Thursday, July 10, 2014

Updated Job Descriptions: Boring but Necessary

A client recently told me that she’d rather go to the dentist than review and update job descriptions.  I know she’s joined in that sentiment by thousands of colleagues in HR.  Few tasks are more tedious, or more easily ignored in the face of the dozens of urgent matters that arise each day.  The problem is that few tasks are more important to a well-run, well-protected personnel system.  If an employer’s job descriptions are inaccurate or out of date, there can be consequences far worse than the unpleasant effort required to get them and keep them accurate.
A great deal has been written about the importance of job descriptions to the employer-employee relationship generally.  Back in 2005, for example, described the job description as a “versatile management tool.”  Much more recently, PDP’s Scanlan’s Blog declared the statement “every job must have a clear job description” to be the first principle of employee engagement.  A January 2013 SHRM article refers to the job description as the “foundation of nearly every HR function” and stresses the importance of reviewing and updating each job description at least once a year, and more often if a job is known to have changed.



Too burdensome?  The alternatives could be worse.  It’s hard to justify a bad performance review based on an employee’s failure to perform tasks that don’t appear in her job description.  It’s hard to refuse a request for reasonable accommodation – such as no heavy lifting, for example – if there’s no lifting called for in the job description of the employee making the request. And it sounds pretty bogus to insist that a task is “critical” to the performance of a job when the job description classifies the task as “occasional” or “secondary.” Check here and here for recent takes on the downside of outdated or inaccurate job descriptions.
Job descriptions end up as evidence in almost every employment law dispute, and for that reason alone they need to be a reliable source of information about the duties and responsibilities of a position.  Their importance begins long before litigation, however, and if properly crafted and maintained, job descriptions can be part of an employer’s strategy to prevent such disputes from occurring. We strongly recommend that you visit your dentist and review your job descriptions at least once a year.
Posted by: Judy Langevin and Kate Bischoff
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