16 Essential Documents for Employee Onboarding

Rana Bano
May 11, 2022
min read
September 19, 2023
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What documents do you need for new hires? How can you prepare that paperwork ahead of their start date? Learn about all the essential employee onboarding documents.
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Hiring is the first step in building a thriving, productive workforce. But what happens next deserves equal attention: onboarding. 

Why? You can improve employee retention by 82 percent if you have a good onboarding plan. Great news, considering the cost of replacing an employee ranges from one-half to two times the employee's salary.

It’s about more than money, though.

Effective onboarding sets the tone for new employees. If you’re on top of all the details, they will pick up on that and follow your lead. They’ll be more productive and work toward becoming invaluable.

Onboarding is more than paperwork, but you can’t start anything until those documents are signed. Onboarding documentation is a critical piece of your employees’ company inauguration. The data you collect makes its way into their personnel file to ensure they get paid, can file taxes and are otherwise good to go. 

But you already know that. What’s harder is determining which documents you need and where to find them. Here, we’ll explore the new hire paperwork you need to kickstart a smooth onboarding process. 

Employee Onboarding Documents Checklist

First things first: there are three main categories of new hire paperwork, each with a specific set of documents beneath. Let’s take a quick look:

1. Federal and State Paperwork

2. Company Onboarding Documents

3. Employee Documents

The above isn’t an exhaustive list. Your forms may vary based on industry regulations or what’s essential to your company. Your organization is unique and so is your onboarding.

16 Documents to Add to Your New Hire Paperwork

Let’s take a closer look at what these onboarding documents are and why you need them.

Form I-9

As per the U.S. government, “all U.S. employees and employers must properly complete form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States. This includes citizens and non-citizens.“ 

Form 1-9 is an essential and time-sensitive document you need to include in your new hire paperwork. The document verifies an employee’s eligibility to work in the United States, so you and the new employee must complete it within three business days of the start date. 

Be aware that this form is a big one. Read the instructions carefully to ensure you (and your employee) are compliant, especially if you want to avoid hefty penalties ($234 per individual is the minimum).

Submitting I-9 to a government entity after its completion isn't necessary. But you have to maintain it for three years after the employee’s hire date or one year after their termination date, whichever is later.

You can download the Form I-9 form here

Form W-4

The W-4 is a tax form that helps you understand how much to withhold from each paycheck for federal income tax purposes. New employees must fill this correctly to prevent a mistaken tax bill at year-end.

Similar to I-9, you don't have to submit the W-4 form to any government agency, but you must keep it on file for at least four years after the date the employment tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later. You can download the W-4 form here.

State Tax Withholding Form

State tax forms are just as essential as the federal I-9 and W-4 forms. Some states don’t mandate these forms, so you should speak to a legal expert about whether your employees must sign an additional state tax withholding form.

As of writing this article, the following states have separate tax forms for state withholdings:

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Offer Letter

An offer letter is a brief overview of the company and position to ensure everyone is on the same page about basic job details. It should generally outline the following:

  • The type of employment (full-time, part-time, salaried).
  • Compensation and signing bonus.
  • Company benefits.
  • Start date. 

You can also include supplemental information, like the commission plan and benefits. Remember, there’s no standard format to follow, so you can create an offer letter that works best for you.

Scribe Top Tip: Since the offer letter is usually the first document employees see, it’s worth making a good impression. Use phrases and branded detailing that acclimates new employees to your office culture. 

Direct Deposit Form

The direct deposit form is for employees who wish to have their paychecks deposited directly into the bank account or to deposit the money into multiple accounts. It’s also cheaper than sending out paper checks each period.

Be sure all the banking information provided by the employee is accurate and accurately completed. Once done, file the form with your bookkeeper or Accounts Payable department. If you hire remotely, you can use digital banking services to pay their salary.

Employee Agreement

Contrary to popular belief, an employee agreement isn’t the same as an offer letter. It’s more formal and details the employees’ rights, responsibilities and the terms of their relationship with the company. 

Although you'll find tons of free templates online, we recommend hiring an employment attorney to create an agreement specific to your needs. An employee agreement is a legally binding contract that should clearly state the conditions of the position, so it is best prepared by a professional. 

Employee Benefits Declaration Form

Health insurance, 401(k)s, stock options, dental care… likely you offer a variety of benefits. If so, you want employees to look them over and determine how they wish to proceed. They will then confirm their decisions with a declaration form. 

When employees pick their benefits, give them all the supplementary details they need to help them make good decisions for themselves and their families. Small initiatives like this can nurture employee loyalty. 

Employee Handbook

An employee handbook— or employee manual or policy and procedure manual— contains information about your company’s policies, procedures, codes of conduct, benefits and employee expectations.

It acts as the ultimate source of truth for anyone working at your company, and you should provide it for new hires on their first day. Additionally, all employees must have access to this document at all times. 

You can also have different variations of the employee handbook. For instance, you can have separate documents for exempt and non-exempt employees or full-time and part-time employees. By doing so, you can ensure everyone has a clearer picture of their role. 

Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA)

An NDA is an effective legal framework to protect your intellectual assets and confidential information. 

These documents are prevalent in the corporate world since they prevent employees from sharing trade secrets, company insights, intellectual property and other sensitive information.

Non-Compete Agreement 

A non-compete is a document prohibiting employees from working for a competitor – or starting a competing firm – for a specific timeframe after the termination of their employment.

This may sound aggressive, but it helps ensure terminated employees don’t use sensitive  information learned during their tenure at your company to become your competition. That said, a non-compete should keep in mind the best interests of both the employer and the employee.

New Hire Questionnaire

Onboarding documents also include a questionnaire with casual questions to ask your employee on the first day to get to know them better (think: work ethic, long-term and short-term goals, preferences, birthday, etc.).

New hire questionnaires are easy to create and customize, too. Here’s a list of questions you can add to yours:

  • How would you describe yourself in three sentences?
  • What is your favorite meal?
  • Do you have any hobbies? Are you passionate about something?
  • Which ones of our core values appeal to you most? Why?
  • When is your birthday?
  • Do you read books or watch podcasts? Which ones are your favorite?
  • If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Union Agreement

If your new employees belong to unions, they’ll have to sign and agree upon union agreements. It'll help them understand how the union works, their rights within the union and whether they have to pay any dues.

Birth Certificate 

Although a birth certificate isn’t necessary, employees can use it as a form of ID – provided it's paired with another government-issued ID with the employee’s photograph.

State ID

Your employer should provide an official state ID to prove their identity. They must provide you with either of the following:

  • A state-issued driver’s license
  • State ID card
  • Social Security card and passport

Social Security Card

The IRS allows employers to ask for employees' Social Security cards to fill out their W-2s. If your employee doesn’t have a Social Security card, ask them to contact the Social Security Administration to get one stat.

Visa or Green Card

If your new hire is an immigrant who doesn’t have a state ID, they can either submit a work visa or green card to prove their eligibility to work.

Uncomplicate Onboarding Documents

New hire paperwork is a vital part of onboarding – but it can also be dull, challenging and confusing. Do what you can to set up your new hires for success. This could include:

  • Share some paperwork during preboarding, that is, before their first day. 
  • Empower your new hire with a checklist of pending documents. 
  • Use software solutions like HelloSign for seamless, virtual signature collection. 
  • Help them complete complex documents faster with quality step-by-step guides

Let's be honest — no one loves paperwork. Streamline and simplify the process by prioritizing document management. The sooner your employee can check that last box, the sooner they can start their journey with your company.

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