by Peter M. Langdon

Do you think updating a job description is only necessary when recruiting new employees?  Think again!  Regularly updated job descriptions are not only important for recruiting, setting expectations of employees and evaluating job performance, but they are also helpful in defending employment claims against your company.  And, a non-updated or bad job description can hurt you as much as a good one can help.  

Today’s employers face a mountain of legal and compliance requirements.  Having updated job descriptions that clearly define employees’ responsibilities helps set standards for employee conduct and provides a basis upon which an employer can justify certain actions with respect to employees.  For example, an updated job description can help protect an employer against a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  The ADA protects certain qualified individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination so long as the individuals can perform the essential functions of their respective jobs.  If a discrimination claim is brought against the employer, the employer can use an updated job description to establish discrimination did not occur, but that the individual was fired or not hired because they were not qualified or could not perform the essential functions of the job.  Employers should make sure to keep job descriptions up-to-date with job qualifications and the essential functions of the job.  

Updated job descriptions can also help employers facing requests from employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).  Under the FMLA, employees have the right to take protected, unpaid leave as a result of the occurrence of a serious health condition, such as an injury that requires inpatient care or an overnight stay in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility.  An employer may require that a request for leave be supported by a medical certification.  One component of the certification is a statement from a medical professional that the employee is unable to perform the functions of the job.  In order to prevent an employee from taking unwarranted leave, the employer should provide the job description to the employee to submit to his doctor for review when completing the medical certification.  A non-updated job description can cause issues for an employer if it contains outdated functions of the job that no longer apply to the employee but which a doctor finds the employee is unable to perform.  

Job descriptions should be updated, at minimum, once a year.  A perfect time to update job descriptions is at the employee’s annual review.  With input from employees, job descriptions can be updated to reflect goals for the next review period and can help put the employee and employer on the same page.  Contact an experienced employment lawyer if you have questions regarding job descriptions or the information they should contain.