Most employers are well aware of the importance of having well-written, accurate, and effective job descriptions. Indeed, good job descriptions have several benefits including, but not limited to, the following:
- They help hiring managers determine whether an individual will be able to perform the duties of a particular job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
- They set forth clear expectations about the job for both employees performing the job and managers evaluating performance.
- They allow employers to more effectively evaluate requests for disability or religion-related accommodations in light of the required job duties.
- They can be useful when defending against claims of discrimination or other legal challenges.
On the other hand, poorly-written, outdated, or inaccurate job descriptions can impose unnecessary requirements, negatively impact the employer’s ability to hire qualified persons for jobs, and give rise to additional legal claims that are more difficult to defend. Consequently, even though evaluation of the physical, mental, and environmental requirements for a job is often time-consuming, employers are well-advised to regularly review their job descriptions to ensure that the information and job requirements contained in those descriptions are current and accurately reflect the job’s duties and the requirements necessary to perform those duties. This is even more important for federal contractors who are required to establish a schedule and conduct “periodic” reviews of all physical and mental job qualifications to ensure that any job qualifications which tend to screen out job applicants are job-related and consistent with business necessity.
So just how does an employer critically evaluate the physical, mental, and other requirements for a job and maintain accurate, well-written job descriptions? Below are some recommendations and best practices.
- Use Effective Dates. When preparing a job description, include the effective date of the job description and update that effective date any time the job description is revised. This will ensure that only the most current version of the job description is being used in connection with job applications, accommodation assessments, and performance evaluations or discipline. Having written effective dates will also serve as a reminder to review any job descriptions with older effective dates.
- Create a Review Schedule. Establish a schedule for reviewing all job descriptions to ensure the accuracy and legality of any physical, mental, or environmental requirements for the job. In general, the best practice is to review these job requirements any time a job is open and needs to be filled, and/or at least annually. Note that all jobs do not have to be reviewed at once; instead, the review may be staggered by job grade, department, location, or any other method that makes sense for the employer. The important thing is that a schedule is established and adhered to.
- Establish Review Ownership. Assign the review to a particular person (or persons) and ensure that they understand their ownership of the review process and their review responsibilities (discussed below).
- Understand Essential/Required Job Functions. When evaluating the duties and job requirements set forth in a job description, it is important to have a full understanding of which duties are essential/required and which duties are non-essential to the performance of the job. Generally speaking, job duties may be considered essential if: (a) the position exists to perform that task; (b) only a limited number of employees are able to perform the task and the task cannot be reassigned without significant hardship; or (c) the task is highly specialized and requires a special expertise or ability to perform it. In determining whether a function is essential, think about whether eliminating that task or redistributing the job duty among other individuals is possible; if it is not, the function is more likely to be essential to the job. Similarly, the amount of time spent performing the task and the consequences of not performing the task are also important considerations. For instance, if an employee spends the majority of his or her time performing a particular task or set of tasks, such tasks are likely to be deemed essential functions of the job. Likewise, a function that is not required to be performed very often, but is central to the job and would have significant consequences if not performed (e.g., a pilot landing a plane, a firefighter carrying a person out of a building, etc.), is also likely to be an essential function of the job. Finally, things like work experience of current and past employees, management expectations and production requirements, and terms of collective bargaining agreements are all things that should be taken into account when assessing which job functions are essential.
- Identify and Establish Job Requirements. Once the required job functions and tasks are understood, the reviewer must then identify and document what physical and mental capabilities and/or other skills or abilities are required in order to perform those essential functions. In order to do so, the reviewer should solicit information from all available sources, including managers, employees who are currently performing or who have performed the job in the past, health and safety personnel, Human Resources and legal advisors, and any other resources with pertinent information. Only physical, mental, or environmental requirements that relate to the particular job and that are required to perform the essential job functions may be listed as job requirements and used as minimum qualifications for the position.
- Eliminate/Modify Job Requirements as Necessary. In some cases, job descriptions may contain physical requirements, mental, or other requirements (e.g., lifting requirements, degree requirements, etc.) that are simply not necessary to the performance of the job. Because these requirements may screen out candidates that are otherwise qualified to perform the job, if the reviewer identifies physical, mental, or other job requirements that do not relate to the particular job or that are not needed to perform the job, such requirements should be eliminated or modified accordingly. In all cases, requirements should be focused on an individual’s ability to accomplish the job-related tasks or show results, and not assumptions about how such tasks are usually performed or the method by which such tasks are normally completed.
- Document Requirements Appropriately. Once the appropriate job requirements have been identified/confirmed, the reviewer should ensure that the job duties and related requirements and qualifications are documented appropriately in the job description. In most cases, the documentation should include, at minimum: (a) a brief summary of the job functions (distinguishing between essential and non-essential job functions) with an estimate of the amount of time spent on each function and how often they are performed; (b) a list of the physical, mental, environmental, and other requirements necessary to perform the essential job functions; (c) any special work requirements such as shift, hour, overtime, or attendance requirements; and (d) any other information the employer believes should be communicated to applicants and employees regarding the job duties and expectations.
- Incorporate Disclaimers. Finally, well-written job descriptions will include language reminding applicants and employees that the job description is a summary of the job duties and responsibilities, is not intended to cover all possible job duties, and is subject to change at the employer’s discretion. Additionally, it is useful to note that employees must be able to perform the essential job duties and satisfy job requirements either with or without a reasonable accommodation.