Pre-Employment Orientation: The Wave of the Future for HR?

Pre-Employment Orientation: The Wave of the Future for HR?

This article was updated on July 27, 2018.

One of the most challenging aspects of onboarding is orientation. There are a lot of moving parts, it takes a long time to do (and sit through) and it's tedious for all parties involved. It's also an expensive process for the organization: You pay for the facilitator's prep time and materials, you pay the facilitator for the time it takes to facilitate and you pay people to sit through the orientation.

So, what if there was something you could do to eliminate some, if not all, of the expense of orientation?

Here's why pre-employment orientation could be the answer your organization is looking for.

What It Is

Pre-employment orientation happens before an employee's actual start date. Aspects such as benefits communication and election are accessed through an online portal. The new hire is given access as soon as they sign on the dotted line, and they can learn about the company and its benefits on their own time before coming in for their first day of work. Such a platform can be created in-house or purchased through companies like SilkRoad Onboarding, Alex or TalentLMS.

The Benefits

When you have an online orientation platform, you cut out the cost of printing materials and having a facilitator on site. For that matter, if you have multiple offices, you save on the facilitator's travel costs and time.

For new hires, and even employees who go through open enrollment every year, the platform is convenient. All new-hire forms and employee orientation paperwork become centralized. Employees can access their orientation and benefits materials when they need them and can complete training modules, for example, customer service or anti-harassment training, and be ready to hit the ground running on their first day.

Due Diligence

According to the Impact Instruction Group 2015 Onboarding Trends Report, 71 percent of respondents indicated they are in the process of updating their onboarding processes. Before you begin investing in an online pre-employment orientation platform, however, it's best to get in touch with your legal department or attorney, says employment law attorney Ray Poole, with Atlanta-based Constangy, Brooks, Smith and Prophete, LLC. Orientation can be considered a lecture, meeting or a training program under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In which case, the time spent online, going through orientation and filling out forms could be compensable. Although not all four of the U. S. Department of Labor's criteria determine if people need to be paid are met with an online orientation, three criteria stick out: Orientation is mandatory, new-hire paperwork is completed and benefits are elected. These all may be considered "work performed."

Poole says, "I get a bit concerned when people start providing that kind of training before the start date. They run the risk of making them employees. Because if you start treating them like an employee, [i.e.] you require that they engage in certain activities, then you may very well have converted them to an employee status, and then the time that they're spending doing those required things, they become compensable or at a minimum it creates this gray area."

If you and your attorney believe you do convert the new hires to employee status before their scheduled start date, then you effectively change the start date to the day on which they log on to the platform. In that case, Poole says, you would pay an exempt employee the same way you normally would. A non-exempt employee can be paid at a lower rate for the time spent in orientation.

The Challenge

Once you figure out the employee status of new hires going through online orientation, it's time to think about how to make the platform personal. After all, the relationship-building aspect of in-person orientations won't exist. It will take a lot of time, effort and resources to meet that challenge, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. CHROs and other leaders will be best served if they focus less on achieving perfection and more on accepting that the platform will change and will need to be fine-tuned as the organization learns, changes and grows.

No matter what, every new hire will need orientation. So think about the cost of facilitating a live orientation versus the cost it would take to create, implement and use an online platform, and the ramifications of not creating the initial HR bond with new-hires in orientation.

Virtual pre-employment orientation is still in its infancy. But adopting that innovative solution may help you keep your organization ahead of the competition.