The Real Importance of Job Descriptions as Risk Management

Job descriptions aren't legally required and, as writing them sometimes feels daunting, you may be tempted to avoid having them or to not update the ones you do have.

But I know from experience that real job descriptions are helpful for myriad reasons and provide important legal protection for your organization.

Why have job descriptions? They serve as a communication tool between the employer and employees so there's mutual understanding about the expectations and responsibilities of the position. They provide a useful reference for performance management and as grounds for termination if an employee cannot or will not meet the written duties and expectations of the job.

Job descriptions justify Exempt or Nonexempt categorizations as required by the FLSA, and they can protect an organization from employment claims brought under the ADA or Title VII. The key is to do them well.

Be thoughtful about making sure all the "essential duties" of the position are documented. The EEOC describes these as the tasks which are fundamental to the position and, if removed, would fundamentally change the job. You can also think of essential duties as the reason the job exists. If you are creating a description of a position that isn't new but already exists, get input from the person doing the job as that person knows the job well and will appreciate being consulted.

When culling the essential duties in a job description, focus on what needs doing, not on how it's done. Here's an example: don't say, "lift up to 50 lbs. equipment" if what is actually required is that the equipment be moved. The function to be accomplished is transporting the equipment so that's what you should say to make sure you don't exclude individuals who might need a reasonable accommodation such as using a dolly.

You should also pay attention to bona-fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ) to make sure the job description does not violate Title VII or other laws related to protected to class protection, such as those based on race, gender, age, national origin or pregnancy status. So, for instance, don't specify that the job occupant needs to male or female unless you can prove that it's really required to this this job. For instance, a counselor of a support group for teenage girls discussing sexual issues needs to be a woman if the girls are to feel comfortable opening up. So being female in this case is a BFOQ.

As mentioned job descriptions are not legally required but, if you have them, they are treated as legal documents and they must be kept for at least two years. So be thoughtful and careful about creating them and consider using Job Descriptions Made Simple to ensure they work well for you!

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