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Onboarding new employees during COVID-19 outbreak

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This information helps organizations navigate issues related to novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and onboarding new hires. We hope this resource helps you make sound decisions in the workplace as you bring on new staff during this time. This guidance applies to general government employers. Higher education employers may choose to follow this guidance.

Please note: We will adjust these guidelines as we learn more about the spread and impacts of the virus.


Due to social distancing requirements and Gov. Inslee’s recent “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation ordering all Washingtonians to stay home except for essential activities, agencies have been exploring creative ways to limit in-person contact and exposure for human resources staff and new employees. Below we have described three step-by-step options you may want to consider, based on your agency’s needs. Additionally, we’ve offered guidance on job postings and upcoming hiring processes that should be considered alongside previous State HR COVID-19 guidance on recruitment.

For employees already offered and accepted employment with confirmed start dates in April

Option 1: Drive-up onboarding

  1. Employee is sent all onboarding paperwork via FedEx, USPS, etc., so they can wash hands and fill it out safely at home. Provide contact information so they can contact a designated HR person with questions.
  2. Employee drives to a designated location and remains in their car.
  3. HR washes hands, suits up with gloves and mask, if available, and approaches car from passenger side to collect paperwork. HR reviews for thoroughness away from the vehicle.
  4. HR collects documents used for the I-9 and takes a photo copy of ID, sanitizes it or provides a sanitizing wipe, and gives it back.
  5. HR gives employee their new sanitized badge with wipe to clean. (Employee will be asked to provide an acceptable digital photo in advance.)
  6. IT gives employee their computer, accessories, etc. with instructions to set up virtually and a phone number to call for assistance. Ensure equipment has been thoroughly sanitized and double bagged, when giving new hire equipment, remove outer bag.
  7. New Employee Orientation takes place virtually, mid-April.

Option 2: Virtual onboarding

  1. Employee is sent all onboarding paperwork via FedEx, USPS, etc, so they can fill it out at home.
  2. Employee is scheduled for a virtual meeting where questions can be asked and ID can be virtually reviewed for the I-9.*
  3. Employee scans and emails W-4 and direct deposit forms, making sure to omit/redact social security numbers or bank numbers. Clear digital photos of the documents (which can be taken by a cell phone and emailed if the employee does not have a scanner) may also be accepted. Payroll follows up with a phone call to the employee to get the confidential information.  OR
  4. Employee doesn’t have scan or digital photo capabilities, so would need to mail back the documents. (Can include an addressed envelope in the FedEx packet.)
  5. IT mails the computer, accessories, etc. with instructions.
  6. NEO takes place virtually, mid-April.
  7. I-9 documents are confirmed within 3 days of being released back to work.*

*See bottom of the page for DHS changes to I-9 document verification process due to COVID-19, which makes Option 2 permissible

Option 3: Delayed start date

  1. Employee doesn’t feel comfortable with either of these options, and would rather delay the start date.
  2. Work with hiring manager and employee to determine a new start date.

For current postings or upcoming approved recruitments

Work with appropriate leadership to assess if the intended hire represents a critical role to the agency mission or is needed for COVID-19 response. Prioritize roles and minimize any non-critical hiring.

After April 1 hires, we recommend no start dates prior to tentative May 15.

I-9 flexibility

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on March 19 it will exercise discretion and allow employers with employees taking physical proximity precautions due to COVID-19 to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents remotely. However, employers must inspect the Section 2 documents remotely (e.g., over video link, fax or email, etc.) and obtain, inspect and retain copies of the documents within three business days for purposes of completing Section 2. Employers also should enter “COVID-19” as the reason for the physical inspection delay in the Section 2 “additional information” field once physical inspection takes place after normal operations resume.

Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to the additional information field of Section 2 on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate. These provisions may be implemented by employers for a period of up to 60 days from the date of the notice (May 19, 2020) OR within 3 business days after the termination of the National Emergency, whichever comes first.

Employers who exercise this option must provide written documentation of their remote onboarding and telework policy for each employee. This burden rests solely with the employers.

Once normal operations resume, all employees who were onboarded using remote verification, must report to their employer within three business days for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification.

Additionally, employers may designate an authorized representative to act on their behalf to complete Section 2. An authorized representative can be any person the employer designates to complete and sign Form I-9 on their behalf.

For additional details, see the full notice here.

Other considerations

Employees entering state employment for the first time during the COVID-19 outbreak may have questions about the basic operations of state employment, and they may not know who or how to ask. Consider setting up a time to check in remotely with new employees to allow them to ask any questions they have. Answers to questions such as “When is payday?” “Does direct deposit start right away, or will you be mailing me a paper check?” and “Do my medical benefits start immediately?” are very important to new employees no matter when they start.

Make sure your new employee knows who to contact for more information about their new job. While working remotely they may not feel as comfortable reaching out with these questions as if they were physically in the office. If they are clear on the details, it will help them feel welcomed and supported by your agency during this stressful time. Remember: you never get a second chance to make a great first impression.

Last updated
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
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