Creating an effective and well-written job description helps protect an employer legally. Although there are a few exceptions to the rule, there are no federal laws relating to written job descriptions. Yet the content of a job description can help ensure that an employer is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and employment and labor laws. Job descriptions also can protect an employer from unwarranted discrimination suits.
While a person with a disability is not exempt from performing the essential functions of a job, a written job description should clearly state all tasks the employer considers essential. But if an employee is unable to carry out essential tasks even with reasonable accommodation, the law does not require an employer to keep the person in that position. An essential task is any task that an employee must complete on a regular basis or that takes up a significant portion of the work day.
Job descriptions can help protect employers against discrimination lawsuits. Allegations of discrimination may pertain to the hiring process or to situations in which an individual is discharged from employment, passed over for employment, receives disciplinary action or gets lower compensation than expected. A written job description can help prove that these types of actions were taken because of a person's inability to carry out job functions. An employer may not list skills in a way that appears to discriminate against a worker.
Formal job descriptions help show that employers are complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. A written list of essential job functions can help prove that a worker performs job duties within exempt status so that an employer doesn't have to pay overtime. For employees who take unpaid FMLA leave, a job description can help a health care provider determine whether an individual can carry out his job duties, particularly when it comes time to certify that the person is able to return to work.
Although an employer can choose not to hire an applicant who does not have the primary skills a job description lists, it may not do so if the person lacks the secondary skills. Since an employer must be able to show why certain experience is a requirement necessary to perform the job, a job description may only list the skills that a person needs to carry out the job. The same goes for education and licensing requirements. An employer should list the minimum qualifications and credentials necessary to do the job.