10/1/2012 -

In my most contemplative moments, it occurs to me that the three comments you’ll never hear an HR person say are,

(1) “Boy, I sure enjoyed that DOL Wage and Hour audit yesterday”. . ., or

(2) “I can’t wait until Open Enrollment Period comes ‘round again”. . . or

(3) “You know, I just read the most interesting job description.”

Why You Need Job Descriptions

Job Descriptions are necessary because they communicate what the job entails and what you expect. In addition, some jobs have the same title from one company to another but duties and responsibilities may vary significantly, so “stock” Job Descriptions off the shelf are usually not very good. Employees should see their job description and sign off on it to prevent some hardheaded employee from saying later on, “I didn’t know that was in my job description.” For the same reasons, it’s a good idea to allow job candidates to read the Job Description prior to making a job offer. If an employee is dismissed for job related reasons, the Job Description will form a significant part of the employer’s defense, and if you’re going to develop a Compensation Management Program, Job Descriptions are First Base.

Employment Regulations Require Job Descriptions

Like other HR components, Job Descriptions fall under the broad umbrella of state and federal employment regulations. In theory, all of the employment regulations affect Job Descriptions just like they affect other HR duties and responsibilities, but two regulations have the greatest impact – EEO and ADA.

The Impact of the EEO Regulations

EEOC regulations don’t actually require Job Descriptions, but if we do have them, we must have Job Descriptions on all positions, not just some of them, and if we don’t have Job Descriptions at all, we’re vulnerable to an EEOC charge. Job Description language must be gender neutral by avoiding masculine or feminine pronouns “he” and “she,” unless you use them both together as “he or she,” etc., which can get cumbersome after a while. We recommend that you use the term “co-worker,” rather than “fellow employee” and that you refer to duties, responsibilities and qualifications in a way that is gender neutral, except where there is a “bona fide occupational qualification,” which is a qualification that can be directly related to a protected category, such as sex or religion. Examples would be a minister, in the case of religion, or an actress who would portray a female part in a movie or play. This exception is very narrow.

The Impact of the ADA Regulations (Americans With Disabilities)

ADA regulations have the effect of actually requiring Job Descriptions because without them you will not be able to prove that your employment decisions are not based on disability. This has the practical effect of requiring Job Descriptions. The most apparent ADA regulation is the requirement to identify the “Essential Duties of the Job.” The definition of “Essential Duties” is a bit vague but it means the “core” or “essence” of the job. We might say it’s those duties without which it would not be the same job. For a bank teller, an example would be, “Receives deposits from customers.” ADA regulations also require us to identify “Other Duties and Responsibilities.” An example would be, “Answers the phone during the absence of the receptionist.” In addition, Job Descriptions should include the “Mental and Physical” qualifications of the job, some of which is obvious and some more subtle.

The Components of a Good Job Description

First, there is no specific “best practice” format that you must use and the simpler format is usually best. Second, a Job Description should be a summary of the major duties and responsibilities of the job, not an operations document describing how to do the job. The length of a Job Description should be 1-2 two pages, in most cases, and the language should be terse and concise, using phrases, rather than full sentences. More Hemingway, less Faulkner. Job Descriptions cannot contain every duty or responsibility so, at the end of each Job Description, we should have wording such as, “Performs other duties as assigned,” so no one can reasonably say, “That’s not in my job description.” Management has the prerogative to assign work and employees must comply, unless there is a threat to health or safety. So, what are the “Take Aways” from our discussion of Job Descriptions?

1) Job Descriptions important –very important – “They’re boxy, but they’re good.”

2) From a good management standpoint, Job Descriptions are necessary and, from an ADA standpoint, they are required.

3) Be brief. “Brevity is the soul of wit,” Polonius tells us.

4) Neither the employment regulations nor HR “best practices” requires a specific format, but we must identify the “Essential Duties” and the “Mental and Physical” qualifications.

5) Always include, “Performs other duties as assigned” as a final duty on each Job Description.

6) Writing Job Descriptions is “Time Intensive.” If you would like our firm to take this off of your shoulders and write your Job Descriptions, just let us know and we’ll begin immediately. You will breath a sigh of relief . . . .

Please contact Sandy or your Seay Management Consultant if you have any question about “How to Make Job Descriptions Interesting,” and visit our web site at for management advice and guidance on other employee issues. We appreciate having you as a valued client of our firm and look forward to talking soon.

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