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[Author: Lesley Sifers, Tax Favored Benefits, Inc., 2012; R-2013 | Keywords: Human Resources, Job Description]

To be honest, I HATE writing job descriptions. It’s a lot of work to collect the information, actually write the description properly, and “sell it” to employees and managers (in addition to reviewing them periodically to ensure they are up-to-date). However, in the end, it is well worth the effort.

Job descriptions are a very useful tool for a variety of employment activities. In fact, I would say that job descriptions are even more useful than an employee manual.

What is a job description?

A job description is an objective, impersonal document that describes the essential functions of a position (WHY the job exists) and defines the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) required to perform that job effectively. It also describes the physical environment in which the work is performed and any physical abilities required to perform the work.

How are job descriptions used?

Job descriptions are used in recruiting, a good job description helps you design an ad, whether in print or on-line, that will hopefully attract the most qualified candidates for the job. During the hiring process, the job description helps you compare resumes and applications to essential functions of the job and to design your interview questions to obtain supporting information that will help you select the right person for the job.

Once someone is hired, the job description can help with performance evaluation. Are the essential duties being performed in a satisfactory manner? Does the incumbent have the required KSAs and the ability to use them effectively? If problems arise, the job description can serve as documentation to support disciplinary and termination actions based on performance. For example, if you can show that you took action based on inadequate performance as documented in a job description your decision will be far easier to defend, which is helpful when protesting an unemployment claim or fighting a charge of employment discrimination.

Why is it important to include work environment and physical demands in a job description?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to all employers with fifteen or more employees. To be ADA compliant, your job descriptions must include this information. The ADA applies to all phases of the employment process. People with disabilities cannot be discriminated against in hiring or in any other aspect of employment, including an employee who has worked for you for years but suddenly becomes disabled. This information is especially useful in workers compensation cases. Since the ADA requires you to make “reasonable accommodation” for disabled workers, a well-written job description can help the doctor make an assessment and help you design light duty or determine if the worker will ever be able to resume his/her former responsibilities.

Beyond ADA, you must also comply with the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA), which governs job classification and payment of overtime. Certain positions may be exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA but in an audit, you may have to prove that the position qualifies for exempt status. Once again, the job description can provide documentation of how the job meets exemption requirements. This can prove invaluable if the Department of Labor (DOL) decides to pay you a visit.

Finally, employees benefit from job descriptions. If you make the effort and take the time to prepare them, you should also take the time to make sure that every employee has a copy of his/her job description. For an employee, the job description helps define performance expectations and understand how their job fits into your workplace. A good job description should not be one the employee can point to and say, “That’s not my job.” There are methods for writing a job description that can counteract such attitudes.

I will continue with this topic next month, focusing on how to develop and write effective job descriptions. In the meantime, enjoy the lovely weather and don’t get too bent out of shape about politics. November will be here before we know it.