficient to handle implementation.
Another open source tool where you can choose to go it alone for free, or pay for a cloud-hosted version, Waypoint HR has been downloaded tens of thousands of times. Managed by a UK-based company, this HRM software covers all the basics.
While a little less slick-looking than something like OrangeHRM or SimpleHRM, Waypoint nonetheless has a robust support community and helpful knowledgebase for programmers and users. Its simplified setup and step-by-step instructions help to lower the learning curve that most open source software suffers from. Unfortunately, it also looks like the community version of WaypointHR is no longer updated or supported, so don’t expect bug fixes or additional features for the free option.
We’ve mentioned Odoo before in our post on free and open source ERPs but it’s worth an honorable mention here as well since it has such a robust HR module (including recruiting, expense management, performance appraisal, and time and attendance tracking). It’s also totally open source, so if you want to download and run it yourself you can (or you can pay them to host it for you). That it’s more an ERP than a dedicated HR system shouldn’t stop you from taking a look, however.
Are there any great free or open source HR software products that I somehow missed in this list? Do you use any more role-specific free solutions, like a time tracking tool, which you think are worth mentioning?
Any suggestions for the best grocery stores to prowl for free samples?
Add them below in the comments!
Looking for Human Resource software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Human Resource software solutions.