Job Descriptions – Yikes! Why? And How?


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Job descriptions.  Wow, they really are the forgotten step-child.  Think about it – when do you put even a thought toward job descriptions.  Only when there’s an issue.  Someone wants a promotion, or you’re hiring, or a job is expanding – or shrinking.

Actually, the most common time a job description will come up is when someone has been off work for a medical leave, or workers comp, or they have some sort of medical restriction pending. Well, THEN the job description is all the rage.  It’s the first thing everyone is clamoring to get their hands on.

Wait  – what’s that.  You don’t have a job description?  Yep, that’s what happens most of the time.  The very moment you most need one, you realize you don’t have one.   Then you start running around, trying to piece one together.  It’s stressful, and it can be a nightmare.

That’s only a few of the very good reasons you should have job descriptions for all the positions in your company.  Yep, every single one.  Now, I know it sounds daunting – but sit tight – I’m going to help you get there.

First, we need to be aware that there is a difference between a job description and a job posting.  A job posting is really an advertisement; it’s a marketing piece.  You’re trying to entice someone to come work for you.  Oh sure, it’ll have some elements of the job description in it – things like the main job duties, and some of the requirements.  But a job description is an internal personnel document.  It’s more detailed and specific – that’s because it’s used for more detailed and specific purposes.

For instance, let’s say Vicky hurt her back, and her doctor says she can work, but only with some work restrictions.  Let’s say she can’t sit for more than 1 hour at a time.  Wouldn’t it be helpful if the job description outlined that the job requires sitting for a minimum of 50% of the work day.  And that that requirement is an essential function of the job.

You’ll hear me talking about essential functions a lot, because they’re the ones that count when you’re talking about work restrictions.  Not just can Vicky do the job, but more importantly, can she do the essential functions of the job.  You see, an essential function is just that – essential.  Maybe Vicky’s job entails copying, filing, talking on the phone and greeting visitors.  Well, the essential functions may only be to talk on the phone and greet visitors – while copying and filing are a nice to have, it’s not essential to her role as receptionist.

So, it’s really important that you can disfurnish between essential and non essential functions.

… anything you’re asked to do is generally, by default, part of your job.  At least, at that moment it is.

Solid job descriptions can also help support job classifications.  You can bet that an auditor will be happy to look at the job description first thing, when she’s reviewing who you classified as eligible and not eligible for overtime.  There are two parts to the test – job duties and wage.  And the job description goes a long way in determining job duties.

Oh, and a quick editorial call out here – always, and I mean always, include the phrase “the Company, in its sole discretion , may change your job duties, responsibilities and assignments from time to time.

You may not believe this – but I’ve seen cases where employees have flat out said – that’s not part of my job description.  There’s so much wrong with that phrase I don’t even know where to start.

First off, if you’re employed as a regular employee (meaning not an independent contractor, or someone with a very specific employment agreement) – then as long as what your employer is asking you to do won’t compromise your safety, and isn’t illegal…well then, you have to do it.  Even if you aren’t very good at it  it’s a directive, so get to it and do your best.

Actually, I’m not even sure where the concept of ‘it’s not part of my job’ comes from.  In actuality, anything you’re asked to do is generally, by default, part of your job.  At least, at that moment it is.

So, to avoid any misunderstanding – just be sure you put that phrase in everything.   In the job description, in the offer letter, in the job posting – in everything.

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OK, that’s the why – now on to the how.

There are 6 main sections to a job description.  First up is the title; then describe the purpose of the job.  For instance, for a Warehouse Worker the purpose is picks, packs and ships supplies and materials to internal and external customers.

Section 3 will be a list of the job responsibilities – start with the essential functions first (actually, that’s probably what they’ll be doing most of the time), and work your way down through the ‘nice to have’ list.  And don’t forget to include if they will have supervisory responsibilities as well.

Section 4 is all about qualifications and skills needed to do the job.  This section, and the next, education – can be problematic.  You want to look at these two areas as the minimum requirement – the minimum skills requirements, the minimum education requirements.  If you’re overblown with your description (you want a PhD candidate that has 10 – 15 years experience in blah blah blah) not only will you cut out valuable candidates, but if or should I say – when – you’re challenged on it, you probably won’t be able to show that – quote – “the requirements are directly job-related and an accurate predictor of job performance”.  It’s a long story, but that’s what Duke Power Company had to show, to prove that they weren’t discriminating with their degree requirement for jobs.  Here’s a hint – they lost.

It’s called disparate impact, and it basically means whatever requirement you put in place disproportionately affects minority groups.  So, all that to say – be careful and thoughtful in listing the education and skills requirements.

And the last section is the most often overlooked – it’s the physical requirements section.  I actually call it the workers comp section – because it’s the first place people look when they’re talking work restrictions.

It should list things like percentage of time the job requires standing, sitting, twisting, reaching, lifting etc.  It’s sounds silly and tedious, but it becomes the golden rule when you’re trying to figure out if you can accommodate the restrictions a doctor has put on his patient, your employee.

That’s all a pretty good overview of job descriptions.

Now remember – a job description and a job posting aren’t the same.  There is definitely some detail that goes into a job description that wouldn’t be in a job posting.  And, in fact, there is some additional language that should be in every job posting that wouldn’t be part of a job description.  Now, while it’s not required (except for federal contractors), it’s a good idea to include and Equal Employment Opportunity statement in your job postings.  I’m sure you’ve seen them because a lot of employers use them to signal to potential candidates that they’re inclusive – it’s usually something like, XYZ company is an equal opportunity employer.

Again, it’s not required for most companies  but it’s a very good idea and keeps you in step with the marketplace.

Also, keep in mind there may be local requirements for you too.  For instance, in Los Angeles we’re required to include a Fair Chance Initiative notice (we call it the Ban the Box statement) – and it has to be included in all postings: So, on postings in LA, you’ll see “the employer will consider for employment qualified Applicants with Criminal Histories in a manner consistent with [the Los Angeles Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring].”

So, it’s always a good idea to check on what’s required in your area.

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