The HR Essentials Checklist

Use this HR checklist to create and maintain a solid HR foundation for your growing business. Inside, you'll find a simple usable template, plus a complete list of Canadian HR resources.

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The HR Essentials Checklist

Human resources is one of the most complicated aspects of running a business. But learning how to manage your people and their needs, from compliance to culture and everything in between, is necessary for leading a successful organization.

Unfortunately, most companies get at least some aspects of their HR wrong. Scattered employee records, non-compliant time off policies, and over-due performance management are just some of the common culprits.For small businesses, the penalties for these HR mistakes can be crippling, ranging from hefty fines to high employe turnover.

How to use the HR Essentials Checklist

Whether you already have an HR function at your company, or are just starting out, use this HR essentials checklist to get your employer responsibilities in order. Your rewards: reduced legal risks, greater business results, and a better working environment for everyone.

The checklist includes:

Basic Compliance

  • Review and understand employment standards that apply to your business
  • Write an employee handbook detailing legislative and company policies
  • Draft employment agreement with help from an HR or legal professional
  • Ensure your employment records are complete, secure, and easily accessible

Recruiting and Hiring

  • Select an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to manage new applicants
  • Write detailed job descriptions and post to our careers page
  • Design a structured interview and hiring process
  • Collaborate with hiring managers to select the best candidate

Time Off Management

  • Create and communicate a competitive and compliant time off policy
  • Document all employee time off requests, plus time taken and time earned
  • Ensure employees take the minimum mandated amount of vacation time
  • Familiarize yourself with government-mandated leaves of absence, such as parental leave, compassionate care, and public holidays


  • Ensure new hire forms are sent and signed before day one
  • Initiate a structured onboarding program
  • Ensure new hires complete training, both legislated and job-specific

Performance Management

  • Schedule regular one-on-ones between managers and employees
  • Clearly communicate job expectations and responsibilities
  • Document performance reviews, feedback, and progress

People and Culture

  • Write down your company mission, vision, and values
  • Create an open and productive work environment
  • Review your current benefits package to ensure that your coverage is being used optimally and matches the needs of your employees

Employee Benefits

  • Review your current benefits package or contact a benefits broker for quotes
  • Ensure all new hires are enrolled in a timely manner
  • Clearly communicate group benefits to employees via a short booklet or their employee portal

HR Reporting

  • Track HR metrics including turnover, department profiles, time off usage, and employee tenure
  • Regularly review HR reports with executives and company leaders

Learn more about the HR Essentials in our HR Guide for Small Businesses in Canada.

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