Updated: April 24, 2024

The ultimate new hire onboarding checklist

Published By:

Erin Ellison

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Congratulations on adding to your team! Whether you’re hiring your first employee or your business is growing like a weed, bringing in and onboarding new employees is an exciting time with more than a few tasks to track. To keep things simple (and compliant), we’ve pulled together a detailed new hire checklist to make sure you’ve got a good onboarding process for getting everything in order — and making sure everyone has a great first day.

Some companies send new hires welcome packages and emails before their first day. If you are thinking about incorporating this type of “pre-start date” outreach into your onboarding efforts, you may find our employee preboarding guide helpful.

New hire forms

There are quite a few forms for your new employee to fill out on their first day — and they’re an alphabet soup of government and IRS requirements. Here are the ones to print out in advance or have employees fill out in your HR or payroll software:

  • An I-9 Employment Eligibility form should be completed for each employee on their first day. Remind them to bring their IDs to get it done. This form will also need to be retained in a separate file for at least three years after the date of employment or at least one year after termination. Remember, these need to be stored separate from other personnel files.
  • Your new hire should complete their W-4 form (and any state withholding tax forms) on their first day. This paperwork will tell you how much federal and state taxes to withhold from their paycheck. Note that you cannot tell your employees how many allowances to choose on this form.
  • Are you bringing on a contractor to help with the workload? They’ll need to complete a W-9 form so you can file and send a 1099-NEC come January.

How do you classify an employee: employee or contractor?

This trips up a lot of business owners, but there are some simple tests to determine the right way to go. If you control how they perform their work, provide their equipment, and offer them benefits, chances are you need to classify that worker as an employee.


Still not sure? We’ve got a deep dive on employee classifications.

Best practices from day one

The best way to get everyone off on the right foot is to start on the same page. We recommend using an employee handbook and sharing any other forms or policies your employee will be bound by such as non-disclosure agreements or dress codes.

  • Before your new folks start, create an employee handbook that spells out your company policies in detail. There are several online templates available out there that can be customized to your needs, just be sure to run it past an HR professional or employment attorney prior to distribution.
  • Will your new employee need a computer or other hardware or software to do their job? If they need it to be up and running on their first day, be sure to schedule some time for your IT folks to get it set up the week before.
  • Spend some time going over the policies and procedures, particularly items like vacation and sick time, holidays and office closures, harassment policies, repercussions for any violations, and any other important rules such as your social media policy. Let them ask questions to make sure they are clear on expectations to avoid surprises later — for both of you.
  • Have your new staffer sign that they received the handbook and will abide by the policies in it and understand the disciplinary actions that can happen if they do not.
  • If you have uniform requirements or a dress code, take some time to review those rules, showcase some examples, and discuss what happens if these policies are violated. We encourage you to get a sign off here as well for the employee’s file.
  • Do you have non-disclosure, trade secrets, or non-compete agreements? If so, you’ll want to review those on the first day too and get signatures.
  • Provide an employee information sheet to collect emergency contact information. We hope you’ll never need them, but it can be difficult to gather these names and numbers when you do.
  • Do an orientation for all of their available benefits. Do your benefits start day one or is there a waiting period? While that was probably part of the pay negotiation conversation, it’s a good idea to go into more detail on their first day — and answer any questions from your new worker. They may have to fill out paperwork to apply for health insurance, parking, or commuter benefits. If necessary, have them fill out a form for your files to decline benefits.
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Your back-office checklist for new hires

  • Once you’ve got all the forms filled in, go ahead and add your new employee to the payroll whether you handle this yourself, work with an accountant, or have a payroll service provider. Waiting until payday will slow things down and create headaches later.
  • If your company offers direct deposit, be sure to have your new hire fill out the proper form and supply a voided check if necessary.
  • You’ll need to create a file for each employee to keep all payroll and related records filed in case of a future audit or employment dispute. This should include the employee’s full name, social security number, and mailing address plus payroll-related information such as pay rate, frequency, and authorized deduction information.
  • Remember to report that you’ve made a new hire to the appropriate state agency within 20 days of their start date. Add in a due date on your new hire checklist for next time because some states require you to tell them sooner — be sure to check the reporting timeframe for yours.

The fun stuff

  • It’s nice to share the news about your new hire so everyone can welcome them on their first day. If you have a bigger staff, send an email or group message or post a sign in the break room.
  • Day one at a new place means not knowing where anything is located: the bathrooms, the fridge, the lockers, the mailroom, etc. It’s helpful to give your new hire a tour of their work station plus your location including the building and local neighborhood.
  • Starting a new job can be intimidating, so designating an onboarding buddy for your new team member offers a go-to resource for questions about the office, good local restaurants and coffee places, public transportation, or a nearby gym.

Instilling a sense of culture

  • Who knows your company better than you? Probably nobody. While the basics of your company history probably came up in the interview process, now’s a great time to go in-depth on your mission, vision, history, and future plans.
  • Who doesn’t love some company swag? If you’ve got tees, pens, totes, hats, socks, or stickers, now’s the time to load up your new employee so they can represent your company with pride. (And post about it on social media — if you allow that). If you’ve got a dress code that requires wearing company tees, shirts, or aprons, you should also supply these on the first day.
  • Schedule lunch with leadership or the team to get to know one another. Be mindful of food allergies and dietary preferences, though, and ask your new staffer where they’d like to go — or if coffee, drinks, or breakfast would be a better match for them.
  • Anything else that’s uniquely you. Adding a fun tradition to your new employee onboarding checklist is a great way to create the kind of positive shared experiences that build a great culture


And there you have it: a great (and compliant!) first day for your new employee — and the first step toward a bright future together.


Congratulations on growing your team!

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Erin Ellison is the former Content Marketing Manager for OnPay. She has more than 15 years of writing experience, is a former small business owner, and has managed payroll, scheduling, and HR for more than 75 employees. She lives and works in Atlanta.