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Onboarding to Prevent Mutiny, Walking the Plank, and Other Unnecessary Drama

The new hire reports for duty! The chosen candidate is ready to begin producing fabulous work product, charming all of your customers, and settling in for a long, productive stay. Or not.
Young, stressed out employee in office

Starting Off on the Right Foot

Orientation, a/k/a onboarding, is the perfect time to start things off on the wrong foot and create bad feelings that don’t go away for a very long time, if ever.

The internet is rife with stories about onboarding gone wrong and the discontent and conflict that often creates. Recruiting sites and HR and legal blogs are full of horror stories about how companies have negated their diligent efforts to hire good personnel. Forget the new hire was starting? Cannot locate a laptop for her?

The Legal Niceties

Let's start with the legal details:

  • Obtain a signed W-4 form.

  • Complete the I-9 form, including following instructions for retention. Calendar dates to follow up for work authorizations that will expire.

  • Complete benefit enrollment forms for plans for which an employee is immediately eligible.

  • Get employees set up in your timekeeping and payroll systems to ensure that they receive those first paychecks on time. Pro tip: be sure you correctly classify each employee as exempt or non-exempt for FLSA purposes.

  • Provide required notices regarding workers compensation coverage or nonsubscriber status.

New employee filling out paperwork with supervisor

Bring on the Paperwork!

In support of future legal needs, provide your new hires with copies of the important HR-legal materials you want them to read and comply with immediately.

Important Policies & Rules

  • If you have work procedures that are particularly important to the new hire’s job, consider providing those upfront, in advance of fuller training.

  • Provide the employee handbook and obtain a signed acknowledgement that the employee has received it and understands that he is required to read it, ask questions about anything he does not understand, and to comply with it.

  • Consider setting aside time during orientation for the employee to read the handbook. Better yet, take the time to talk each employee through the handbook, either after they have had time to read it on their own or while reading through it together.

  • Distribute other key rules you expect the employee to honor from Day One.


  • Obtain employee consents to company practices such as:

    • Participation in drug and alcohol testing upon request

    • Searches of personal property brought onto company property

    • Payroll deductions (standard, for benefit premiums, and eventualities such as loans, advances, accidental paycheck overpayments)

Acknowledgement of Key Requirements

  • Obtain employee acknowledgements of policies the company considers extremely important, even if those policies are included in the handbook. Examples include:

    • Confidentiality

    • Prohibition of drugs and alcohol

    • Safety and reporting injuries and hazards

    • Prohibition of harassment and other forms of discrimination

    • Emergency procedures

    • Prohibition of violence and weapons

    • Security procedures

Use a Checklist

Whatever you chose to have the new hires sign, be sure you work from a checklist, so that nothing is overlooked. Plus, keeping a copy of the completed checklist itself can be valuable evidence if one of the signed forms goes astray.

Get Useable Signatures

Using online portals to obtain signatures on consents and acknowledgements can be convenient, but be sure you are using a system that verifies the signatures for you (e.g., systems available through companies such as Docu-Sign). Otherwise, the company risks an employee denying that he really signed the forms. This is particularly problematic if the employee is able to simply type in his name and the date.

Female administrator welcoming new employee

Onboarding is More Than Just Filling Out Forms

Early days are for making each employee feel welcome and ensuring that he has a clear idea of his job duties and how he fits into the business’s big picture.

Like any “reception,” creating welcoming, positive vibes requires advance planning. An employer sets the wrong tone if the employee is left waiting while the welcome committee rushes around looking for pens, has forgotten to tell the manager the new employee will be there that morning, and the employee is left sitting alone while those involved in the big welcome take phone calls and hunt for a laptop for the employee to use. You get the picture.

Instead, try diligently to have all of the following ready to go in advance of Day One (as applicable):

  • Employee uniform options in a range of sizes (if supplied by the company) or a list of places the employee can find uniform components

  • ID badge

  • A working computer and phone set up in the employee’s clean work space, with access credentials already in place

  • Facility map (if large)

  • Keys, access cards

  • A list of critical phone numbers (e.g., security, the new hire’s immediate supervisor, HR)

  • A plan for introducing team members or other important colleagues, including, ideally, someone to accompany the employee to lunch

Even before Day One, roll out the red carpet by showing the employee you have given thought to their well-being. For example, send them basic guidance, such as where to park, which building or entrance to go to, whom to ask for upon arrival, what to wear the first day (if anything special). If employees have to pay for their own parking, you might suggest options, with pricing. If they are expected to be in uniform on Day One, facilitate that. If training will require special work hours or other arrangements, such as working in special locations, let the employee know what to expect.

Orientation is not a One-Day Event

This post focuses on Day One onboarding, but remember that settling in can require months. Consider setting up a formalized process under which someone checks in with the new hire every month for at least the first six months to ask for questions and check for concerns. Be proactive in determining whether the new hire is assimilating well.

Nothing in this blog post is legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Always consult competent legal counsel for advice concerning your specific situation. Persons outside Texas should research additional requirements that may apply in other states.


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