The Importance of Updating Job Descriptions

Job descriptions are a basic and essential tool for employers as these descriptions concern so many aspects of an organization such as recruiting, succession planning, training, legal, and compliance.  However, job descriptions are often neglected and outdated and do not accurately represent the essential job functions an employee performs.  This can create obstacles in many employment law cases, including employment discrimination cases.  For instance, if an employee is terminated as a result of the employee’s inability to perform necessary work for the job, the employer will want to make sure that this “necessary work” is described in the job description.  Although having an accurate and updated job description will not completely eliminate employee discrimination claims like this, it can act as helpful evidence against discrimination claims. Additionally, the job description is an important tool for an employer’s compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) which prescribes the standards for the basic minimum wage and overtime pay.  The FLSA requires employers to pay covered employees who are not otherwise exempt at least the federal minimum wage and overtime pay of one-and-one-half-times the regular rate of pay.  The job description is often the starting point in determining the exempt status of an employee.  In order for an employee to be “exempt” their primary job duties must be exempt.  Therefore, it is important for the job description to accurately reflect an employee’s job duties for this determination of exempt and non-exempt status for wage and overtime pay compliance.

Job descriptions are also an important component for employer compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  The ADA protects qualified individuals with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the “essential functions” of the employment position.  It is the employer’s judgment as to what are the essential functions of a job that is given consideration.  Thus, it is important for an employer to make sure the job descriptions, specifically the physically demanding positions, describe the essential functions of the job and reflect the actual tasks performed by existing employees performing similar jobs.

Employers should update job descriptions once a year at a minimum.  This can be completed concurrently with the annual performance review process.  Thus, once employers complete reviews and set goals and objectives with their employees, they can update job descriptions to reflect these goals and objectives.  Using the job description during the review process or in disciplinary situations can also be an excellent communication tool because it can clear up any misunderstanding regarding job expectations.

Creating and updating job descriptions is a team effort.  Human resources professionals, managers and even employees should be involved in the creation and update of a job description.  Employees are in the best position to illustrate what they actually do at their job.  Managers are important in the process because they can ensure that the responsibilities and requirements are aligned with actual activities.  The human resources department can act as the coach and facilitator in the process of updating a job description.  Human resources professionals are in the unique position to view how each job description fits into the larger organization and the organization’s legal obligations.

It is important to note that the organization’s mission statement can act as a safety net to poorly drafted or outdated job descriptions.  Including the organization’s mission statement on all job descriptions will ensure employee awareness of the organization’s overarching goals.  Therefore, in the event the job description fails to explicitly mention a particular job expectation and the employee’s conduct is contrary to the mission statement, the employee is on notice of the issue.

For more information on this subject, contact Stephanie Strickler at