Monday, January 5, 2015

How Important Are Job Descriptions?

In two words: very important. And yet, frequently job descriptions remain on the virtual shelf gathering dust until an employee fails to meet expectations or leaves or gets fired. Here are three important reason to review and revise organizational job descriptions on an annual basis:

     1) The job description is your key document defining essential job functions and qualifications. In other words, it outlines what your employees are supposed to do as well as required skills and certifications, sensory and physical requirements, work schedules, chain of command, and salary. It should also state whether the job is exempt or non-exempt. Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); exempt employees (typically salaried administrative, executive, and professional staff as delineated under state and federal guidelines) are not.
     2) The job description helps protect your organization from lawsuits. Wrongful termination lawsuits are the most common suits to hit nonprofits. Consider this: if you don't have written documents that say your employee needs to be able to lift heavy weights, you've got a problem on your hands if you discover the employee cannot do so and you want to let them go. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require written job descriptions, but having them provides clear evidence of whether a particular job function is essential. It is legal to decline employment to someone if their disability makes it impossible to do the job as per clearly documented duties. Note also that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires you to document any hazardous exposure as well as specific environmental and/or safety conditions of your work environment (such as hot or cold temperatures, fumes, loud noise, etc.)
   3) The job description provides the basis for your annual performance reviews. (You are doing annual performance reviews aren't you? If not, start right now). Your review process should include a written assessment of job performance in every aspect listed in the job description. It provides the opportunity to note when employees need more training or assistance as well as to pinpoint if in fact the job duties have changed over time. In which case you need to rewrite the job description.

Here is some important language to include: "This nonprofit organization retains the discretion to add or change job duties at any time." And this: "The essential functions include but are not limited to…"

Here are some job requirements to include that you might not have considered: physical requirements including vision, ability to answer phones, driving for a specific purpose; work schedules, especially if night and/or weekend work is required; ability to work well with others (co-workers, Board members, clients, volunteers); ability to handle stress, challenging situations, and difficult people; specific information about required technological skills.

A job description is a living document, one that is a key element of prudent management. Change it as needed based on organizational priorities, input from performance reviews, and staffing changes.

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