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Five Reasons Updated Job Descriptions Matter

A job description is a useful tool to describe a position’s tasks, duties, functions, and responsibilities. They form the foundation for many important processes such as job postings, recruitment, selection, wage and hour classifications, setting expectations, compensation, training, performance management, and appropriately responding to ADA accommodation or light duty requests. If you use employee job descriptions as living, breathing documents that are updated regularly to reflect the changing requirements of each position, they can be one of the most important tools for both employees and employers.

Most managers and Human Resources staff agree that job descriptions are essential, but few HR professionals have a standard policy for updating them. Preparing new job descriptions and keeping them up to date can often be a tedious task, and with so many other issues that require HR’s time and attention, they often fall to the bottom of the growing list of things to do.

Here are five reasons why you shouldn’t let job descriptions fall off your list:

Job Postings and Recruiting

Having a job description on file for each position can make creating a job posting easier. Although the job description itself should never be used as the actual job posting, they typically contain some of the same information. A job post should be relatively short, easy to read, and include only the most essential information about the role. They are designed to attract and promote the job to external candidates, including details such as company values and culture, as well as what the organization has to offer a potential candidate. The job description typically defines work standards, compensation or salary range, and essential duties of the position. Use a job description as a point of reference in writing job postings. The job description should be the most complete description of what a given role entails and what relationships it has to other company roles or with customers. Job descriptions are where HR and managers should be able to get the details for the posting – but they are only helpful when they are up to date and relevant.

Wage and Hour Classifications

Job descriptions can also justify why one employee was chosen over another or why one position is classified as exempt while another position is classified as non-exempt. A well-written, accurate job description should describe the job’s primary functions, which can be used to determine whether the position meets the duties test to be exempt from overtime.

Job descriptions should include details to support an exemption, including education or degree requirements, and can be helpful (or harmful!) in the event of a legal challenge. However, to be helpful, the job description must be accurate. If the job description portrays an inaccurate view of a job’s role, the employee may use it to support a claim that the duties did not justify exempt status. In describing an exempt job’s primary functions, it is important to highlight the duties that justify its exempt classification (those duties are in the white-collar exemption regulations).

Performance Management

A well-written job description establishes a solid set of expectations for employers to communicate to employees about the job. When employees have a strong understanding of their responsibilities, they generally work more efficiently and effectively in their respective roles. A job description gives an employee a clear and concise resource to be used as a guide for job performance. An employee knows exactly what is expected of them, which gives the employee a chance to improve their skills and increase productivity. A good job description can also help employees understand what tasks are most important and prevent them from placing undue emphasis on less important jobs.

Likewise, a supervisor can use a job description as a measuring tool to ensure that the employee is meeting job expectations. Job descriptions can also be essential for establishing a starting point in performance reviews and/or compensation reviews.

Responding to ADA Accommodations

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and many state anti-discrimination laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with covered disabilities, provided the employee can perform the essential functions of the job. While the ADA doesn’t require employers to develop or maintain job descriptions, they can be an integral part of compliance. A well-written and up-to-date job description can be key to responding to a request for accommodation. Job descriptions should provide accurate documentation of job requirements, physical and mental demands, and working conditions. This information should be defined before any employment action to ensure that decisions are non-discriminatory and based on job-related factors.

The use of the term “essential function” should be part of the job description, and it should explicitly state how an individual is to perform the job. This statement will provide future guidance as to whether the job can be performed with or without an accommodation. Using the job description as a guide during the interactive process can help identify limitations to job performance and possible accommodations.

Additionally, it’s important to make sure that the description of the job’s physical requirements and working conditions are accurate. Identifying significant physical and/or mental demands and environmental factors of a job is perhaps the most important element of ADA compliance. Physical demands are the physical actions needed to accomplish primary job tasks. Examples of physical requirements may include regular or occasional lifting requirements, the ability to climb stairs or ladders, vision or hearing requirements, or the ability to read signs or speak on the telephone. Working conditions of a job are conditions that a person may encounter or is exposed to during the course of performing the job. Examples of working conditions include hazardous materials or exposure to various weather conditions. Job descriptions should carefully include only the conditions and demands critical to the job’s successful performance, so as not to unintentionally exclude individuals with disabilities.

Workers’ Comp/Light Duty

Similar to the ADA, one of the more important components of a Return to Work program is having a proper job description for each position. Accurate and up-to-date job descriptions can be invaluable to any employer that has ever had an injured worker. Job descriptions that outline the essential duties, physical requirements, and working conditions can assist health professionals by providing them a full understanding of the job to determine whether an injured employee can return to work.

Suppose an employee cannot be returned to their regular job, with or without accommodation. In that case, an employer may consider offering an employee light or modified duty if the attending medical provider confirms an employee can perform specific light-duty job functions. Having a light-duty job description already built for alternative positions can save time. Studies have shown that light-duty work can help an employee rehabilitate quicker than if the worker stayed home while injured. Light-duty work also benefits the employee by helping keep their normal salary, and the employer by keeping claims costs lower. For employer protection, light-duty job offers must be approved by the attending medical provider, in writing, and presented to the injured worker, allowing the worker to accept or decline the position. Without this formal documentation, the worker may be eligible for time-loss benefits.

Conclusion

For employers, writing and maintaining job descriptions must be an ongoing task. In the same way that companies must re-evaluate budgets, workflows, and processes, they should also re-assess job descriptions, at least annually, to ensure those position requirements are up to date and consistent with current industry trends.

Contact your Account Executive about using an Archbright HR Consultant to assist with job description creation or updates. Eligible members are encouraged to contact the HR Hotline, Safety Hotline, or legal counsel with any questions or to seek specific guidance. Eligible members may also access Archbright’s sample job description template located on the Members Only website or mobile app.

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Joy Sturgis, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Joy has more than 15 years of managerial and director-level human resources experience in both manufacturing and service organizations. As an Archbright Content Manager, her responsibilities include creating and reviewing HR and legal content for all aspects of federal and Washington, Oregon and Idaho state employment law. She also supports our members with a variety of HR functions including HR advice and counsel, handbook and policy review, and employee development training. During her HR career, she has been responsible for leading HR strategies and functions for Washington companies as well as multi-state Business Units. Joy has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Villanova University and a MBA from University of Phoenix.