Unless you’re something of an admin geek, chances are you don’t find paperwork very exciting. But when it comes to hiring new employees, there’s simply no getting around it.
Before a new recruit even steps foot in the office, there’s a daunting pile of forms to wade through—a seemingly never-ending series of documents, contracts, and agreements that need to be completed, signed, returned, and filed away.
Not only can this stage of the onboarding process be tedious, but there are also local labor laws and federal regulations to consider. Getting new employee forms wrong or missing certain documents could land an employer in serious legal trouble down the line.
Successfully navigating the bureaucracy of new hire paperwork requires careful preparation and planning. Having a checklist of new employee forms on hand can help ensure you get it right every time.
The importance of planning ahead when hiring a new employee
The time between when you make a job offer and your new employee’s first day at work is a critical stage in the onboarding process. This is when new hires are most likely to feel adrift or uncertain about what happens next—and managing the flow of new information now will help keep them from feeling overwhelmed. If you wait until your new employee has joined the company before considering the shape of their onboarding experience, it’s already too late.
When planning ahead, also think about how and where new employees will do their work. A shared office space near to where your recruit lives will provide a professional workspace where they can meet colleagues, access the resources they need, and complete their onboarding paperwork . WeWork All Access unlocks dedicated workspace in hundreds of WeWork locations around the world, while a more flexible service like WeWork On Demand gives you access to stylishly designed workspaces and meeting rooms in cities across the United States.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most important steps when it comes to hiring new employees, and the paperwork you can expect to encounter along the way.
New hire paperwork checklist
- Job offer letter
This is the formal letter given to a candidate to officially offer them a position at the company following a successful application and interview process.
An offer letter doesn’t go into as much detail as the full employment contract, but it should outline some of the key points, such as a brief description of the role, a start date, the conditions of employment, the salary being offered, and any other benefits worth mentioning.
- Employment contract
This is a legal agreement between an employer and an employee that goes into much more detail about the job and its responsibilities.
Compensation, wages, and bonuses are clearly outlined here, as are the employee’s scheduled work hours, conditions of termination, paid time off, and any other company-specific clauses such as nondisclosure agreements.
- Employee handbook
The employee handbook should contain everything one might need to know when beginning work at a company. It includes information central to the onboarding process, such as the names and contact details of the HR team, as well as more comprehensive descriptions of company benefits, retirement plans, and health insurance policies.
The employee handbook is also a great opportunity for a company to promote its mission, demonstrate its core values, and make a positive first impression on a new hire.
- Employee personal data
Depending on where you are and where your company operates, there are rules surrounding how you collect, store, and use your employees’ personal information. GDPR laws in the European Union are very strict about how employee and customer data is handled, while some state and federal regulations in the United States demand a similar level of privacy and protection.
Generally speaking, to be in compliance with privacy rules, it’s advised that employers collect only the personal data they need, and that employee data is stored securely.
New hire tax forms required by law
- W-4 form
The W-4 form (or Employee’s Withholding Certificate) determines how much money is withheld from an employee’s paycheck to go toward their federal income taxes.
This money is sent to the IRS from the employer along with the employee’s name and Social Security number, and counts toward their annual income tax bill. An employee can adjust their withholding as often as they like; for instance, if they get married or have a child and want to withhold more or less than they did previously, they can do so by completing a new W-4 form.
- I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification form
The I-9 form requires new employees to provide documentation proving their identity and their eligibility to work in the United States. Accepted documents include a driver’s license, a Social Security card, a US passport, or a school ID card.
It’s an employer’s legal responsibility to verify and retain copies of documents related to the work eligibility of each employee, though it’s important to note that the I-9 form can only be considered after a job offer has been made, in order to prevent discrimination based on immigration status.
- State Tax Withholding form
The State Tax Withholding form (sometimes called a state W-4 form) is a lot like the federal W-4 form, but it determines how much money will be withheld from an employee’s paycheck to contribute toward state taxes.
This works similarly to the federal withholding of income tax, but the rules are different depending on which state you live in. Whereas the federal tax rate is fixed across the country, states set and impose their own withholding rates on wages.
Other new employee forms
- Direct deposit form
This form collects an employee’s personal banking information with their written consent, allowing employers to use direct deposit to pay wages into one or more of the employee’s bank accounts.
Included in this form is everything an employer needs in order to direct deposit a paycheck, such as an account number, a routing number, and bank name.
- E-Verify system
E-Verify is an online tool used to quickly check the identities of new employees against government records and ensure they have a right to work in the United States.
It’s an extension of the I-9 form and uses the same information for verification, but unlike the I-9 form, the E-Verify system is mostly voluntary. Some employers in certain states, as well as employers with federal contracts, may be required to use the E-Verify system, so it’s important to understand the rules in your own state.
Employee benefits paperwork
- Paid time off
Your employee handbook might already include some general information about paid time off, but it’s useful to clearly state in writing the number of days an employee can take. This is especially true if paid time off scales up the longer an employee has been working for the company, or if there are limits on when paid time off can be taken.
- Retirement plan
Typically when changing jobs, people take a closer look at their existing retirement plans or increase their retirement contributions. Make sure you can provide all of the resources and information a new hire needs to confidently make the right choices, and be ready to answer any questions they might have. For example, does your company offer matching contributions?
- Stock options
Employee stock options are a form of compensation that is often offered at fast-growing startups and tech companies, but for anyone unfamiliar with how stock options work, they can be difficult to understand. While the exact terms of this type of compensation should be explicitly outlined in a formal equity grant agreement, it’s worth including a more easily digestible supplement describing in plain English how the option works and how the employee could benefit.
- Health insurance
New hires should be fully apprised of all health insurance benefits available to them, whether the company is paying a portion of the employee’s monthly premium or offering comprehensive coverage. Insurance providers can supply employers with all of the documentation, paperwork, and forms required to get workers enrolled in their health plans. Note that dental and life insurance are typically handled separately from medical.
- Extra benefits
Any additional employee benefits and various non-cash perks should be outlined in writing. This includes things like access to a company car, education reimbursement, phone plans, and gym membership. Providing clear details on these benefits now avoids any misunderstanding about the degree of compensation an employee can expect or access. Plus, certain fringe benefits are taxable and must be reported on an employee’s annual tax return.
Using talent management software to handle the paperwork
Bigger companies might find it helpful to use talent management software and applicant tracking tools to automate and centralize the most repetitive aspects of bringing new hires into the company. Even smaller companies that hire less often can benefit from these types of tools, as they help avoid costly administrative mistakes that could lead to legal issues later on.
Not only can the right tools eliminate the need for any physical new hire paperwork, but they ensure that employers only collect the details they need, and that the data is being stored securely online. These tools also allow information to be easily accessed from a central dashboard rather than stuffed away in a filing cabinet somewhere.
Specialist platforms like Charlie HR, Eddy, and Connecteam act as virtual HR departments for remote teams, automatically guiding new hires through an onboarding checklist to ensure that nothing crucial is missed. There are hundreds of different HR software solutions, all vying for your business with free trials and demos, so shop around to find one that’s right for your company and industry.
Information about current federal and state employment laws
We’ve tried to be as helpful and as accurate as possible with the advice and information shared here, but employment law changes frequently, and the responsibilities of employers and the rights of workers differ from state to state. International businesses are also bound by the laws and regulations of the countries they operate in, particularly if they’re hiring staff remotely and transferring data and resources across borders.
Ultimately, it’s up to employers to make sure that they’re following the latest rules and adhering to local labor laws. In the United States, government resources such as Employer.gov are a good starting point for employers with questions about everything from inclusive hiring practices and fringe benefits to workplace safety and health.
Guiding the new employee throughout the entire process
Consider ways to curate the new hire experience in a way that keeps people engaged as they settle into their role. Lead with the most urgent points on the onboarding checklist. That might mean finishing the boring legal stuff as early as possible—ideally before a new employee’s first day—so you can focus on one of the more important aspects: introducing the new hire to the team as soon as possible.
Taking the time and effort to properly organize the onboarding process makes life easier for both the company and new employees.
By paying close attention to these details during those first few days and weeks, you’ll leave your latest recruits with a lasting positive impression of how the company operates and what your company culture is all about.
Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.