Recently, a client asked if I recommended a new hire onboarding approach where someone in HR sits with the new employee while they watched all the safety videos and read through all policies and employee handbook verbatim to make sure there are no excuses if an employee breaks a policy later. Here was my response:

The acknowledgement page in your employee handbook is meant to be evidence that employees were provided with, read, and agree to abide by your policies. It is both inefficient and unnecessary to sit with them while they do so. (I am sure you have a million other things to attend to!) You should require some form of documentation for your safety policies and training videos. Of course, the signed forms are merely a starting point, not the full answer.

It is also important that you impress upon your new hires that you expect them to do more than just sign the acknowledgement forms. This means providing them with ample paid time to read and review all of the provided materials. Ignorance of the policy is really not an excuse as long as the company is not sending employees mixed messages. The goal is to uniformly and consistently reinforce the idea that the policies and safety rules are important and that employees are expected to know and follow them. How a company does that could be viewed on a continuum (think Goldilocks and the three bears):

  • Too hot – At one extreme, the situation you describe occurs, which certainly strengthens the argument that everyone not only received, but also reviewed everything because you have both their signature, and a witness who can attest to a consistent process of essentially babysitting every new hire to make sure they follow through. (While effective from a proof standpoint, it is also costly, inefficient, and may send a message of mistrust.)
  • Too cold – On the other end of the spectrum, employees are thrown a bunch of papers to sign, and not given time to actually read or review everything they are signing. Worse yet, sometimes they are never actually provided with all of the materials to begin with. (In this scenario, the best policies are not worth the paper they are written on if the actual work practices only serve to undermine them.)
  • Just right – A happy medium is best: create a process where you can consistently demonstrate that all employees receive all of the information that is important and an onboarding/training structure that reinforces the importance of those materials and documents. This sometimes comes in the form of new hire orientation classes that summarize and emphasize key points in the written materials. However, in a more physically distributed structure it can also come in the form of a documented onboarding checklist that outlines expected first week activities and allows sufficient time for completion of these items. There is no “one size fits all” approach, you just need enough documentation to show it occurred. At a minimum I recommend:
    • Get signatures for every important policy or required notice that you provide new employees. Outside of the handbook and arbitration agreement, this can be in the form of signing a checklist of provided new hire documents to verify receipt.
    • Always keep some sort of written record of any training provided. Sometimes these are online records or reports that can be pulled for computer-based training. For videos, they should sign that they completed the training somewhere – this could be on a new-hire onboarding checklist that is completed during their first few days and then collected and retained in their file to show that everything was done.
    • To quote an old proverb, this is the “trust, but verify”  approach. It sends a message to your new hires that the policies and expectations are important and real. It shows you are invested in providing them with the tools to be successful because you are clearly communicating expectations in advance. It shows you follow through on your expectations and sets a positive tone for your company culture.