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Five Reasons Updated Job Descriptions Matter

  • 7 min read
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Job descriptions are valuable tools to describe a position's tasks, duties, responsibilities, and minimum education and experience requirements. They also form the foundation for many important HR processes such as recruitment, selection, wage and hour classifications, compensation, training, performance management, and appropriately responding to Americans with Disabilities Act (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:

  1. Job Postings and Recruiting. Having a job description on file for each position can make creating a job posting easier. But even though they usually contain similar information, you shouldn’t use the job description as the actual job posting. Organizations should use job postings to attract and promote the job to external candidates and share valuable insight into the company's values, culture, and offerings. They’re relatively short, easy to read, and include only the most essential information about the role.

    On the other hand, job descriptions typically contain more details about job duties, tasks, work standards, and relationships with other company roles or customers. Job descriptions are where HR and managers should be able to get the details for the job posting—but they are only helpful when they are up to date and relevant. Additionally, accurate job descriptions can help you compare candidates' skills and experience against the position requirements.

  2. Wage and Hour Classifications. Job descriptions can also justify exempt vs. non-exempt positions. A well-written, accurate job description should describe the job's primary functions, which employers can use to determine whether the position meets the duties test to be exempt from overtime.

    Job descriptions should include details to support the exemption for exempt positions, such as advanced education requirements or job duties that portray independent judgment over matters of significance. Job descriptions can be helpful or harmful in a legal challenge if the actual duties do not align with the written job description. 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.

  3. 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 roles. A job description gives an employee a clear and concise guide for job performance. Employees know exactly what their manager expects from them, which allows them to improve their skills and increase productivity. A good job description can also help employees understand the essential tasks and prevent them from focusing on less important functions.

    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 establish a starting point in performance or compensation reviews.

  4. Responding to ADA Accommodations. The ADA and many state anti-discrimination laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with covered disabilities to aid them in performing the essential functions of their 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 vital in responding to accommodation requests. Job descriptions should provide accurate documentation of job requirements, physical and mental demands, and working conditions, including whether the employee must perform job functions onsite or remotely. This information should be defined before any employment action to ensure that decisions are non-discriminatory and based on job-related factors.

    Employers should include a list of essential functions in every job description. An "essential function" is a critical job duty that must be completed by the position, with or without an accommodation. Some job descriptions may have a separate section titled "Additional Responsibilities" or "Secondary Tasks," which are still expected to be completed but are not essential to the role’s success. A complete list of essential functions will provide guidance as to whether an accommodation can be granted and identify limitations to job performance during the interactive ADA process.

    Additionally, it's important to make sure that the description of the job's physical requirements and working conditions are accurate. Identifying significant physical or mental demands and environmental factors of a job is perhaps the most crucial 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 be exposed to while performing the job. Examples of working conditions include exposure to various weather conditions or hazardous materials. Job descriptions should carefully include only the conditions and demands critical to the job's successful performance, not excluding individuals with disabilities.

  5. Workers' Compensation and Light Duty. Similar to the ADA, one of the more important components of a Return-to-Work program is having an accurate job description for each position. Accurate and up-to-date job descriptions can be invaluable to any employer with an injured worker. Job descriptions that outline the essential duties, physical requirements, and working conditions can assist health professionals by providing them with a full picture of the job to determine whether an injured employee can return to work in some capacity.

    If an employee cannot return to their regular job due to physical limitations, their employer may consider offering them light or modified duty. The medical provider must confirm that the injured worker can perform specific light-duty job functions. Having a light-duty job description already built for alternative positions can save time by getting the worker back to work sooner, saving money on the claim. Studies have shown that light-duty work can help an employee rehabilitate quicker than staying home while injured. Light-duty work also benefits the employee by helping keep their regular salary and can help boost their morale.

    Additionally, keeping the claims cost lower with light-duty can help keep future insurance rates from increasing and increase Retrospective Rating refunds for employers who participate in these programs. Some states like Washington also have light-duty reimbursement programs that allow employers to recoup some wages paid to keep the employee working while recovering from an injury or reimbursements for tools and supplies used in a modified position. Employers typically need to submit a written job description to qualify for these programs.

    Light-duty job offers must be approved by the attending medical provider, in writing, and presented to the injured worker, allowing them to accept or decline the position. Without this formal documentation, the worker may be eligible for time-loss benefits.

For these five reasons, 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.

Does your organization need help creating or updating job descriptions? Archbright members have access to experienced HR consultants to assist with this and many more HR tasks and projects. Members also have access to Archbright's online platform, mozzo, which contains a job description builder tool, and may also contact the HR Hotline, Safety Hotline, or legal counsel with any questions or to seek specific guidance.

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Lindsey Sosa

Lindsey Sosa joined Archbright in 2018 as an HR Consultant working with members on various HR assignments. In order to further pursue her passion for writing and HR compliance, Lindsey became Archbright's HR Content Manager in May 2021. In this role, she maintains the HR content in the Resource Library, writes blogs and articles, and stays up to date on constantly evolving HR regulations. Before joining Archbright, Lindsey worked as an HR professional across a variety of industries ranging from high tech to local government.