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Why bother with job descriptions? 3 reasons

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Writing job descriptions for all of the positions in your company may sound like a lot of work, especially when they are not required by any law. But there are plenty of legal reasons why you should have them.

1. Defend against discrimination claims. If applicants claim that you rejected them because of their gender, race, age, etc., you can show a court that you rejected them because they did not meet all job qualifications.

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 are already listed in the job description (which may not have been listed in the job ad).

2. Determine essential functions for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) purposes. Employees must be able to perform essential job duties, with or without reasonable accommodation, in order to qualify for ADA protection.

3. Classify employees as exempt or nonexempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Exempt status is not determined by job title alone; the key is actual job duties.

Having written job descriptions is all well and good—but only if they are accurate. 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.

Including a 75-pound lifting requirement when the job only requires lifting 25 won’t stop an employee from qualifying for ADA protection. 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 nonexempt employees under the FLSA.

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