Job Descriptions: Top 3 Legal Reasons Why You Need Them

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Human Resources

Job descriptions: Top 3 legal reasons why you need them

Federal labor law requires HR professionals to do a lot of different things. Writing job descriptions is not one of them.

Because this arduous task is optional, many organizations skip right over it. That's not wise. There are many practical and legal reasons to draft (and update) job descriptions for each position …

For more than 200 jobs, you'll get model job descriptions and job advertisements … a checklist for determining exemption status … what to ask during interviews … and what never to ask. It's all at your fingertips with the Job Descriptions & Interview Questions Sourcebook.

Reason 1: They help you defend against discrimination claims. If an applicant says you rejected him because of his race or gender, you can show a court you rejected him because he didn't meet all the qualifications.

Note: You may be lucky enough to have a situation where multiple applicants meet the minimum qualifications for the job. So how do you break the tie? It is perfectly legal to base the decision on unwritten criteria, even a gut feeling. But it's better to base the decision on criteria that's already listed in the job description (which may not have been listed in the job ad).

Reason 2: They help determine "essential functions" for ADA purposes. Employees can file ADA lawsuits only if they can prove they're legally disabled and can still perform the "essential functions" of the job. If those "essential" duties aren't detailed in a job description, they're left open to a court's random interpretation.

To identify essential functions, look at the purpose of the job, the frequency of each function and the consequences if that function isn't performed. The job description should also include the nonessential and less-frequent job duties and functions. Four key categories to include:

  • Physical skills (e.g., standing, walking, lifting, bending)
  • Learned skills (e.g., equipment proficiency, industry experience)
  • Job duties (e.g., travel, hours, shifts)
  • Behavioral skills (e.g., communication, leadership, time management)
The job descriptions and sample want ads in the Job Descriptions & Interview Questions Sourcebook not only make it simple to find great candidates. They help you comply with federal law.

Plus, you'll have a record of your good-faith efforts to evaluate each job—important if the feds or an employee ever question your decisions.

… and this power-packed CD even provides Word docs you can easily customize to suit your needs. Learn more about the Sourcebook here.

Reason 3: They help you classify employees as exempt or nonexempt. Exemptions from the overtime rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are not determined by job titles like "manager." The key is actual duties.

The job description must match the reality of the job, not what management thinks the job entails or the lofty standards management would like it to entail. Requiring a master's degree when a high school diploma will do may unfairly exclude applicants and lead to discrimination claims.

Giving managers the duties of hiring and firing employees on paper, but without giving them actual decision-making power, could qualify them for overtime pay as a nonexempt employee under the FLSA.

Most common traps

Here are the common traps to avoid when writing job descriptions.

  • Describing the employee instead of the job. That's easy to do because an employee—particularly a good one—will often leave a personal stamp on the position. If you describe a position in terms of how its previous occupant performed it, you will find yourself looking for a clone of the ex-jobholder.
  • Using imprecise language. Language should be direct and clear. Sentences should be short and simple. Language should emphasize the skills and purposes of the current job. Begin with action verbs in the present tense, such as supervise, inspect, produce, organize, motivate, educate, administer, compose, analyze and repair. Avoid gender-based language, such as "salesman."
  • Not being specific enough. Briefly, state exactly what you want the applicant to do. Incorrect: "Quality control inspectors should inspect finished products." Correct: "Inspect nuts emerging from production process for burrs. Place nuts with visible burrs in scrap box."
For each of 200 job titles, the Job Descriptions & Interview Questions Sourcebook gives you:
  • Model job advertisements and job descriptions to make it easier for you to be precise in your advertisements for employees, so you can attract the candidates most suited to your needs – taking a lot of the work out of your work!
  • Job Descriptions & Interview Questions SourcebookA handy checklist to help you determine exemption status for each of the 200 jobs under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. This is a simple way to prevent costly misclassifications, claims and overtime lawsuits.
  • A set of job-specific interview questions, plus a comparison chart for evaluating candidates for each job. As with the other documents, these documents are in Word, so you can easily edit or add questions as you please.
And there's even more:
  • A library of more than 350 skill-based questions, from adaptability to integrity to sales skills. (Such as: "Give an example of a time you did more than was required in your job.") Plus special questions for recent graduates.
  • Questions not to ask, to avoid legal problems, from the obvious ("Have you ever been treated by a psychiatrist?") to the seemingly innocent ("What kind of work does your spouse do?").
Order your copy today!
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