Simon Says You Should Have Job Descriptions and I Agree

  I grew up at a time when kids played hopscotch, wall ball and Simon Says.  Atari and Commodore computers came about when I was in grade school. There was no Facebook and no texting. But I digress. My point here is that things are not so simple today and people seem to shy away from structure and simplicity.
  People today like to be able to reinvent themselves and their jobs. I had a call from a client recently during which I was informed that one of her employees decided she no longer liked what she was doing and because she had been with the company for more than 10 years thought she should be able to just recreate her job. This same employee also just returned to work from a minor surgery and had medical restrictions. I realized my client had entered a minefield, but what saved the situation was the employee’s job description, which clearly stated this employee’s job duties and recreating the job was not one of them.
  Job descriptions serve an important function and can be an asset to both the employer and the employee. For employers that have never had written job descriptions the task of creating them can seem daunting but the effort is worthwhile. Having to sit down and define various positions within your workplace forces you to analyze the effectiveness of the roles of your employees and determine whether restructuring may be beneficial. Also, if you as the employer cannot sit down and define an employee’s position, you can hardly expect the employee to do so.  Having clearly defined roles and job duties for your employees can help you avoid problems.
  A job description should provide a job title, define the essential functions of the job, identify any physical requirements for the job, specify who supervises the employee, state the work hours for the position and explain any educational prerequisites for the job. The job description should be shown to prospective employees during the interview process and the interviewer should inquire whether the applicant can perform the essential functions of the job with or without an accommodation. 
  The job description should include an affirmation that the employee has read and fully understands the job description and it should be signed and dated by the employee once he or she is hired. The signed job description should then be maintained in the employee’s personnel file. If you are creating job descriptions for the first time, you should have all existing employees sign and date their job descriptions once created and place them in their personnel files as well.
  If you are an employer that already has job descriptions, you should be reviewing them once a year to determine whether they are up to date. For the majority of employers, the job duties of their employees will not change, but in some industries jobs are constantly evolving due to updates in technology. For instance, some employers may start to outsource certain functions, like electronic dictation, which could mean the role of their secretarial staff may significantly change. Also, sometimes employees assume additional duties and roles over time without actually assuming a new job title.  At times this is due to the employee’s own initiative and other times employees are asked to take on additional duties. When an employee takes on additional job duties, which are outside of the employee’s original job description, employers need to document this so that it is clear whether this a permanent or a temporary change. To not do so can expose the employer to potential claim of unfair treatment. Also, when an employee agrees to take on additional duties, there may be certain expectations of salary increases or title changes that need to be dealt with from the outset.  If not, that employee could later claim that he or she was unfairly taken advantage of. 
  Job descriptions are also useful tools in developing employee evaluations. Employees should be rated on how well they are performing the essential functions of their jobs.  Having these job functions defined makes the review process easier and more uniform, especially when you have multiple supervisors reviewing employees with the same job title. Supervisory staff should be instructed to review the job description of the employee and refer to it when preparing reviews. 
  Job descriptions often come into play when it comes to employee discipline. When an employee is failing to meet the job expectations, it is vital for employers to be able to establish the employee had notice of the job expectation. Job descriptions and employee handbooks help serve this role. These are also the first documents that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the New Division on Civil Rights will ask an employer to produce when the employee receiving the discipline files a complaint alleging that the discipline was discriminatory. Disgruntled employees that have been subject to discipline will often claim they were not given notice of the specific job requirements and any workplace rules. If you do not have these in writing, you cannot establish facts to the contrary. 
  The potential downfall with job descriptions is, similar to the case of employee handbooks, employers have to follow them. You cannot provide your employees with a written job description and then change the essential functions of the job and evaluate the employee on the newly undefined job requirements. What you can do is restructure positions when necessary and update job descriptions to accurately reflect the change in the position.
  The long and short of it is if you cannot clearly state the essential functions of an employee’s position, you can hardly expect the employee to do so. Simon says (and I agree), you should have job descriptions.
 
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Wendi D. Barish (pictured) is the Vice Chair of Weber Gallagher’s Employment Group. Wendi may be reached at wbarish@wglaw.com. Weber Gallagher has offices in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.