The Ultimate Onboarding Guide for California Employers

December 26th 2023

With California’s highly competitive job market (one of the most competitive in the US!), finding the best hires can be a challenge. So once you’ve finally found the perfect people for the job you want to ensure they stick around and thrive. And that’s all part of the beautiful but complex process that is onboarding.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the essential steps of onboarding. From the initial paperwork to the first-day priorities, we’ll guide you through each step, highlighting the legal considerations that set the foundation for compliant and successful onboarding.

This Guide Covers:

What is Onboarding, Anyway?
Why the Onboarding Process Matters
How to Effectively Onboarding Employees in California
How Long Should Onboarding Last?
What are the Most Important KPIs to Track During Onboarding?
Final Thoughts

What is Onboarding, Anyway?

According to the California Department of Human Resources, onboarding is how you help new employees fit into your organization. It goes beyond just handing them a badge and a desk – it’s about making them feel welcome, informed, and equipped to contribute effectively.

During onboarding, new employees are introduced to the ins and outs of their jobs, company policies, and the people they’ll be working with. They’ll also have to go through practical aspects like training on tools and systems. Onboarding isn’t just a one-day affair, it can span from a few weeks to months, ensuring that new team members feel supported and empowered as they embark on their professional journey with a new company.

Why the Onboarding Process Matters

Effective onboarding sets the stage for a positive work experience, helping new hires quickly adapt and become productive members of the team. According to Forbes, companies that establish an effective onboarding system can maintain 58% of their workforce for a span of three years. Moreover, a significant 77% of fresh recruits who participate in formal onboarding programs successfully meet their initial performance objectives.

The numbers definitely speak for themselves: how you onboard your new hires matters.

Now that you know what onboarding is and why it’s so important, let’s get into the good stuff: how you can actually onboard your employees effectively.

Two women discussing the onboarding process using their tablet. Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

How to Effectively Onboarding Employees in California

Step 1: Create an Onboarding Game Plan

Every company is different, and certain roles may require a more personalized onboarding approach than others. So, before your new employee’s first day, make sure to come prepared with an onboarding game plan.

Develop a detailed plan outlining the entire onboarding process, from their first day to the end of the probationary period. This plan should include introductions to key team members, training modules tailored to their role, and any other relevant activities to ensure a comprehensive and engaging onboarding experience.

Additionally, make certain that the new employee’s workspace is thoughtfully prepared before they arrive. This includes setting up their workstation, computer, and any necessary equipment. A functional and welcoming workspace on the first day creates a positive first impression and sets the stage for a productive and comfortable work environment.

Step 2: Check California Labor Laws

Now, there’s not a lot of California labor laws that are specific to onboarding. But there are a couple of requirements that the California Department of Industrial Relations has outlined for employers to comply with before the first employee starts work, these include:

  • A California Employer Identification Number: When an employer is subject to employment tax laws, they must register with the Employment Development Department (EDD) and get an identification number similar to the federal tax ID. This is done by filling out a DE-1 Registration Form with the EDD. Once the employer gets this number, they will receive details about all the state-required employment taxes and reporting rules.
  • Workers’ Compensation Insurance Coverage: Every employer must either have workers’ compensation insurance or get state approval to self-insure for the necessary benefits. If employers don’t have insurance or authorization to self-insure, they can face serious criminal and civil penalties under Labor Code § 3700 and related sections. Many insurance companies provide plans for these benefits, and the State Compensation Insurance Fund also offers them to all employers.
  • Required Registration, Certification, or Licensing for Certain Industries: Some businesses need to be officially registered or licensed before they can start operating. Different state agencies handle the licensing or registration process for various types of businesses. The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement is responsible for licensing or registering of the following business types: Farm Labor Contractors, Garment Manufacturers, Talent Agents, Employers of Industrial Homeworkers, Sheltered Workshops, Studio Teachers, and Car Washes.

If you want a more comprehensive understanding of the legal landscape in the Golden State, it’s also worth reading up on California Labor Laws, California Salaried Employees Laws, and California Overtime Laws.

Step 3: Get California New Employee Paperwork Done Early

Now, paperwork isn’t the most exciting part of onboarding, but it is necessary and it’s best to get it done early. Ideally during the employee’s first day or first week, so you can focus on more engaging aspects of their integration into the company.

The following forms are necessary according to state laws, but companies can also ask new hires to fill out extra forms as per company policy.

  • I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification: According to federal law, it’s necessary to fill out Form I-9 to confirm an employee’s identity and authorization to work. As of 2023, the USCIS hasn’t released a new version of the I-9 Form. However, you can continue using the current USCIS I-9 until the updated one becomes available.
  • Work Permit for Minors (if applicable): It’s important to adhere to California’s child labor laws for employers hiring minors. California law mandates that all minors under 18 years of age employed in the state must have a work permit, with limited exceptions. Before a work permit can be issued to a minor, they must complete form CDE Form B1-4. This form must be signed by the minor’s parent, guardian, foster parent, caregiver, or residential shelter service provider. The completed form then needs to be filed with the issuing authority.
  • Federal W-4 Form: The W-4 form is a federal document that employees complete to determine the amount of federal income tax to be withheld from their paychecks. It considers factors such as marital status, dependents, and additional income. Employers use the information provided on the W-4 to calculate the correct federal income tax withholding. This form should ideally be completed by employees on the first day of the job.
  • DE-4, California Tax Withholding: In addition to federal income tax withholding, California imposes state income tax. Employers must have employees complete Form DE-4, California Employee’s Withholding Certificate, to determine the correct amount of state income tax to withhold from employees’ wages. It is crucial for both employers and employees to understand and fulfill these state tax obligations. Much like the W-4 form, this form is usually filled out during the employee’s first day.

Step 4: Make the First Week Productive and Engaging

The first week sets the tone for a new employee’s experience with your company. You want it to be not only a smooth transition but a memorable and engaging introduction to your organizational culture. The week could include the following activities:

  • Warm Welcome and Office Tour: Greet the employee warmly and kick off their day with a guided tour of the office or facility. Familiarize them with communal areas, break rooms, and essential facilities.
  • Workstation Introduction: Show the employee their designated workstation and provide a hands-on demonstration of how to operate their equipment. This includes computer systems, tools, and any specific technology relevant to their role.
  • Meet the Team: Introduce the new employee to their co-workers and, if applicable, their mentor. Creating early connections fosters a sense of camaraderie and helps the new hire feel integrated into the team.
  • Duties and Expectations: Review an outline of the employee’s duties, assignments, and expectations for the first week and beyond. This clarity sets the stage for a productive and focused work experience.
  • Welcome Package: Provide a welcome package that includes a copy of the employee handbook. Review important contents such as hours of work, break times, overtime policies, and leave regulations. Have the employee sign the handbook acknowledgment, if not already done.
  • First-Week Schedule: Share a schedule outlining the employee’s activities and tasks for the first week. This structured approach helps them anticipate and prepare for upcoming engagements.
  • HR and IT Support: Explain how the employee can contact HR or IT support if they need assistance. Ensure they are aware of the available resources to address any queries or concerns promptly.
  • Training Sessions: Schedule comprehensive training sessions covering company policies and procedures, including workplace safety, cybersecurity, sexual harassment awareness, and diversity training.
  • Complete Pending Paperwork: If any new hire paperwork or related tasks are pending, take the time to complete these essential administrative tasks. This ensures that all formalities are addressed, allowing the employee to focus on their role.

It’s tempting to squeeze in as many activities as you can on the employee’s first day but this might overwhelm them. Instead, strike a balance between informative and enjoyable activities. Space initial onboarding activities throughout the first week for a gradual acclimation to their new role and environment.

Step 5: Go Over a Three-Month Roadmap for Key Projects

Map out a plan for the first three months, outlining important projects and milestones. This involves discussing upcoming deadlines, team collaborations, and individual responsibilities. You can break down tasks and deadlines within a project timeline, providing the new hire with a clear understanding of their role’s broader context and its impact on organizational goals.

Additionally, ensure that new hires receive comprehensive training on the tools and systems they’ll be using in their role. This includes project management software, communication platforms, or any specific industry tools. This training equips them with the necessary skills for efficient job performance, reducing potential learning curves.

Step 6: Provide Ongoing Support and Regular Employee Check-ins

A study by Equifax Workforce Solutions reveals that more than 40% of people leave within the first month, and an additional 10% depart within the initial year. This underscores the importance of sustained support beyond the initial onboarding phase.

One thing you can do to provide ongoing support is to establish feedback loops. Schedule a meeting regularly to discuss their progress, address any concerns, and gather feedback on their overall experience. This two-way communication not only empowers employees to voice their opinions but also allows the organization to identify areas for improvement in the onboarding process.

You can also engage new employees in team-building exercises, be it virtual social gatherings, or collaborative projects to foster camaraderie and a sense of belonging within the team. This approach contributes to a positive work environment, making new employees feel more connected and engaged with their colleagues.

Step 7: Display California Labor Law Posters and Required Notices

California has a few required state notices for newly hired employees that you’ll need to display. Providing these notices won’t only help you comply with California labor law requirements, they also serve as a proactive measure to guarantee that both employers and employees are well-informed about their rights and responsibilities.

Pamphlet  Notice Requirements
DE 2511, Paid Family Leave Insurance New-hire orientation 
DFEH-185-ENG, Sexual Harassment New-hire orientation
Time to Hire/ Workers’ Compensation New-hire orientation
DLSE-NTE, Wage Theft Prevention Act New-hire orientation (applies to non-exempt employees only)
Rights of Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking New-hire orientation and upon request
Consumer Privacy Act Before collecting personal

information from an applicant or


DE 2515, Disability Insurance Provisions Within 5 days of hire

Step 8: Streamline Onboarding with Time Management Software

The onboarding process can be hectic. To bring order to the chaos try using time management and time tracking software.

These tools are extra handy, letting you create work schedules for your new hires, assign them to projects and activities, and analyze their progress through easy-to-export reports. You can also easily identify which tasks are taking new hires longer than usual to finish so you can promptly intervene, provide necessary resources, or offer additional training to support the new hires effectively.

No more manual juggling of schedules and paperwork – with time tracking software, you can streamline your onboarding process and level up efficiency.

Two women being interviewed in the office. Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

How Long Should Onboarding Last?

According to the California Department of Human Resources, onboarding is how you help new employees fit into your organization. It’s not just a one-time event like a traditional orientation, which is usually managed by the Human Resources (HR) team. Onboarding is a more comprehensive and long-term way of helping new employees get used to their roles and succeed in our organization. It can span from a few weeks to an entire year.

Some leaders believe that a speedy onboarding process gets new hires to work quickly. However, studies show that a more extended process, lasting from three months to a year, is better for improving productivity and keeping employees. According to Click Boarding, it usually takes employees about 8-12 months to be as skilled as their experienced colleagues. Since each department and role has different onboarding needs, it’s essential to consider these when planning how long the onboarding process should be. For more complex roles or industries with intricate processes, a more extended onboarding period may be necessary.

What are the Most Important KPIs to Track During Onboarding?

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are vital tools for evaluating the success of your employee onboarding program, providing insights into its effectiveness and areas for improvement. Here are five crucial KPIs you can track during onboarding:

1. New Employee Engagement Rate 

Employee engagement is about how connected and passionate new hires feel about their work. Use the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) to measure engagement by asking new employees if they would recommend the workplace. This helps collect feedback, showing how well they connect with the organization and pinpointing areas for improvement in onboarding.

Calculation: eNPS = Percentage of Promoters – Percentage of Detractors

2. New Employee Satisfaction

The success of a company relies on its culture, making New Employee Satisfaction a vital KPI. Keep an eye on turnover rates and use post-onboarding surveys to understand new hires’ morale and happiness. This insight into their acclimation guides efforts to enhance the overall employee experience, supporting engagement and retention.

3. Employee Turnover

Employee turnover measures departures within a specific time frame. While some turnover is normal, consistently high rates can be problematic, costing the company significantly. Use exit surveys to identify reasons for departure and proactively address potential issues.

Calculation: Turnover Rate = Total Departures ÷ Average Number of Employees x 100

4. Employee Retention

Employee retention focuses on keeping top talent within the organization. High retention rates show commitment to building long-term relationships, contributing to an engaged workforce, and increasing profitability. Measure retention annually.

Calculation: Retention Rate = Remaining Headcount During Set Period ÷ Starting Headcount During Set Period x 100

5. Employee Productivity

Employee Productivity measures how effectively employee efforts contribute to business goals, crucial in hybrid and remote work settings. Use metrics like Input/Output or project management software to understand workflow efficiency. Monitoring productivity provides opportunities to optimize the workforce, track performance, and enhance organizational management.

Calculation: Productivity = Input/Output

Final Thoughts

Effective onboarding ensures that new hires feel welcomed, informed, and equipped to contribute to the organization. It helps build a sense of belonging, fosters engagement and lays the groundwork for a long and productive relationship between the employee and the company. It’s a process that’s well worth the investment.

By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can ensure that your new hires not only integrate seamlessly but also thrive within the company. From the first day to ongoing support, you want to set the tone for a positive, collaborative, and productive work environment where everybody wins!