Job Descriptions are Critical to Legal Defense

Here are HR legal and compliance issues you need to know:

Companies routinely underestimate the value of a well-written job description as part of their legal defense.

For organizations with 15 or more employees, failure to accommodate claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) frequently stand or fall on a determination of what tasks are considered essential functions.

The ADA requires companies to make a good faith effort to provide reasonable accommodations to employees in order for the employees to retain their positions while completing the essential functions of the position. But the essential functions must be documented in a job description or some other document that the employee signs. It sounds so reasonable and easy when it’s placed in writing but not so easy in actual practice. Here is an example of what can go wrong.

In Snead v. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Board of Trustees, a former police officer (Snead) at Florida A&M University sued the school for failure to accommodate his request for a reasonable accommodation.

For business reasons, the school changed the shift for all officers from an 8-hour shift to a 12-hour shift. Snead tried working the longer shift but he experienced medical issues related to his high blood pressure. With a doctor’s note in hand, Snead requested a change back to the 8-hour shift. The school denied the request citing the 12-hour shift as the essential function of the job. Snead retired and filed a failure to accommodate claim. The jury awarded Snead $250,000. The school appealed and lost the appeal. In the appeal decision against the school, the judge noted:

**The school’s job description had a section titled, “Essential Functions,” but the 12-hour shift was not in that section.

**The 12-hour shift was listed in the section, “Working Conditions,” but did not mention it as an essential function.

Management Lesson

Here are the takeaways from this material.

#1 A job description (JD) is the first line of defense in most ADA, FMLA, FLSA, and EEOC legal cases.

#2 Most JDs are mistakenly broad statements of responsibilities rather than specific duties and performance expectations designed to protect the business.

#3 Most JDs do not list the essential functions of the position.

#4 Most JDs are never signed by employees.

#5 Most JD’s fail to mention specific employee obligations as essential functions such as:

(1) Mandatory overtime.

(2) Rotating shifts.

(3) Rotating weekends.

(4) The length of shift (e.g., 8-hour, 10-hour, 12-hour).

(5) Regular, timely and punctual attendance.

If you are looking to protect your organization from various governmental enforcement efforts, one of the best places to start is a review of “the basic building block of the employment relationship” – the job description.

For an overview of how we construct standards-based job descriptions, click on the link below:

Dedicated To Enhancing Your HR Assets!

Kiesha Valentine, PHR, SHRM-CP, CMHR
Human Resources
Cell: 714-982-1789
Mailing Address:
5753 E. Santa Ana Canyon Rd., Suite #G242
Anaheim Hills, CA 92807


Categories: HR NEWS

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