Why Job Descriptions Are Essential

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How many times have you heard, “But it’s not in my job description,” from an employee?  I know I have heard this so many times in my 23-year career in Human Resources, it boggles the mind.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require that an employer have written job descriptions. However, if discrimination claims arise, the ADA will look at the job description and will consider the list of essential functions as part of the evidence in the claim.  Yes, I said it: there are zero requirements that current job descriptions be maintained by employers.  It’s hard to believe, since an accurate job description is such a useful and protective tool for employers.

Job descriptions are used in investigations, audits and lawsuits every day.  One of the most important aspects of developing and using a job description is that it brings a level of consistency to positions. Employees know what to expect of the job and what their employer expects of them.

Human Resources can also use a job description in reviewing an employee’s job performance during the appraisal process. Staffing and career planning are also simplified by using standard format job descriptions.

It is a Human Resources best practice to have job descriptions that are detailed, precise and up-to-date.  It can be very important to note, it IS important to have revision dates on all job descriptions.  It is also recommended to have each employee sign off on his or her description and keep the job description in their personnel file.

In Hawkins v.Schwan’s Home Service (Case No. 13-6149 [10th Cir. 2015]), an employee worked as a Facilities Supervisor for Schwan’s Home Service.  The position included driving company trucks to service appointments and shuttling trucks to salespeople to ensure deliveries; however, the job description did not include “driving” as a job duty or essential function.

Why is this important to note?  The employee had a significant illness occur and could no longer meet the requirements for DOT (Department of Transportation) qualification.  The employer placed the employee on unpaid leave while locating a non-DOT position within the company, but ended up terminating the employee, as there was not a position available.  The employee sued for disability discrimination and argued that driving was not an essential function of his job.

In court, the employer was required to explain exactly how driving was considered an essential function of the job, since driving was not specifically listed on the job description.  The employer made the argument that “fleet management”(which was listed on the description) as a job duty, was reason enough and implied the employee was required to have a good driving record; therefore, driving was a duty.

Perhaps surprisingly, the court agreed with the employer, stating that the job description could be viewed through a “broad lens.”  This was a lucky decision, in favor of the employer.  However, the whole issue could have been avoided if the job description was written in plain language, precise to the job, updated regularly and clearly stated.

What should be on a job description?

Even though the format of job descriptions varies from company to company, there are common elements that should be considered as part of most job descriptions.

The top portion of the job description could include basic information such as:

  • Name of the position (e.g., Computer Programmer);
  • Department in which the position is located (e.g., Information Systems);
  • What position supervises the position (e.g., Project Manager); and
  • Hours to be worked (e.g., 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.).

The main body of the job description coud contain specific information about the job, such as:

  • Principal duties and essential functions (e.g., writing computer programs);
  • Knowledge, skills, and experience (e.g., knowledge of various computer languages, ability to program in those languages, and 4 years’ experience in programming);
  • Education (e.g., a two-year or four-year degree in computer programming);
  • Certification/License (e.g., ASP, Cisco, COMP TIA, Microsoft, Oracle, project management);
  • Consider adding the physical lifting and movement requirements for the position and ensure that they are accurate; and
  • Working conditions.
  • Please note:  “all other duties as assigned” is not acceptable language to include in a job description, and does not protect the employer in the event of a dispute with regard to responsibilities.

Contact Staff One at 1.800.771.7823 with questions, or if you’d like to have an HR Manager review your job descriptions.  You may contact the author directly at jan.sherrick@staffone.com.