New employee orientation is one of the most important of all human resources transactions. "You never get a second chance to make a first impression," is a saying that really applies to orienting or onboarding new employees.

Regardless of the industry or employer, effective new employee orientation should include at least seven key elements.

1. Compliance with government rules

At the beginning of the employment relationship, employers must work with employees to have them complete multiple government-mandated forms. These include federal and state tax forms, I-9 forms and Fair Credit Reporting Act forms if the employer is going to do any sort of covered background checks.

Employers can face significant penalties including monetary fines for not completing these forms correctly.

2. Information about the employer's mission, core values and culture

In the frenzy to complete the paperwork and attend to all of the details of onboarding a new employee, many employers overlook the need to emphasize their overarching mission, core values and culture in the orientation process. Taking time to communicate these softer messages is essential to aligning new employees with the employer's business goals.

Where feasible, direct contact with the employer's owners or founders can help to reinforce the organization's culture. When direct contact is not feasible, a written welcome or introduction from the owner, founder or executive officer can be helpful.

3. Information about the employer's benefits

In some successful organizations, the cost of employee benefits can approach up to 70 percent of the employee's wages or salary. While it is important to tell new hires all of the employer's rules or policies that may result in discipline or discharge, employers also need to "sell" all of the benefits that the employer provides employees.

Informing employees about all of these benefits can help the employment relationship begin on a positive note.

4. Information about critical employer policies

Plenty of laws regulate the workplace, and diligent employers want to create a paper trail that their employees were informed about the employer's policies and commitment to compliance with such laws. Some of the policies to be discussed in orientation include:

  • equal employment opportunity
  • no harassment
  • family and medical leave (or similar state leave laws)
  • reasonable accommodations
  • electronic communications
  • social media/blogging
  • confidential information
  • overtime and timekeeping
  • safety and health
  • continuation of medical insurance benefits
  • drug testing
  • inspection of work areas
  • firearms or weapons in the workplace
  • workplace violence
  • operation of motor vehicles
  • solicitation and distribution

Employees also need to be informed about the procedures for reporting violations of these policies, such as how to report alleged violations of the no harassment policy and safety rules. In addition, employees should be told in writing that the employer's policies require that all employees comply with the laws applicable to the employer's business and their work-related conduct.

5. Introduction to other employees and to the employer's facilities

Practically speaking, employers should go to great lengths in the orientation process to introduce new employees to all of the employees and supervisors with whom the new employee may need to interact in the course of performing their jobs. New employees need to know the role played by all of these other employees, how they relate to each other and how to connect with them.

In addition to learning the people in the new workplace, new employees need to have a thorough education about the employer's facilities.

6. Thorough explanation about the new employee's job duties

It almost goes without saying that an effective orientation should include a thorough explanation about the new employee's job duties. This explanation should include:

  • information about the metrics for success and failure in the job
  • how, when and by whom performance will be measured
  • what resources are available to help the employee learn and succeed in the job
  • how the job is relevant to the employer's overall business

The new employee should have the opportunity to shadow or work closely with a successful performer in the job and to ask questions along the way.

7. Documentation

Documenting the orientation process is critical to prove compliance with laws and to protect the employer's interests in all sorts of legal matters, ranging from claims for unemployment or workers' compensation benefits, citations for violation of safety and health rules, charges of discrimination, harassment or retaliation or similar claims. In a court of law or before an administrative agency, if something is not properly documented, it is as if it never happened.


Obviously, new-hire orientation programs need to be tailored to each individual employer and to specific jobs. Nonetheless, by building in these seven essential elements, employers can go a long way toward having happier, more productive employees and minimizing or even avoiding labor- and employment-related legal claims.