Practice Areas

Three Reasons Your Organization Needs Job Descriptions

Much like employee handbooks, federal and state laws do not require employers to have job descriptions for their employees.  That being said, there are a number of practical and legal benefits to having them, provided they are well-drafted.  Here, we’ll discuss three good reasons for your organization to have written job descriptions.

Performance Management

Written job descriptions communicate to employees what their work responsibilities and duties are, and as such, provide the basis for employee performance reviews, goal setting, salary increases, and performance bonuses.    Conversely, if an employee is not meeting the requirements of the job, the written description can also provide the standard for measuring performance and provides support for any decision to terminate or discipline an employee for performance issues.

Accommodations Issues

A written job description becomes important when dealing with disability and religious accommodation issues in the workplace because it helps to establish the essential functions of a job.

For example, under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), a covered employer must provide qualified individuals with a disability with a reasonable accommodation, unless doing so poses an undue hardship on the employer.  To be a qualified individual under the ADA, an employee or applicant must (1) possess the skills, experience, education and other job-related requirements necessary for the position, and (2) be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.  The essential functions of the job are the “fundamental job duties” of the employment position.  They do not include the marginal functions of the position.

Evidence of whether a particular function is essential includes a written job description prepared before advertising or interviewing for a job.  Further, with a pre-existing written job description, an employer has a starting reference point for what duties are considered essential when engaging in what’s known as the “interactive process” in order to determine a potential job accommodation for an applicant or an employee.

Exemption Issues

Written job descriptions can also be evidence in litigation involving claims that employees were misclassified as exempt from the overtime pay requirements and not paid overtime.

Generally speaking, unless an employee is considered “exempt,” the law requires that any hours worked in excess of 40 per workweek be compensated at a rate of not less than time and one-half of the employee’s regular rate of pay.  This holds true for employees who receive a salary, provided that they do not fall within one of the available exemptions.  The exemptions are defined by federal and state law, and they generally apply to white-collar workers whose primary functions are executive, administrative, professional, or in other narrowly-defined categories.

For example, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Law, currently an employee will be exempt from overtime under an “administrative exemption” if:

  • the employee is compensated with a salary that is greater than or equal to $675.00 per week;
  • the primary duties of the employee are office or other non-manual work that relates directly to management or business operations, either to the employer or the employer’s customers/clients;
  • the employee’s primary duties include the exercise of discretion and independent judgment to matters that are significant to the operation of the business/organization; and
  • the employee regularly and directly assists an employer or an employee employed in a bona fide executive or administrative capacity; or performs, under only general supervision, work along specialized or technical lines requiring special training, experience or knowledge.

An accurate list of job duties can help establish that the employee’s job duties qualify that employee under one of the exemptions provided by the FLSA and/or state law – specifically, if it meets the “primary duties” test under the FLSA and/or state law.