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The Importance of Documenting Employees' Job Functions

Wouldn’t it be great if life came with clear pre-written expectations? Fortunately, jobs usually do. Developing job descriptions, however, isn’t always a clean-cut process. Many employers struggle with developing job descriptions, as they think it’s not worth the time or effort. However, developing a job description is an important aspect of a company’s approach to disability management.

These written descriptions are generally useful for outlining job duties across your organization, but may become crucial when evaluating an employer’s obligation to support an employee suffering from an injury or illness. That’s because this documentation is what drives an employer’s obligation to support an employee with accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). To be protected under the ADAAA, an employee must be qualified to perform the essential functions of a job with or without reasonable accommodations.

What Makes Up a Good Job Description?

A job description typically consists of six major components:

  1. Essential job functions
  2. Knowledge and critical skills
  3. Physical demands
  4. Environmental factors
  5. The roles of the ADAAA and other federal laws
  6. Explanatory information to help clarify job duties or responsibilities

The most important of these components, from an ADAAA perspective, is the documentation of essential job functions. Essential job functions are the requirements and tasks an employee must, at a very minimum, meet and complete to do his or her job effectively. For example, being able to lift 15 pounds, assembling 1,000 items per day or using a keyboard to type reports are all possible essential job functions.

However, an employee can dispute whether he or she can perform the tasks listed if those tasks aren’t doable with the right accommodations. That’s where essential job functions come in. Lack of documentation could translate to a gray area of what’s “essential” to do the job, and lead to larger disputes if an employee says he or she has performed a certain job function that isn’t listed and isn’t being accommodated for it.

How to Determine if a Job Function Is Essential

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — the federal agency that oversees ADAAA accommodations — has outlined what factors to consider in determining essential job functions. These include:

  • Whether the reason the position exists is to perform that function,
  • The number of other employees available to perform the function or among whom the performance of the function can be distributed, and
  • The degree of expertise or skill required to perform the function1

Consultants Can Help Both Employers and Employees

Fortunately, Workplace PossibilitiesSM consultants often can assist in evaluating job descriptions and essential job functions, and work with you to help create a list of job functions that may help you stay compliant with federal regulations. In some cases, consultants might even be able to help write job descriptions for you. In my next post, I’ll provide some tips on how you can approach this process either on your own, or with the help of your disability consultant.

Although listing essential job functions may seem tedious, consider how it can save your organization a significant amount of time and money down the road if an employee ever disputes their request for a reasonable accommodation.



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