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Job Descriptions and Essential Duties

Developing an inclusive job description is one of the most important steps in the recruitment process. Even if you are not recruiting, creating job descriptions so that each employee has clear information about what is expected for success in their role is always a great idea!


There are benefits for small business owners, too! For a small business owner, having a well-crafted job description is not only a stepping stone to getting the right talent. Still, it is also one of the basic recommendations to ensure the strong retention of top employees. It sets clear expectations for an applicant and supports a transparent and equitable hiring process. In developing a job description that includes the key features of the most important duties, this blog will guide you on how to hire people with disabilities without bias and prevent employers from undue accommodations.


Significance of Job Descriptions

Job descriptions are significant to several functions within the HR domain. They lay out the roles and responsibilities of the position to potential employees and form a cornerstone in performance appraisals, compensation strategies, and legal issues. For a small business where every hire has a significant impact on the organization, having a very precise job description is critical.


Essential Duties in Job Descriptions

The ADA requires an employer to specify a job's essential functions (complete job descriptions are not required.) These are the things that one needs to be able to do in the job, with reasonable accommodation, if necessary. Clearly stating the tasks will help an employer and applicant understand exactly what is needed for the job.


Identifying Essential Duties

An essential duty is something that is a core task of the job role. When figuring out what is an essential duty, consider:

  • Frequency and Importance: It is likely considered essential if the task is done frequently or is very important to the job.

  • Consequences of Not Performing the Job: If not doing a specific job fundamentally changes how the duties or business is performed, the job duty is essential.

  • The Society for Human Resource Management goes on to recommend that employers closely analyze job roles for accurate pinpointing of such duties so that they are appropriately captured in the job description.

Some examples are:

Must be able to lift packages that are 25 lbs throughout the day. (Warehouse personnel)

Walking outside in all temperatures and weather during the entire shift is required. (Delivery person)

Sitting for extended periods of time. (Receptionist)

Ability to hear a bell or see a light indicating a stoppage in production of manufacturing. (Line worker)

Ability to communicate by phone and contact unsolicited potential clients. (Inside sales)


Writing Clear Job Descriptions

A clear and concise job description should state:

  • Job Title: Reflect the nature and level of the work.

  • Summary/Objective: Provide a brief overview of the main goals and purpose of the position.

  • Essential Duties and Responsibilities: List in detail and use action-oriented language to be specific about tasks and how often they are completed.

  • Skills and Qualifications: Include both required and preferred skills. Clearly distinguish between the two.

  • Work Conditions and Physical Requirements: Describe physical and environmental characteristics of employment, especially as required for compliance with the ADA.

  • Reporting Structure: Indicate to whom the individual will report and supervisory responsibilities.


ADA Compliance

  • According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), job descriptions are a key element in deciding about reasonable accommodation. The act guarantees that qualified individuals with disabilities are protected from discrimination. Think about that :

  • Focus on 'How', Not on 'What': Job descriptions should focus on the results or outcomes associated with a job function and not what is actually done. NOTE: The ADA does not require job descriptions, but essential duty information should be documented for each position.

  • Flexibility: Be open to getting the task done by any other means, as long as it doesn't interfere with the major task accomplishment. This may make it easier to accommodate people with disabilities.


Best Practices from SHRM

SHRM gives a list of best practices for writing job descriptions:

  • Regular Updates: Job descriptions should be reviewed and, if needed, updated from time to time to accommodate actual job responsibilities.

  • Legal Review: It may be a good idea to have an attorney review job descriptions to ensure that they meet the requirements of all applicable employment laws, including the ADA.


Use Job Descriptions for Hiring and Management

A well-written job description serves multiple purposes:

  • Recruitment: It helps attract suitable candidates who are capable of performing the essential functions of the job.

  • Performance Management: It involves the setting of clear employee expectations and serves as a basis for performance appraisal.

  • Legal Protection: Well-defined essential duties protect the business in the event of ADA claims by being clear on what the job fundamentally requires.

An effective and accurate job description is much more than a list of duties. It is crucial to forming a competent workforce, managing employee performance, and complying with the law. For a small business, a small amount of upfront time spent creating compelling job descriptions will result in returns many times over by helping to attract the right people, increase productivity, and lower legal risk.


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