As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to collect and store important information about your new employees as soon as they start working for you.
Creating and using a standardized employee information form when onboarding new hires can help you save time, ensure consistency, and keep important information at your fingertips whenever needed.
To create an employee information form for your business, follow the 8-part checklist outlined below:
1. Get The Information At The Right Time
Gathering employee information is different from gathering job applicant information.
The former has been hired, the latter is not yet hired. Until they are hired and have agreed to work for you and have agreed to your company policies and employee handbook, there’s a lot of information you have no right to ask.
While I’ll talk later in the post about information you might not want to get from your actual employees for various reasons, you definitely have to be careful about what information you get from job applicants. If it helps, Kettering University has a very good list (PDF) of questions you should not be asking job applicants, along with ways to word similar questions differently to gather relevant information you might be looking for that are legitimate considerations.
The point is that an employee information form is for hired employees. It is information that has nothing to do with whether or not they’ll be considered for a job. So, once someone has been officially hired, that’s the right time to give them your employee information form.
Beyond that immediate post-hiring information gathering moment, consider following up at yearly performance reviews, or at least somewhat periodically. Some of the information may have changed from when the employee initially filled out the form. You may want to review the information before tax time, for example, because you don’t want to send out tax information to an old address.
- Are they officially a hired employee?
- Set aside time and space for them to fill out the employee information form. Be there to answer any questions.
- Get information updates on some things at least every year. Make sure contact and emergency information is correct.
2. Get Contact And Communication Information
Obvious, sure, but get the basic contact information from each employee.
- Full name
- Employee home address, with ZIP code
- Employee mailing address, with ZIP code (if different from home address)
- Phone number (home and mobile)
- Email address
Include the opportunity for employees to let you know how and when they preferred to be contacted. Some respond quickly via email, others prefer a text message.
You may want to allow them to optionally provide you with social media or messaging services that they also use to communicate, but don’t require this information. Not every employee wants to connect with their employer in this realm.
- Do you have information so you could contact them via mail, phone, and internet?
- Do you know the method they prefer to be contacted by?
3. Get The Information Required By Law
Depending on the location of your business, your local, state, and national government will require that you gather specific information that you’ll need later.
Let’s use the United States as our example.
- The Internal Revenue Service: The IRS requires employers to gather specific information regarding their eligibility to work in the country, their Social Security number, and a tax form dealing with employee withholding.
- Citizen and Immigration Services: The USCIS requires employees to provide you with proof of their identity as well as proof that they are legally able to work in the country.
- Other: You may need to gather information about child support garnishment, background checks, gender, marital status, and so on, though some of this will not come directly from the employee and may not be necessary in a general information collection form.
Be sure you are familiar with the different laws and information requirements for different work situations. Different laws require you to collect different types of information. They also require you to retain that information for set periods of time.
I’d suggest using this section of the information form as a kind of checklist for this type of information, mainly there to make sure you remember to gather it all. Some of this is highly confidential and should be kept in employee personnel files in a secure manner (which I’ll talk about in a bit) and not on a general form full of other kinds of information.
Avoid gathering information prohibited by law.
Some questions are prohibited by law (especially, as I pointed out, when the person is an applicant and not an employee), while other questions might gather information that, while not illegal to have, come with restrictions on how it can be used.
If you don’t need to know things that border in this gray area, it is better to not even ask. This way you’ll avoid any employee discomfort or wariness, and avoid any potential claims that you used this information to discriminate later.
For example, some things you might want to avoid, both due to legal issues or it being inappropriate, might include race, religion, nationality, or political affiliation.
Again, acquiring some of this information might not be illegal, but when you ask for it you hint at illegal motives and you want to avoid that at all costs. It is a good idea to have your lawyer go through your completed employee information form to make sure you are within legal bounds with what you want to know about your employees.
- Gather information required by law for all employees.
- Since you’ll maintain this type of legal information and documents according to a retention and destruction procedure, you will keep the “guts” of this information separate from the form itself. The information form will act as a checklist to be sure you’ve accounted for everything.
- Be sure you avoid collecting unnecessary information that could get you into trouble later.
- Have your lawyer review your form to check for best legal practices and to be sure your checklist accounts for all legal requirements.
4. Get Information Necessary For Health And Safety
People get nervous about asking for and providing health information.
Yet, you may need health information for your health insurance or wellness plans. You cannot ask the employee’s health provider directly for this information unless they give permission, but you can ask the employee for it. Only ask for the information you need, of course; you are not building a detailed health record on each employee. And be aware of HIPAA (or similar laws in countries other than the United States) requirements. Don’t treat any health-related information, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, flippantly. It is your duty to protect the privacy of your employees. Use the information form as a checklist, and keep this information separate much like you did with the previous legally required information.
Some of the things you might want to find out, depending on the nature of your business or the job the employee might have, are things like allergies, or if they need something like a standing desk because of health preferences or requirements.
And of course, don’t forget to get emergency contact information, or who you should call if there is a medical emergency.
- Review HIPAA requirements to understand how they apply to you.
- Get the name of their healthcare provider if applicable.
- Get employee permission, in writing, if you need to contact their health provider.
- Get necessary health information that your health or wellness plans require.
- Get additional health information that you need.
- Get current contact in case of medical emergency.
5. Get Information About Interests, Skills, And Future Plans
This type of information would fall in the category of optional, but do try to find out what your employees like and if they have plans to pursue promotions and expect career advancement in your business. If you use personality tests, you could record that information here, too.
Let them tell you about the hobbies and interests they have, and any organizations they are active in. This helps you identify projects they would likely enjoy, or worthy organizations your company might be interested in supporting on their behalf.
Much of this information you’d typically find out in a casual conversation, but too often you don’t have those with employees, especially if your business is large or hectic. And let’s be honest: you can’t remember every detail about every employee.
So give employees a place to tell you about these things to keep on file.
- Have them list the hobbies they are active in.
- Have them list anything they are interested in.
- Have them list the charitable organizations they are involved in.
- Let them tell you about what they want for their future or where they hope their career ultimately leads.
6. Get Information For Rewards And Cultural Activities
This is also in the realm of optional information, but you may want to ask employees about such things as birthdays, or important dates or milestones, so that you can celebrate with the rest of the team based on such things.
Related to such celebrations, you may want employees to tell you:
- Favorite foods.
- Preferred activities (i.e. mini golf or rock climbing).
- Favorite restaurants.
- Places they have traveled to.
The idea is that you have the information on hand to use in the future when you celebrate or reward employees. Giving them a gift card to their favorite restaurant is a great gesture. Personalized rewards that the employee actually wants carries more meaning.
- Have a plan on how you will reward individual employees.
- Ask questions that are geared towards personalizing and customizing those rewards.
7. Ask For Information In A Transparent Way
It matters how you ask employees for information, not just what you ask.
Use plain language, not jargon.
When it comes to acquiring legal information, especially, it can be confusing for some employees.
Use plain language and any supporting materials that laws require you to make available to employees as well as those that you think will help clarify what and why you’re asking for the information. This is not the time for lawyer-ese or obfuscated language. If you must, provide an “in other words” summation for complicated questions.
Let employees know why you need the information.
Nothing makes a person more leery about providing information about themselves than being unsure why the information is needed (particularly in an age where everyone seems to be collecting data on them).
If you ask them what their favorite restaurant is, tell them it’s only so that you know where to get gift cards or where you might get office catering from.
Make it clear what information is necessary and what isn’t.
Essentially, the necessary information is really the information required by law, health insurance providers, and contact information. Much of the rest may be optional.
Much of the required information is a checklist for your benefit, to make sure you fulfill legal requirements. But do mark the optional information as such, and let it go if they choose not to fill it out. You don’t want them to feel like they have to explain why they didn’t want to provide it.
- Put required information first and foremost on your form. If it’s a checklist, it should look like a checklist and you should check off the required information that you’ve gathered. The fact that you have a record of a completed list is, in itself, useful to you.
- Put optional information second. Clearly indicate that it is optional and not required.
- Review the language on your form. Is it clear? Have you offered paraphrased explanations if needed?
- For all optional questions, explain what you will do with that information.
8. Be Sure Your Security Is Robust
You are responsible for the data you gather, and any information employees give you needs to be kept confidential. What kind of plan do you have to keep this information private from other employees?
Whether this information is stored in a digital format or an old school filing cabinet in your office, you need to keep it “locked” away and give access only on a need to know basis. Employee information is nobody’s business but your’s and the employee’s. Serious employers have a specific personnel records plan, and it includes how long something stays in the file, and when and how things are discarded.
- Decide: Who will need access to employee information? This should be a short list, reserved for human resources and managers, most likely.
- Plan: How will you restrict access? This might be through physical keys for locked file cabinets or encrypted passwords, or by using restricted permissions in your HR software.
- Reassure: Before asking the information, tell the employee in person and on the form that this information will remain private and nothing they share will be revealed to other employees or used against them.