If there is one piece of advice employers most disregard from employment attorneys or human resource professionals, it would be the importance of adopting job descriptions. Job descriptions serve an important purpose and should be prepared before the hiring process begins. Job descriptions are “Exhibit A” to most employment law claims, and serve as the employer’s first outline of its expectations for the employee with respect to his/her position. Without a detailed job description in place, the expectations are unclear, and it is difficult to hold employees accountable for job duties that have not been clearly articulated.

Job descriptions that are written well also enable employers to determine whether a position is exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the essential functions of the position for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and serve as the guideline for any performance evaluation, disciplinary action, or non-renewal decision. Like most employment documents, job descriptions that are written poorly can be of minimal value or even harmful in a dispute. So what makes a good job description? At a minimum, a good job description contains the following information:

Wage classification

The job description should clearly state whether the position is a non-exempt or exempt position under the FLSA. If a position is classified as exempt, then the primary duties should include a description that clearly establish the “duties” requirements outlined in the federal regulations that establish which positions are exempt. Indeed, when I review job descriptions for clients, I analyze whether descriptions for exempt employees pass the smell test — would a third-party reading this job description be able to clearly identify it was an exempt position? I often add language to a job description for an exempt employee taken straight from the federal regulations, if, of course, the individual actually performs such duties.

General work hours

Tell the employee what you expect from him/her regarding work hours. Will they be expected to work evenings and weekends as necessary? Do you have particular office hours where attendance is required? For exempt positions, employees must work whatever hours it takes to satisfactorily perform the duties of the position. Any expectations regarding hours should be made clear.

Reporting structure or chain of command

State clearly in the job description what the reporting structure is for this position. Identify the position that directly supervises this position and any other positions that may have supervisory authority over this position. Does this position also supervise other employees, parent volunteers, or others? If so, include this information in the job description. Indeed, for any position classified as exempt under the executive exemption outlined in the FLSA, that position must supervise the equivalent of two or more full-time employees. Make sure your job description matches the FLSA requirement.

Primary duties and responsibilities or essential functions of the position

List the primary duties of the position. What does this mean? First, consider whether a third-party who knows nothing about your school or this job could read the job description and have an accurate picture of the primary responsibilities this individual is expected to perform. Have you left out details because it was “assumed” or “a given”? Don’t leave holes or make assumptions. You already know that parents have different opinions about your school and what its employees should be doing. Imagine if a jury, attorneys, or human resource professionals had to debate what they thought a particular position at your school was required to do. Certainly, you can’t list every little detail for every position, but make sure you hit all the highlights and be sure to include a statement that the duties identified are not intended to be an all-inclusive list. Also, include a statement that the employee will be required to perform other duties and responsibilities as may be requested from his/her supervisor. Second, is your list of primary duties up to date? When you wrote the job description, 5 years ago, it was rock solid, but positions and expectations evolve over time for a variety of reasons. Be sure to update your job descriptions routinely. A good time to review job descriptions is prior to posting any position for hire and in anticipation of employee performance evaluations.

Required knowledge, skills, and abilities

What knowledge, skills, or abilities would an applicant be required to have in order to do this position? In other words, what are the minimum requirements for the position? Must the individual have supervisory skills? Must they be proficient with Excel or other accounting software? Do they need to have knowledge of certain education theories or testing requirements?

Required licenses or certifications

Include any legally required or school required licenses or certifications for the position.

Preferred qualifications, skills, or certifications

If you are hiring for a position, or offer different pay for the same position based on differences in experience, certifications, or skills, identify these “preferred” or “desired” qualifications, experience, skills, or certifications. Such information will be useful in any pay discrimination claim.

Working environment

Most employers are aware that a statement of primary duties is crucial to the analysis of whether an individual can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Yet, most job descriptions fail to include a discussion of the work environment and physical/mental requirements for a position. Does the position require work outdoors, in an office environment, or a classroom? What is your classroom environment like? Is there strenuous activity or repetitive motions involved? Must the individual be able to lift 20 pounds or more frequently?

At-will employment statement

Every job description should repeat the at-will statement that you included in the offer letter, employment agreement, and handbook.

If you follow these tips, your job description should be in great shape and be an effective tool for hiring, evaluations, analysis of reasonable accommodations, and defense of FLSA, ADA, or pay discrimination claims. Following these tips will save you time, money and heartache in the future.
This article is intended as general information on the topic covered, and is not to be construed as legal advice. If legal advice is needed, you should consult an attorney.

Michelle B. Ferguson is an employment attorney at Ireland Stapleton Pryor & Pascoe, PC, and she works with private and public employers to be proactive in identifying and solving issues before an employment claim is filed, or in the defense of any employment law claims. She also provides training to employers and their employees on all matters of employment law. Questions? Michelle can be reached at (303) 628-3658 or mferguson@irelandstapleton.com.