Q & A – How can a job description provide legal protection for an employer?

Q: How can a job description provide legal protection for an employer?

A: A written job description summarizes the duties, responsibilities, and qualifications of a job.

Job descriptions can protect an employer’s legal interests by properly identifying a position as exempt or nonexempt. A properly drafted job description is the best tool for proving to a government agency that a given position is truly exempt from overtime, thereby providing significant protection during an audit by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Perhaps most importantly, job descriptions determine a position’s essential functions, both physical and mental, thereby establishing parameters for what are and are not reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  An essential function is one that is critical to performing the job. By detailing a position’s essential functions, you are defining what duties an employee must continue to perform—despite a disability—in order to meet the definition, “qualified individual with a disability.” This, in turn, determines what constitutes a reasonable accommodation and what is an “undue hardship.” As an example, making coffee may not be an essential function of the job for a receptionist, but answering the phones and greeting customers surely would be.

There are more states passing laws regarding pay equity laws and these may impact job descriptions. Please check with Employers Council to learn about state law differences.

Click here to view our FYI on Job Descriptions.