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Onboarding, formerly referred to as “employee orientation,” refers to the process by which an employee is supported as she transitions into the organization. This support can—and should—be provided by HR as well as by the hiring manager, and it can encompass a number of different components including the following:

  • Introduction (or, assuming the interview process was conducted effectively, “reintroduction”) to the mission and overarching objectives of the organization, as well as how this position contributes to the fulfillment of that mission and the attainment of those objectives.
  • Introduction (or, ideally, reintroduction) of the values of the organization.
  • Discussion of the performance management system, in a macro as well as a micro sense. Macro would refer, for instance, to the structure and design of the performance management system, as well as expectations relative to how the employee will actively engage in the system. Micro might refer to each employee’s specific goals or the competencies against which he will be evaluated.
  • Personal introductions to coworkers and peers.
  • A tour of the facilities. Be sure not to forget the rest room, copy machine, printers, and fax machine (if your organization still uses one) —the little things can make a big difference, especially at the beginning of the employment relationship.
  • Review of safety guidelines.
  • Review of “rules and regulations.”
  • Completion of required paperwork.

Unfortunately, many organizations still focus primarily or even exclusively on the completion of required paperwork rather than on critical nonadministrative elements, such as those inventoried here. This is not to imply that paperwork is not important. It is. But it’s not enough. Work with managers to build an onboarding program that will capture and channel the nervous excitement that new employees often experience during their first days and weeks in a new job. Get the employee started in the right way. Make sure the employee’s first days, weeks, and months on the job are positive, memorable, and meaningful.

The Importance of New Hire Paperwork

New-hire paperwork is very important—strategically, administratively, and even (potentially) legally.

Although the paperwork that newly hired employers are required to complete will vary from organization to organization, all employers are required to complete the I-9 form as part of IRCA requirements. A full and proper I-9 verifies identify, as well as eligibility to work in the United States.

Closely related to the I-9 form is E-verify, “an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee’s Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility” (www.uscis.gov). E-Verify is a voluntary program for some employers and a mandatory one for others, such as federal contractors.

Wise employers —and HR professionals —will ensure that employees somehow acknowledge that their employment relationship is “at will.” Employment-at-will is a common-law tort doctrine under which the employer and the employee are both granted broad rights, most of which focus on the right of either party to terminate the employment relationship at any time for any lawful reason. A number of important exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine exist, including lawful reasons, public policy exceptions, wrongful terminations, and implied contracts.

Although everyone involved in the hiring /employment/termination process shares in this responsibility, HR must be particularly diligent about ensuring that a lawful, legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason exists and can be articulated when a decision to terminate an employee is being contemplated.

Noncompete Agreements

Many employers require newly hired employees to sign noncompete agreements, which prohibit current and (within stated limitations) former employees from competing against the employer. “Competing” can manifest itself in a number of ways and must be defined within the agreement, with language similar to this:

  • The term “not compete” as used herein shall mean that the employee shall not own, manage, operate, consult, or be employed in a business substantially similar to or competitive with the present business of the company or such other business activity in which the company may substantially engage during the term of employment.

In return for signing the noncompete agreement, the employee is given the opportunity to work for the organization.

The strength, enforceability, and even legality of noncompete agreements depends on state and local laws, precedents that have been set by court cases, and a variety of other factors, such as these:

  • Whether there is a time frame established in the agreement, and, if so, how long it is in effect
  • The existence (and reasonableness) of any geographic limitation within which the employee cannot compete
  • Whether there is anything in the agreement that would preclude the employee from earning a living in her chosen field
  • Whether the employee is fairly compensated for signing the noncompete agreement, particularly if the employee was already employed at the time that he was asked to sign the agreement

Confidentiality Agreements

Newly hired employees are often required to sign confidentiality agreements. Confidentiality agreements prohibit employees from revealing any confidential information to which they might be exposed during the course of their employment. This could include trade secrets, patent information, and the like. It also prohibits employees from using confidential information in any way other than the purposes for which it was intended and is necessary within the context of the employee’s job.


As part of the employment/promotion process, some employers will move a current or existing (or, less frequently, newly hired) employee’s primary residence from one location to another. Relocation happens more frequently in some organizations than in others. Organizations, and the HR professionals who work within them, must be familiar with relevant laws, policies, and past practices to ensure sound decision-making and consistent, nondiscriminatory treatment of employees.

Organizations may decide to outsource the administrative dimensions of relocation. This is often a strategic decision, and one that would be addressed more frequently at the SPHR level.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020