Newly hired? Here are the documents you’ll be signing

Apr 13, 2023

4 mins

Newly hired? Here are the documents you’ll be signing
Lorraine Posthuma

Freelance translator and journalist

Apply for the job: check. Score an interview: Done. Land the job: Yes! Sign legal documents: Whoa, wait. At this point new hires are close to the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s not over yet. There’s a daunting stack of papers to sign when starting a new job, be they digital or hard copy… Two HR experts share their knowledge on what needs to be filled out and which mistakes to avoid, so the newly hired can start on the right foot.

5 essential onboarding documents

To ensure the paper-signing process goes as smoothly as possible, Tiffany Castagno —CEO & Founder of the human resources firm CEPHR, LLC — and Faren Franklin —CEO of MaeVen Solutions, a Human Resources company that helps small businesses grow — give us the skinny.

Preparing ahead of time is a critical component to making sure your employer has what they need to pay you, create a good experience, and allow you to focus on learning your new job rather than worrying about lingering paperwork that’s due,” says Castagno. With that in mind, let’s jump into the documentation.

1. Offer letter or employment contract

Congratulations! You got the job! Your offer letter and/or employment contract is the official document containing information about your new position, including job title and description, beginning salary, start date, manager’s name, and the details of benefits like health insurance. By signing this document, a new employee officially accepts the job and agrees to the terms outlined within.

2. W-4 form

Tax forms vary by state and potentially industry,” says Castagno. Yet all employees starting a new job in the US are required to fill out a federal W-4 tax form. This document lets your employer know how much of your paycheck to withhold for state taxes. Many states require a federal W-4 form and a state W-4 form. Nine states, however, are exempt from the state W-4: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.

3. I-9 form

Every employee in the US needs to fill out an I-9 form within the first three days of employment to confirm their identity and prove they’re eligible to work in the United States.

4. Payroll documents

If the company offers to send salaries by direct deposit, it’s recommended to take advantage of this option — but pay attention. “Not providing accurate direct deposit information impacts pay, and not submitting proper payroll information messes with your money,” Castagno says. Complete payroll documents carefully so you get paid for your work without any delays.

5. Employee handbook

This useful guide includes information such as the company mission statement, code of conduct, values of the organization, and an explanation of policies like PTO. “It provides additional information on company policies, benefits, and expectations for employee behavior and performance,” says Franklin. Signing the employee handbook shows you’re on board with the company’s policies and procedures.

Additional documents (if required)

Non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and non-compete agreement

An NDA prohibits an employee from sharing confidential company information with anyone outside the company,” explains Franklin, “while a non-compete agreement restricts an employee’s ability to work for a competitor for a certain period of time after leaving the company.” Some companies will require a new hire to sign one or both of these documents.

Intellectual property agreement

Depending on your industry and role, the company may require you to sign an intellectual property agreement. If you sign this document, any work or inventions you create while employed are property of the company. The company, not you, owns what you’ve created.

Commission, bonuses, and stocks

If applicable, you will be asked to sign a document outlining the details of the commission and bonuses you’re eligible to earn. In addition, some organizations give you the option of buying stocks in the company. If you sign a stock options agreement, you have the right to buy company stock at a certain price in the future.

State-to-state differences

Legal documents absolutely vary from state to state,” Castagno says, “so having a good attorney, HR professional, or compliance person for support is important.” Tax forms can differ, as mentioned with the federal W-4 and the state W-4, but documents like employee handbooks and non-compete agreements may also have different or additional requirements depending on the state.

Mistakes to avoid

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when signing legal documents for a new job is not being prepared. “Employees don’t always prepare for their first day with the appropriate documentation,” says Castagno. Make sure to have photo identification, a voided check (if needed for payroll), and your social security card or other documentation to prove work eligibility in the US.

Paying close attention to what you’re signing is a must. “Not carefully reviewing and understanding the documents that are signed, providing incorrect information on tax forms, and failing to ask questions about employment terms or benefits are common mistakes employees should avoid,” says Franklin. It’s better to ask before signing if you don’t understand something — otherwise it could get you into trouble later down the road.

Tips for new employees

Keep copies of all documents for your own records,” Franklin insists. Whether the copies are physical or digital, it’s crucial to keep these documents in your possession for future employment or settling a dispute.

Being prepared and knowing your rights is beneficial before signing any paperwork. “It’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities as an employee, and to know who to contact if any issues or concerns arise,” says Franklin.

Use this administrative part of the onboarding process to get to know your company. Don’t rush the process. In the words of Castagno, “Invest in the time the employer gives for this learning opportunity.”

Digital documents

According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) report, “The faster new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.” It’s advantageous for companies to make new employees feel comfortable right away, and one way companies can provide a warmer welcome is to offer digital documentation for initial paperwork that must be completed.

Castagno is a big believer in digital when onboarding new employees. “I’m biased because I also love tech,” she admits, “but no one is a fan of a ton of documents shoved at them. That’s not at all engaging.” If you have the option to sign your work documents online, the process is often faster and easier than filling out documents by hand. “Some companies zip files and have a shared drive that’s candidate-only facing and read-only,” adds Castagno, and many companies have tools to make this administrative task more interactive and engaging.

As for new workers, “To navigate this process successfully, employees should ensure they have a secure internet connection and use a reliable device,” says Franklin. “Carefully review each document before signing electronically, and reach out to their HR representative or manager for clarification if something is unclear.”

Signing the necessary legal documents to officially start a new job may sound tedious, but by knowing what you need to sign, preparing in advance, taking your time when filling out important information, and asking questions when you need clarification, the process is likely to go smoothly. You’re almost there. You got this!

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