Job descriptions are often the last item on a long list of to-dos when it comes to your employees. However, job descriptions are an essential tool in managing your employees and reducing your risk of liability.
What makes them so powerful? Job descriptions are a written summary of the job duties and physical requirements for each position in your office. When written properly, they not only help employees understand their role and responsibilities, they also serve a very important legal function in the event an employee needs a disability accommodation.
Here’s what should be included:
- Job title
- Classification as Exempt/Non-Exempt
- Classification as Part-time or Full-time
Summary of the general nature of the job, broad functions and scope of the position
- List of physical requirements of the job
- Essential functions and duties
- Success factors
- Educational or licensure prerequisites
Probably the most important part of the job description is the list of physical and mental requirements that are essential functions of the position. This becomes hyper-relevant when an employee is disabled due to illness or injury, and needs to request an accommodation to do their job.
For example, a person with back issues may be unable to lift things over 30 pounds, or a pregnant employee may need to take more rest breaks. These restrictions are generally certified by their treating physician. Whether the employer can accommodate this restriction is based on what’s reasonable, and how it impacts the essential functions of the job.
The point is, employees must be able to perform their essential job duties, with or without a reasonable accommodation. The job description serves as the basis for establishing the essential job functions. It therefore serves as the most effective defense to a claim of disability discrimination, by establishing that the individual was unable to perform one or more of essential functions of the job, even with a reasonable accommodation. So while job descriptions are not legally required, without one in place, you’re in a much more vulnerable position should an employee file a complaint against you.
By way of example, the essential functions of a receptionist might include answering the phone, taking messages and greeting patients. The marginal functions might include serving coffee and water, and escorting patients back to the treatment rooms.
Whether a function is essential or marginal depends on:
- The importance of the duty to the company’s operation;
- The frequency;
- Sufficiency of other staff to cover the duty; and
- Whether the duty can be redesigned or performed in another way.
Some examples of essential physical or mental functions (for various jobs) might be:
- Lifting and carrying 40 – 60 pounds;
- Frequent bending, kneeling, reaching, and twisting;
- Standing for long periods of time;
- Climbing ladders;
- Handling and manipulating small hand tools;
- Written and verbal communication skills; or
- Memorizing scripts for in-person and over the phone delivery.
***Note that if you’re in a dental office, it may be important to include the need for an assistant to be present around nitrous oxide, especially if there are no other people in that role to cover for the individual should the employee become pregnant.
Additional Best Practice Tips: Job descriptions should be written using clear language, unbiased and gender neutral terminology, and the present tense of verbs. For example, “Enters patient information timely and accurately into the chart.” If necessary, use explanatory phrases telling why, how, where, or how often the task should be done to add clarity.
Finally, keep the job description flexible. Jobs are subject to change for reasons of professional growth, organizational development, and evolution of new technologies. Thus, job descriptions should be considered “living” documents that should be reviewed from time to time (perhaps at each annual review), and edited to add new duties or eliminate those that are no longer needed. This keeps both the employer and employee on the same page as to expectations for the job, and also keeps this important record accurate so it’s there if needed.
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