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Joleen Jernigan
Joleen Jernigan

New Hire Checklist for Small Business Owners: ‘Must Haves’ and ‘Should Haves’

Updated:
September 13, 2022

So your small business is growing, and you are building your team. Yay! This is an exciting growth period for you and your company, and you are eager to begin hiring employees.


This is all great news. But before jumping into the first day, let’s make sure you’re ready to start out the new hires with the information they need to thrive, not to mention, the compliance requirements from a legal standpoint. To that end, here are some of the “must have”, “should have”, and “nice-to-have” paperwork needs. Consider it your new hire checklist!


For many reasons, it makes sense to have ALL of these new hire forms and documentation. And so we’ve outlined them here. You can also think of the must-haves as the first steps or the legally required info, the should-haves as the next steps, and the nice-to-haves as the onboarding process when new hires have accepted their offer letter. Let’s get down to human resources business.

New employee ‘must haves’: Legal requirements

The employer and new employee must complete and submit all of these required steps. These are the bare minimum required to legally employ someone in this country.

Full-time and part-time employees and contractors

  • Form I-9: This is the employee’s proof of eligibility to work legally in the United States required by the IRS. The employer must confirm the employee’s identity with a driver’s license or another legal form of identification, such as a passport.
  • SSN: Every employee or contractor needs a Social Security Number to work in the U.S.

Full-time and part-time employees only

  • W-4 Form: This is the all-important tax withholding information, that allows the employer to withhold the correct amount of federal income tax from the employee’s pay. Texas is one of nine states that does not have a state income tax and therefore no state tax withholding for Texas-based employees.
  • Acknowledgment of Employee Handbook: While Employee Handbooks themselves are not mandated by federal or state governments, it’s good to have one to refer to legal policies. For example, some states require that the employer provide a written form of sexual harassment policy or leave policies and may request proof that the company has shared this information with its workers.

Super important but not required: Employee Handbook

An Employee Handbook is so important for small business owners that we are dedicating a section to discuss it within “must haves,” although technically, it is a “should have.”


The thing is providing an Employee Handbook on day one of employee onboarding is just good business, and not providing one is a mistake. It makes work expectations and policies clear for the worker and should protect the worker and the company, as it clearly defines roles and any legal matters.


Here are seven items commonly included in an employee handbook:

  • Company Overview
  • Non-Disclosures
  • Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policies
  • Compensation and Employee Benefits: Health insurance, 401k, etc.
  • Leave Policies
  • Code of Conduct
  • Safety and Security

Often handbooks include much more, including all of the new employee forms with specific information relevant to the industry or small business. But, this list is a good start.

Putting one together can seem daunting to a company with a small or non-existent human resources department. This is where working with a professional employer organization (PEO) or HR outsourcing firm can help. In fact, PEOs like Decent help with legal compliance and crucial HR documentation, so it’s their job to be fastidious on all hiring laws and compliance issues.

Independent contractors only

Contractors in most scenarios will be responsible for paying their own tax withholding and so must complete a W-9 Form.

‘Should haves’: Job by job basis

These should haves, or recommended documents and information, are helpful to HR teams (or whoever is managing HR functions), but they are not mandatory for all roles or companies. But, they are really good practices to have — so consider adding them.

Documents may vary depending on the roles they are filling or individual company policies. Certain types of jobs, for example, one where the employee works with children, will require background checks.

  • Background checks: Only relevant in jobs where either the company requires it or the government does. Background checks are mandatory for jobs in education, medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, or techs, government (local, state, or federal), finance (banking or accounting), and some roles in IT or similar in computer-related fields where the employee may have access to personal or sensitive data
  • Signed offer letter: While this is not a legal requirement, it is an important piece of documented communication between the company and the hiree, and it often lays out important information about an employee’s job role, pay, vacation time, and more.
  • Emergency contact information
  • General employee information sheet
  • Contract or work agreement document: Like the signed offer letter, this is an important piece of documentation, because it sets expectations for the role, pay raises, bonus eligibility, and such. In states like Texas, which are work-at-will states, it further protects the company by stating that the work may end at any time.
  • Direct deposit forms a common convenience for employee payment.

Nice-to-have AKA employee onboarding

By now, the HR team and the new hire have gone through all the necessary steps, done the required new hire paperwork and the employee is off and running. Now is when the employer takes the first steps toward onboarding the new employee. Mind you, many of these steps will differ, depending on whether the employee has an in-person, remote, or hybrid role. Each company will handle this differently, but here are the basics.

  • Timekeeping: HR or employer communicates a timekeeping method and adds the employee to their payroll and timekeeping system.
  • Workspace/equipment: The employee workspace is set up if they are working in the office or work location, set up delivery or pickup of provided work equipment otherwise (phone, computers, paper, etc.).
  • Employee logins and system setups: Employee is set up on all systems they need to use for their jobs.
  • Orientation: This can be virtual or in-person. An In-person orientation should include a tour of the facility and a meet and greet with managers and other team members.
  • Training: Of course most jobs require training, and it’s better to offer training as the new hire begins working in a new job or role, so they can get up to speed and start contributing with confidence and efficiency ASAP.

A growing team usually means a growing business, so it’s always exciting to think of expanding your staff. Take care of the necessary paperwork and small details up front to support your new hires in becoming successful in their roles sooner rather than later.


Feeling the weight of the paperwork and legalities on your shoulders? Consider outsourcing your HR, Payroll, and Benefits needs with Decent. It’s more affordable than you think. Check out Decent’s HR and Payroll pricing here or contact a Decent representative at support@decent.com.