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Writing Proper Job Descriptions

The_presidencyAccurate and properly written job descriptions can be an invaluable aid in hiring well and legally.  But bad job descriptions . . . well that can be worse than none.  Inaccurate descriptions, and those that an employer allows to become outdated only confuse the hiring process, complicate employee reviews and make accommodation under the ADA a daunting task.

For those reasons, any employer that adopts written job descriptions must commit itself to the ongoing task of ensuring that all descriptions prepared and circulated are accurate initially, reviewed periodically and updated as necessary.

In preparing a good job description, an employer should keep the following in mind:

  • List specific qualifications.  Ensure that all educational "requirements" are mandatory, or consider using the phrase "or equivalent experience."
  • List essential job functions and duties.  Carefully determine if the position has any lifting and other physical requirements.  If the description contains physical requirement, they must be "essential" or the requirement may be found to discriminate against disabled job applicants.  Be as specific as possible about responsibilities and duties, particularly supervisory and discretionary duties, because job descriptions (and duties) are important in determining whether an employee is entitled to overtime pay.
  • Seek appropriate input.  Seek input from employees who hold the position and their managers to ensure accuracy.
  • Identify and list the pay range.
  • Use appropriate language.  Keep language neutral, non-age restrictive and relevant to job requirements.  For example, say "college degree required" as opposed to "recent college graduate".
  • Monitor accuracy.  Implement and monitor a system to ensure that all job descriptions are current and complete.

For further discussion on job descriptions visit an excellent post from attorney Liz Overton on Sullivan & Ward's Iowa Law Blog.  Another insightful post is from Pennsylvania attorney Michael Moore (no not that one) who explains that proper business records (including well written job descriptions) are your only true defense in surviving a wage and hour audit.

Photo on flickr by macartisan.

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