New Hire Paperwork: The Small Business’s Guide to Onboarding Employees


Whether you run the HR for your business yourself or have dedicated HR resources, hiring a new employee is an involved process—and an important one at that. After a candidate has accepted your job offer and you’ve set their start date, there are various onboarding steps to take, including making sure that your new team member fills out the proper employment paperwork. There are a number of important new hire employee forms that must be filled out—particularly the ones that are required by law.

To simplify new hire paperwork, it’s best to prepare ahead of time, not only knowing which forms need to be completed and when, but having them ready for your employee’s start date. This new hire paperwork guide, therefore, will break down the various required forms, what you need to know about them, and overall tips for making the onboarding process as seamless as possible.

New Hire Paperwork: What You Need to Know

If you’re hiring your first employee, you might not be completely familiar with the types of new hire paperwork that are required of your business. As we mentioned, some new hire documents, like the W-4 and I-9, are required by federal or state law, whereas others might simply be necessary or recommended for your business’s HR procedures. This being said, you will need to make sure that new employee paperwork that is required by law is filled out accurately and within the correct time frame. Luckily, government agencies like the IRS and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security provide detailed online guides to inform you about the completion of these forms.

If you’re unsure what kind of HR new hire paperwork you should have for your business, you may want to consult with your HR representative or a third-party HR consultant. With this in mind, however, common business-specific documentation includes an employee handbook, benefits paperwork, and company policy forms. Since these types of documents are specific to your organization, you may not require them to be completed immediately. Ultimately, the timeline and nature of this new hire paperwork are up to you. You will, however, want to make the guidelines surrounding these types of forms clear to your employees when they start.

New Hire Paperwork Checklist: Required Forms

Now that we’ve gone through a brief overview concerning new hire paperwork, let’s dive deeper into what specific forms you’ll need to complete.

I-9 Form

The I-9 form is a federal required new hire employee form that verifies the eligibility of candidates to work in the United States. The I-9 form is filled out by both you and your employee and must be completed within three days of the employee’s start date. Although the form does not need to be submitted to the federal government, you must keep it on file (physically or electronically) for three years after the date of hire, or one year after termination, whichever is later. The I-9 form involves reviewing each employee’s identification to ensure that they are valid and meet the federal criteria. You may complete this form electronically using E-Verify, which allows you to cross-check information with the federal government’s database. Many HR software platforms also provide I-9 form capabilities.

Your employee will fill out the I-9 form and provide their identification as proof of their eligibility to work in the U.S. You will review their information and sign the form stating that to the best of your knowledge the identification provided is valid. This form lists the acceptable forms of identification you can use to verify your employee’s eligibility. You should provide this list to new employees so they can decide what types of identification to bring. You cannot, however, tell employees what type of identification to bring or deny their right to use each type. To ensure the timely completion of the I-9 form, it’s helpful to tell your employee to bring their identification documents with them on their first day.

Form W-4 

The W-4 is another federal new hire paperwork requirement. This form records how much should be withheld from each employee’s paycheck for taxes based on exemptions. The employee will fill out how many exemptions they will be claiming on their taxes. The W-4 should be effective with your employee’s first paycheck, so this is also a form you’ll want to have filled out promptly. You cannot tell your employees how they should fill out their W-4, but you can help them find resources to determine their tax withholdings to complete the form, such as this IRS withholding calculator.

Employees may change exemptions on W-4 forms whenever they see fit. You should keep the most recent version of an employee’s W-4 on file. Once again, many HR software platforms allow your employees to fill out and store the W-4 through their system.

Social Security Number

Although not new hire “paperwork” per se, the federal government requires that you get the name and social security number of each new employee—including resident and nonresident alien employees. You will use this information for filling out W-2 forms for your employees at the end of the year. The W-2 form records your employees’ earnings for the year and is used for tax purposes.

State Tax-Withholding and Registration

Just like the W-4 form for federal income tax withholding, you may also need your new hire to fill out a state-tax withholding form. Not all states require these forms, so you’ll want to check the applicable laws for your particular state. However, if your state does require this form, it typically will be filled out like the federal W-4. Like the W-4, you’ll want to have your employee complete this document before their first paycheck and keep their form on file. State tax-withholding forms can also be updated by your employees throughout the year.

In addition to state-tax withholding forms, you’ll also have to complete new hire reporting. This hiring paperwork involves providing the basic information about your new employees to your State Directory of New Hires, which is then passed along to the National Directory. New hire reporting is required so that the state can collect child support payments from employees, if necessary.

Benefits Forms

Even as a small business, federal and state laws require that you offer your employees certain fringe benefits—meaning benefits other than their salary. Some of these benefits fall under particular laws, like the Affordable Care Act and the Family Medical Leave Act. In certain states, for example, it is required that you offer your employees benefits like workers compensation and disability insurance. In regards to required benefits, therefore, you’ll need to make sure that you adhere to the applicable laws for your state and business and ask your employees to complete the necessary paperwork associated with these benefit offerings.

New Hire Paperwork Checklist: HR Forms

There are many other new hire employee forms that may not be required, but that can be helpful for your business, your employees, and your human resources department. Which other forms or documents you have your new hires fill out will depend on your individual business, but here are some common new employee paperwork examples that you might want to include in your onboarding process.

Direct Deposit Form

If you’re going to pay your employees via direct deposit, you’ll want to have an authorization form for them to fill out. On this form, they’ll agree to be paid via direct deposit and provide the information you’ll need to add them to your payroll.

Emergency Information

In the case of an emergency with your employee, you’ll want to know who to contact. You should ask your employee to provide their emergency contact and keep this information on file. Similarly, you might want to ask your employees about any allergies or dietary restrictions that you should be aware of to make sure you’re providing an accommodating and safe working environment for them.

Employee Handbook and Policy Forms

Many businesses create an employee handbook that lists important company information and procedures. Often employee handbooks include topics such as workplace policies—like sexual harassment and drug and alcohol policies—as well as guidelines for dress code, use of the internet, benefits enrollment, and more. Not only is it a good idea to create an employee handbook, but you also might want to ask your new employees to sign a form acknowledging that they’ve received and reviewed the handbook. With the employee handbook, you might include other business-related documents your new hire needs to sign, like a non-compete or non-disclosure agreement as well.

Non-Required Benefits

In addition to the benefits required by law, you’ll want to provide new employees with the necessary documents regarding other benefits your business offers. These benefits can include commuting stipends, wellness benefits, stock options, 401Ks, and more. If you give your employees the option to enroll or participate in additional benefit programs, you’ll want to give them both an explanation of these policies, as well as the forms they need to fill out to partake if they so choose.

New Hire Paperwork: Tips for Streamlining the Onboarding Process

With all of the employment paperwork involved with new hires—required and otherwise—you might feel overwhelmed, especially if you have limited HR resources. Luckily, there are a few initiatives you can take to ease the burden of hiring paperwork:

  • Be aware of federal, state, and local labor laws. Although cumbersome, you’ll want to be sure that you’re well informed when it comes to the different labor laws your business needs to abide by. These laws will inform what kind of documents are required for new employees, as well as the timeline in which they must be completed. Additionally, keep an eye out for changes in hiring documentation—new requirements or changes in forms. Knowing and adhering to these laws will help protect your business in the case of an audit.
  • Don’t wait until the deadline to complete new hire paperwork. Each required form has a different deadline, and it can be difficult to remember which is due when. Therefore, it’s helpful to communicate with your new hire ahead of their start date, inform them of what new employee paperwork they’ll need to fill out, and what documents or information they’ll need to do so. Then, complete all paperwork with your employees on their first day, and file or submit it immediately.
  • Securely store all employment paperwork and keep it up to date as necessary. You can store this information electronically or physically, but you should make sure it’s both secure and accessible. Once again, ensuring that you have stored all of your employee documents properly can be essential in the case of an audit.
  • Use HR software. One of the best ways to streamline onboarding is to utilize an HR software platform like Zenefits. These platforms can help automate your processes, allowing employees to complete forms online. You also can use HR software to store company documents like employee handbooks and benefits information—making them easily accessible to new hires. Additionally, to lessen your load even further, some HR software offerings even include payroll processing.

New Hire Paperwork: The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, bringing on new employees is an exciting experience for your business. Although there is new hire paperwork that needs to be completed, you can make the process easier by preparing ahead of time and communicating with your new employees before their start date. Keeping an eye on applicable federal, state, and local laws will help make sure you’re compliant with your HR processes—and utilizing HR software is a great investment to help both you and your employees with new hire paperwork and more. Ultimately, once you’ve submitted or stored all of the required new employee paperwork, you’ll be through the most tedious part of the onboarding process and can move forward with employee training.

Randa Kriss

Randa Kriss is the senior staff writer at JustBusiness and Fundera.

Randa specializes in reviewing small business products, software, and services. She has written hundreds of reviews across a wide swath of business topics including ecommerce, merchant services, accounting, credit cards, bank accounts, lenders, and payroll and human resources solutions. She has also written for PeopleKeep, Bench, RocketLawyer, Zoho, and KNF&T Staffing, among others.

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