New Hire Paperwork: What’s Required?

November 2, 2020

New hire paperwork can be overwhelming for employees and employers. Learn the various forms and what's required for your business.

A businessman sitting behind a stack of paperwork with an alarm clock on it, looking sad.

We all understand the headache of starting a new job. Before that first day you have to prepare yourself to meet new co-workers, make a good impression, and of course, fill out all of that new hire paperwork. While paperwork is everyone’s least favorite thing about most aspects of life, it’s very important, especially for new hires.

In this article, we’ll learn about the pieces of important paperwork and how to properly complete it. We’ll go over why this paperwork is so important and how to best prepare yourself for new hires. You’ll also learn how to develop a proper storage system and why it’s necessary. So, if you’re looking to learn everything about new hire paperwork, read on.

A woman next to a large stack of new hire paperwork, looking stressed.

Why is New Hire Paperwork So Important?

There are various reasons why new hires must complete the necessary paperwork, but all of these reasons also protect you as a business. One of the most crucial bits of paperwork is the Form I-9, which proves an employee’s eligibility to work in the United States. We’ll get into why this is so important later in the article, but just know that not properly completing the I-9 process can cause serious problems for your business in the future.

Hopefully, before you get to the new hire paperwork, you’ve gone through the other steps of the new hire process. If you haven’t, take a look at our article on how to follow the hiring steps that will ensure a great hire. Let’s start by looking at the standard new hire paperwork many of us are familiar with.

Standard New Hire Paperwork

The new hire paperwork can vary from state to state and the industry your business is in. However, there are two federal forms required for all “standard” employees. In general, the W-4 and I-9 are the two pieces of paperwork most businesses start with. There can also be additional forms required depending on your state and industry.

Let’s start by discussing arguably the most important document, the I-9. We’ll then discuss other new hire paperwork you may need to take note of.

Form I-9

A page from the form I-9 (the list of acceptable documents) with other work materials strewn across a desk.

This is arguably the most time-sensitive form of your employee’s new hire paperwork. As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure your employees are eligible to work in the United States to the best of your ability. Employers also have their own portion of the I-9 to complete, which is just as important as the employee piece. We’ll go over each of these steps.

As we just mentioned, the responsibility lies in doing your due diligence to the best of your ability as an employer. So of course, if your employee has perfect false identification, this isn’t your fault. You did your due diligence in physically checking their documentation and noting it on the forms. You’re not a documentation expert and not expected to be. The point is that you’re following your responsibilities as an employer to the best of your ability.

Completing the Form I-9

Now that we’ve covered why this piece of new hire paperwork is important, let’s go over the steps for completing an I-9 Form. First, ask your employee to bring in copies of their documentation. It’s important to note that you cannot specify which forms they can bring in, as that can be a form of discrimination.

The third page of the form has specifications on which documentation qualifies for which section. So, if your employee has questions about the documents they should bring, provide a copy of the third page. This will best help them determine which documents to bring in, without the risk of possible discriminating language.

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The I-9 is where timing comes into play. The I-9 must be completed before the employee’s first day of work, but not before accepting an official job offer. So, if you’re not already, give yourself a cushion of time after the job offer. Ideally, you would send the new hire paperwork after the job offer is accepted.

Employer Portion of The Form I-9

After the new hire completes their portion of the form, there is the employer portion. There’s a common misconception and understanding of the I-9 and some employers don’t realize they also have to complete their part in a time-sensitive matter. After the employee portion, the employer must complete their portion within 3 business days of the employee’s first day of work.

A man examining something he is holding with a magnifying glass. Part of new hire paperwork is physically examining employee documentation.

During the employer section, you must physically examine the presented documentation. This means the actual document itself – not a copy! Although you will make a copy of the documents, you cannot accept a previously copied version, as this is easier to alter. In Section 3 of the form, you can add new information for updated documents or rehires. If it’s been long enough, it’s probably a good idea to redo the I-9 form entirely.

For additional details regarding the I-9, view the Department of Security’s Handbook for Employers M-274. They’ve also provided examples from each of the documentation lists for comparison at the bottom of this section of the handbook. Now that we’ve completely covered this part of the new hire paperwork, let’s jump into the most well-known portion – the W-4.

Form W-4

Hopefully, if you’ve worked within the U.S. at any point in your lifetime, you’ve completed a form W-4. Form W-4 is the employee’s withholding certificate, which determines how much federal income tax is withheld (hence the name withholding certificate). Alike the I-9, the W-4 also has an instruction page attached, to help employees navigate the sections. Refer employees to this page for guidance rather than instructing them on how to complete the form or giving recommendations.

Completing The W-4

In the past few years, the Form W-4 has gone through a slew of updates. While it was confusing for everyone at first, it was a revision the IRS felt was necessary so more employees could “break even.” This would mean that fewer people owed money or received returns after filing their taxes.

Luckily for all of us, they provided very detailed descriptions and notes for each section. Read about the updates to 2020’s W-4 in our blog post, Forging Into The Upcoming Year. This blog also details how to fill out each section according to the descriptions provided on the form.

While the I-9 is much more time-sensitive, the W-4 must be completed before the employee’s first payroll. This ensures that the employee’s taxes are properly calculated and withheld starting with their first paycheck. However, it’s a good idea to collect all of this information at once for a more streamlined approach.

The final page of the Form W-4 provides a calculation sheet as well. This can help employees estimate the amount of federal income tax that will be withheld based on their filing status and withholdings. Refer employees to this page if they’re not sure how to complete their form. If they still have questions, the IRS has a more exact withholding calculator available on their website.

someone's hand on a calculator, with a piece of paper in their other hand.

The Employer Portion of The W-4

Like the form I-9, the W-4 also has an employer section that must be completed. However, this section is much shorter, only requiring an employer signature, the employer’s EIN, and the employee’s first date of employment. So once you’ve signed your portion, you can securely send the information to payroll and file it away.

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Now that we’ve covered the two required federal forms, let’s take a look at some other new hire paperwork that you should include within your new hire’s packet.

Other New Hire Paperwork

Although the two previously mentioned forms are on the federal level, there are other forms you may need to collect depending on your state and industry. While some of these may be required, others are just a good idea to have in place for your business. Consult with an HR Specialist if you’re unsure about the rules and regulations for your state or industries.

Non-Disclosure Agreement

A Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) is used to keep your secret business information secret. NDA’s should be designed to legally protect your business should an employee breach the agreement. This is especially important for those working with sensitive company or client information. It essentially adds a layer of protection for businesses.

An employee handbook can be included in your new hire paperwork packet.

Direct Deposit Information

Most of us use a plastic card for purchases rather than cash, so it’s no surprise that most employees nowadays prefer direct deposit. There are laws regarding whether or not an employer can force direct deposit and these laws vary by state, so be sure to double-check your state’s information before making this form a required piece of paperwork.

Employee Handbook

It’s a good idea to include your employee handbook, along with a signature page in your new hire paperwork. An employee handbook should outline rules, policies, etc. Having an acknowledgment or signature page ensures that employees read it (or at least say they did). This way, if any rules are broken you have proof they were aware of any wrongdoing.

How Long Do I Have To Keep New Hire Paperwork?

This is another area where there are many misconceptions. In the case of an audit though, you cannot claim ignorance as an exception. Ultimately, all of these new hire documents are your responsibility as the employer. Employers must keep the records of their employees, as well as copies of documentation. This is true even after employee termination (documentation must be kept for a year after termination). As we mentioned before, some states require that physical copies be kept on-site. Make sure you’re aware of your state’s regulations to avoid any trouble.

Make A Plan For Your New Hire Paperwork

There are many secure electronic options available now that streamline the new hire paperwork process. If you’re a Journey client, you have access to paperless employee onboarding absolutely free of charge. This system also stores electronic copies for you and allows employees to update their W-4 as needed. If physical copies are more your style, make sure to follow the rules outlined above and on each form. Either way, we hope this read helped clear up some questions and makes you eager to streamline your new hire paperwork.

Sunflowers laid out on a wood table with a note card that says, "Good Luck."

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