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  • Writer's pictureRoberta Edwards

Do Job Descriptions Really Matter?

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

You bet they do! Second only to an employee handbook, job descriptions are the most important documents for an organization to have in place. Operating without complete job descriptions sets your organization up for failure. While on the other hand, well-written, fully executed job descriptions contribute to the success of an organization.

Job descriptions are essential to an organization in that they:

Match Qualified Candidates to Current Job Openings

Job descriptions play a vital role in the hiring process. When recruiting for open positions, the job description becomes the basis for the job posting. The qualifications and skills listed on the job description will help the employer identify the most qualified candidate for the position and provide a basis for decisions not to hire a candidate as well. For example, if a bachelor’s degree is a must have, then candidates who have not reached that level of education would not be qualified. However, if it is preferred but not required, that leaves more opening to consider candidates who may have more skills and experience even if they don’t have more education.

Guide Background Check Processes

When determining which type of background checks should be run in addition to criminal checks, a job description provides critical information. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is very specific about their stance that background checks must be applicable to the job duties. A well-written job description can clear up any confusion on whether additional background checks are necessary. Running a credit check on an employee who will not have any responsibility for cash handling or access to bank accounts is not related to the job duties and can land an employer in hot water, especially if the candidate is rejected based on the information acquired.

Help Drive Performance Management

Job descriptions are an important performance management tool. Employees will know exactly what they are responsible for when they have a complete job description. When the employee signs the job description, they are acknowledging that they have been provided their responsibilities and essentially they are agreeing to do the job. If job performance becomes substandard, the job description can be used as a tool to have a constructive performance conversation. Additionally, when an employer has a signed job description on file and handles the performance management process carefully, terminations for performance issues become less of a liability.

Assist Everyone in Complying with Safety, Workers’ Compensation and Related Laws

In regard to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety regulations, a job description is valuable in determining safety procedures for a particular position as well as outlining required personal protective equipment (PPE). A job description also provides the basis for adhering to safety rules and following correct procedures when administering workers' compensation claims and return to work programs. When an employee returns to work after an injury or illness but has restrictions from their doctor, a job description helps an employer determine whether they can accommodate those restrictions and how to move forward.

Play a Key Role in the ADA Interactive Process

When an employer receives a request for reasonable accommodation under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), a job description contains the essential functions and physical requirements of the incumbent’s position, which are a key tool in the interactive process. Oftentimes, the job description is used to gain more information from the employee’s physician and assist both the employer and employee with determining which type of accommodation would be the best option.

Ensure Correct FLSA Classifications and Correct Pay Practices

The job duties of a position (not the job title) drive the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) classification of the position as exempt or non-exempt. Therefore, in order to have a successful and competitive compensation strategy, job descriptions must be correct and complete. The job duties can be compared to the requirements for the different exemption types provided by the FLSA and can help employers correctly classify positions, and avoid facing costly wage and hour claims.

Inform Decisions Regarding Telework Options

Last but not least a properly written job description will assist an employer in determining whether an employee can do their job completely from home. This provides employers with a basis for reasoning behind requiring certain employees to report to the office, while others may be able to complete their job remotely.

In order to create a well-written job description, it must contain, at a minimum, the essential functions of the position (those that must be performed regularly), required skills and qualifications, specific travel, driving and physical requirements, a statement covering reasonable accommodation, and a statement of disclaimer that the employee has read the job description and can perform all essential functions (with or without accommodation).

Once job descriptions have been created for your organization, they need to be thoroughly reviewed not only by management and human resources, but also by the employee performing the job. Once this process is complete, roll out the job descriptions to all employees and make sure they are signed and placed in employment files. Keep the job descriptions in a folder on a shared drive for employees to access or give them an individual copy.

As jobs change and responsibilities shift, periodically review existing job description to determine if the job description is still representative of the actual job. Do this no less than annually and also every time there is turnover in a position. As outlined above, creating and keeping job descriptions up to date will make life a lot easier for every employer.

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