How to write effective and legal job descriptions — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Job descriptions are the cornerstone of communication between you and your staff. After all, it's hard for supervisors to measure job effectiveness during performance reviews unless you and the employee both know what you expect.

Also, carefully drafted job descriptions can be useful tools in court. For example, if an employee files an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit, courts will review what the organization has identified as the job's "essential functions" to see if the charges have merit. Without a written job description, the court may decide for itself which functions are essential.

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.

Key ingredients

Job descriptions can be as brief as one paragraph or as long as several pages. At a minimum, a job description should include these elements:

Title of position. Titles may seem unimportant, but they carry a great deal of weight in the workplace and in court. Each position's title should match the level of authority and responsibility. Cross-check it against other titles in the organization.

For example, your "administrative assistant" should be doing most of the same tasks as others with that title. Don't upgrade employees by giving them inflated titles: You'll only regret it later when they ask for more money or refuse to perform tasks they consider beneath them.

Inappropriate titles also factor into discrimination charges. For example, if your "director of distribution" is really a shipping clerk, be prepared to explain why he isn't being paid the same as other "directors."

Department/supervisor. Many job descriptions include the title of the employee's direct supervisor, the department name and other identifying details that separate this position from others. Make sure the job descriptions refer to other job titles, not names. For example, instead of saying the position reports directly to John Smith, say it reports to the Senior VP of Sales.

Essential functions/qualifications. The key part of job descriptions is an item-by-item list of the job's duties and responsibilities.

It's important to identify which are the "essential" job functions critical to the job's successful performance. One key legal reason: 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 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.

The job description should also include the nonessential and less-frequent job duties and functions.

Four key categories to consider:

  • 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)

Results expected. Duties are just half of the equation. What do other employees, departments and customers count on this person to do? Include expectations relating to deadlines, customer service and company success. Linking responsibilities to company goals helps the employee see how the position fits into the "big picture."

Writing tips

Use specific and clear language. Instead of a general term like "good communication skills," say the person needs "the ability to communicate company policies to nonmanagerial groups in person and in writing."

Instead of saying the position "requires heavy lifting," say it requires the ability to lift 25 pounds repeatedly overhead 10 times per hour while stacking appliances.

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."

Update the description as often as needed. Review job descriptions periodically to ensure they accurately reflect the employee's responsibility. Amend the document any time an employee's duties change, and review those amendments with the employee.

The bottom line: Never assume employees know what's expected of them. Put it in writing and make sure they understand.

For each of 200+ job titles, the Job Descriptions & Interview Questions Sourcebook gives you: book cover
  • 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!
  • A 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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