Why Have Job Descriptions?

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Why does a company need job descriptions? There are two main reasons, plus one applicable to companies certified in ISO-9001 and similar QMS programs. The most urgent reason is legal, as a protection against discrimination claims; the day-to-day reason is that it makes hiring and managing employees easier; the QMS reason is that job descriptions are a good way to meet the standards.

Legally, you don’t need job descriptions, as long as you never have a problem with an employee. However, a good job description can save your bacon in front of the Human Rights Board or in court. If you don’t hire or promote someone, they can file a charge that you discriminated against them because they are female/too young/too old/black/disabled. It is a lot easier to win these cases if you can point to what are called the essential functions of the job to show that you had an objective reason for your decision. (Assuming that you did.)

Essential Functions are the things that an employee must be able to perform; put another way, what is the point of the job? Someone who works with spreadsheets needs to be experienced with them, but not necessarily familiar with one particular spreadsheet program – they can learn that as they go. Someone in purchasing needs to be able to order materials, but not to run up stairs. Someone who can’t perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations, can be let go without it being wrongful discharge, or not hired without it being discrimination. But you have to have a job description that lists the essential functions of jobs to gain this protection.

Job descriptions make hiring easier (as well as safer). In the first place, you will have analyzed what the job entails and had a chance to make any changes or adjustments before filling the position. You will also have an easier time coming up with good interview questions based on the requirements. If you use the description in your ad, candidates will be better able to self-sort, leaving you with a larger percentage of qualified candidates. Once you have thought through what is really needed for the job, it is easier to evaluate candidates before and during the interview.

Once an employee is hired, the job description is a list of what training they might need and what the standards they will be held to. Knowing what is expected of them is important to good employees, and a job description goes a long way toward making expectations clear.

Performance evaluations are easier when both sides know what standards are being applied to each employee. A job description is a good starting point for an evaluation; how well does the employee do on the tasks listed? Are they performing all the essential functions effectively? Problem areas can be pointed to and discussed, as can areas of strength.

For ISO-certified companies, a job description is a simple way to meet the requirement that a company “determine the necessary competence for personnel”. A job description also makes it easy to “evaluate the effectiveness” of training.

The first efforts at writing job descriptions can be difficult, but the results are worth it.