OK to change job requirements, but be prepared to justify

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Jobs evolve and often become more complex, so it makes sense to revisit job requirements when someone quits, retires or is promoted. There’s no better time to re-evaluate positions to make sure the next job candidates will have the skills, training and experience necessary to succeed.

But if you don’t document the changes carefully, you may find yourself facing a lawsuit.

Here’s how it could happen: If a current employee has been eyeing a position—or may even have applied for it—and you suddenly change the minimum qualifications, that employee now may not qualify, even if he or she previously was one of the front-runners for the position.

Avoid the problem by documenting why you are changing the job requirements. A court won’t second-guess your decision if it seems rational—but will be suspicious if you can’t offer any reason for the change or try to justify it after the fact.

Recent case: Charlie Campbell, a black engineering technician, was a front-runner for a promotion in 1997. The company bypassed him for a management position in favor of another co-worker. Campbell filed an EEOC complaint, alleging race discrimination.

When the selected employee retired a few years later, the department supervisor reviewed the position. She took into account several changes, including a consolidation of functions, and concluded the job description should be changed to require an engineering degree, since the position now included supervising engineers.

Campbell sued since he was excluded, charging retaliation. He won in front of a jury, but his employer appealed. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out his case. Because the employer could show it carefully considered the job requirements before making the change, the court wouldn’t second-guess the change. (Campbell v. England, No. 05-30847, 5th Cir., 2007)  

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