Employee Orientation in CA: Why a Formal Process is a Good Idea Ah California. It’s amazing the stuff I didn’t know about California law before I moved here. I’m thankful now I never landed a CA client while living in the Midwest because the truth is, there is a lot about the law I wasn’t aware of.

But nearly three years and a slew of clients later and we are almost experts. I say almost because not even the lawyers in CA call themselves experts – way too many changing laws to ever fully feel confident you know everything in this state.

One of the things that is different in CA than most states is the requirements around onboarding and offboarding of employees. Not only does the state require that certain documents be given out, but with the various unique laws in this state, hello meal period penalty, businesses will want to prove they have shared everything necessary with new employees.

This is why a thorough orientation (and onboarding for that matter) program is necessary. Orientation programs are held the first day(s) of a new employee start. There is a difference between orientation and onboarding which you can read about here. For this article we are just going to focus on orientation.

Because I believe all orientation/onboarding programs should be more than just paperwork, I’m going to highlight both the legal and soft touches that should be included in orientation. While the legal aspect is specific to CA, there is no reason why a business in any other state couldn’t consider this as a guideline as well.

So many times we bring new employees in, sit them down, shove new hire paperwork in their face to have them fill out and then sit them at their desk to figure things out. This isn’t a fun way for anyone to start. The first thing a new employee should experience is introductions. Introductions to the team, the leaders and anyone else they will come in contact with on a regular basis. Allow the employee a few minutes to share about themselves and key players to do the same.

One on One Supervisor Time
I’ve heard stories of how some employees do not meet with their new leader until their 3rd or 4th day or even later. New employees and their leaders need to immediately start to build trust and rapport. You can’t do that if you are a ghost for three days and then pop in for a drive by. Leaders should sit down with their newly hired employees on day one and go over high level expectations and what they think the employees first 90 days will look like (this is where the complete onboarding program comes in).

Legally Required New Hire Paperwork
Of course, there are those legal documents employees must fill out. In all states the minimum paperwork is the Federal tax form and the I-9. State tax forms may be required in some states. In CA, state tax forms are required only if the withholding differs from the federal withholding. Also in CA, there are other documents that must be provided to employees as well. SHRM just did a nice write up about this and I hate to re-invent the wheel so you can read about all of those documents here. I encourage employers to have a document that new hires sign stating they received these documents just as extra proof they handed them out.

Employees can typically be left alone to fill these out without help from HR or their supervisor, but someone may want to be nearby in case they have questions.

Non-Legally Required New Hire Paperwork
All businesses typically have other documents that they want new hires to sign as well. This could include benefit paperwork, non-disclosure agreements or equipment lists. An employee handbook should also be given to employees during orientation. When providing these documents, I encourage a member of HR or the leader to walk through these documents with the employee to explain why they are being asked to sign them.

In CA, there are laws specific to the state that are usually outlined in an employee handbook. Things like meal periods and penalty, preventing sexual harassment and pregnancy leave are unique to the state. I encourage California employers to highlight these specific policies and any procedures around utilizing them that employees need to know. And in all states, I encourage employers to receive a signed statement from every employee stating they received the handbook.

The Soft Touches
One thing that can often be overlooked during a new employee orientation are those soft touches. Things like who may take the employee to lunch or having their desk ready with supplies and a name tag. Anything that makes the employee feel as though you were anticipating their arrival and are happy they have joined the team.

I’ve heard leaders say they don’t want to spend a ton of time or money getting a workplace setup for an employee in case they don’t show up on day one. The flip side is the employee who does show up and then has to wait three days to get a computer setup with email. It doesn’t take too much time or money to get the basics setup and then invest in more once you know the person actually starts. Plus, if you are constantly worried about your employees not showing up on day one, something is broken in the recruitment process which is a whole other blog post.

The goal of orientation is not just to get the legally required documents you need, although that is important. The goal is to make the new hire feel welcomed and appreciated from the start. First impressions are made so quickly and it is hard to overcome a negative impression within the first 90 days.

Think about how you would like to walk into a new role and then do everything possible to make sure a new hire gets the same treatment.

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