After almost 25 years in Human Resources, I have definitely learned a thing or two about limiting liabilities. Job descriptions, in my opinion, are one of the fail-safes in protecting any size business from employee-related liability. Coupled with a strong employee handbook, job descriptions define the employment relationship. In employment disputes, job descriptions regularly become the most important piece of evidence. Reviewing and updating your job descriptions annually can strategically reduce the business risk, set employee expectations, assist with career succession planning, ongoing training, performance development and should provide flexibility for the employer’s changing goals and business cycles.
Many Federal and State employment related agencies see a job description as a guide for expectations. If an employer suggests poor performance and terminates a worker, these agencies will request a copy of the job description as the baseline. If the job description fails to include the essential job duties or they are outdated or are not listed in order of importance, you potentially can lose your case as the employer.
Additionally, job descriptions should outline all duties the employee may be required to perform. The simple statement, “All other duties as assigned,” has failed in many recent court cases. I suggest using terms more clearly defined such as “may perform administrative and maintenance duties as directed, based on business needs.” This simple change in wording means that there are limits to what will be asked of the employee in this description to perform; perhaps make coffee or answer the phone, or possibly mop up a wet mess in the kitchen based on the business needs. Having these limits set makes a stronger description and clearly defines the position more than, “anything I tell you to do.”
A good job description should include the following:
- Essential functions of the position and elements required for the position, for example:
- Employers need to maintain a balance between too much and too little information in job descriptions, yet should include as many job duties and expectations as possible.
- Be sure to add physical requirements for the job. For example, include lifting requirements, working overtime/weekends, and any weather conditions or chemicals to which the position might be subjected.
- Professional qualifications need to be included as required or desired, for example:
- Physical ability.
- Language proficiency.
- Always set expectations in regard to the requirement of work to be performed.
Overall, an employee’s actual job functions should be accurately reflected in a job description. Not only can this help limit your liability as an employer and set expectations or baselines for performance reviews, it also can be an excellent recruiting tool, helping you to easily communicate the essence of the job being offered.
For a quick summary, check out this 2-minute video, “Why Job Descriptions Are Essential,” by Anissa Wilson, PHR, SHRM-CP, in our HR Tips in Under 10 Minutes series.
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