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How updated job descriptions can limit a company’s liability

Why are up-to-date job descriptions so important?

It’s easy for employers to overlook the importance of keeping job descriptions up to date. After all, when you’re juggling a million other tasks, who has time to review dozens (or more) employee records? You might think, “Employees know what they’re supposed to do, right?”

But it’s not always that simple. Job duties change over time, and skills and experience requirements evolve. For example, some jobs that were done in an office are now done remotely. And some employers no longer require a college degree for certain positions. So, it’s crucial to make sure your job descriptions reflect these changes.

Accurate job descriptions help employees understand their roles and responsibilities, and they can also protect a company from potential legal issues. Employers that don’t keep their job descriptions up to date can run into trouble. For example, if a job description doesn’t state that a task is an essential function, it’s hard for the employer to argue that someone can’t perform the job without it. Similarly, plaintiffs have successfully sued for “failure to hire” when job descriptions don’t include certain qualifications. Updated and accurate job descriptions are critical to limiting liability.

Updated job descriptions allow meaningful performance reviews. Job descriptions are crucial for performance evaluations and improvement plans. They let employees know what’s expected of them, so it’s important to make sure they’re accurate and up to date. When you’re reviewing an employee’s performance, it’s helpful to refer back to the job description to make sure everyone is on the same page. And if an employee isn’t meeting the standards outlined in the job description, a detailed and clear description can prevent any surprises during evaluations or disciplinary meetings.

Your job description checklist

If you cannot remember the last time your company updated a job description, here are some questions to consider to help ensure it’s still accurate:

  • Do your job titles reflect the actual work being done?
  • Do your job descriptions discuss an overview of the company and how the position fits into your overall mission?
  • Do they provide an overview of the key responsibilities the position entails?
  • Do they lay out the required skills and qualifications for the position in detail?
  • Beyond that, do they include preferred skills and qualifications?
  • Do your job descriptions include the effective date for the document if you need to prove the historical context later?
  • Do your job descriptions state whether the position is exempt or nonexempt?
  • If the position is exempt, does the job description include the duties that show the position falls into the applicable exemption?
  • Do your job descriptions include the essential functions of the position?
  • Does it make sense to identify duties and responsibilities as a percentage of the work to be performed?
  • Are you tying job descriptions to employees’ performance evaluations and improvement plans?
  • When was the last time the job description was reviewed?
  • Do you have a system in place to identify when – and which – job descriptions should be reviewed?
  • Are all job descriptions reviewed on a set schedule?
  • Do you perform spot audits if you are unable to review job descriptions on a set schedule
  • Do you review job descriptions when you post an opening?

Which laws should you keep in mind?

Job descriptions are important for a variety of practical and legal reasons. If they’re out of date, vague, or inaccurate, they’re not only useless but also can put your company at risk for legal liability. That’s why it’s crucial to review your job descriptions with counsel. Accurate and up-to-date job descriptions help you make informed decisions about hiring, discipline, promotion, compensation, and termination. They can also serve as evidence of your company’s compliance with the ADA, FMLA, and FLSA. If your job description is out of date, reach out to counsel today.

Stephen Scott is a partner in the Portland office of Fisher Phillips, a national firm dedicated to representing employers’ interests in all aspects of workplace law.