The fun part about writing job descriptions – ok, the part that most people focus on – is the list of tasks that an employee is responsible for: answering phones, accounts payable, supervising, scheduling, etc. These are the obvious parts of a job, but there is more to it than that. There is also the physical ability to perform the job, and these criteria often get neglected.
Examples of physical criteria include:
- The ability to lift 25/50/80 pounds regularly
- The ability to respond quickly to sounds
- The ability to move safely over uneven terrain or in confined spaces
- The ability to see and respond to dangerous situations
- The ability to safely climb ladders while carrying 40 pounds
- The ability to work in extreme weather
- The ability to wear personal protective gear correctly most of the day
These seem so basic, especially to someone who knows the job, that they often get skipped, with the possible exception of lifting weights. There are two good reasons to include them: hiring fit and ADA compliance.
Including these requirements in a job description that is handed to applicants allows people to self-select out. If an applicant knows that he has a hearing problem then he can opt out of a job that requires good hearing; someone with asthma might choose to opt out of a job that requires a respirator. And when the interviewer asks “Can you perform this job, with or without reasonable accommodations?” (she does, ask, right?), the physical requirements are right there in front of the applicant, making it harder for a marginal candidate to fudge.
The interviewer’s question leads to the second point: If the physical requirements of a job have been thought through, then it is easier to figure out whether an employee’s disability can be accommodated. If an employee cannot perform the essential functions of a job with reasonable accommodations, then you know to move on to the next step in the process. If the employee’s disability doesn’t affect one of the essential functions, then accommodations are in order.
The trick here is to focus on essential functions, not what is familiar or easy. For instance, good hearing is probably an essential function for someone who is in charge of keeping small children safe, such as a playground monitor or kindergarten teacher; for someone who does their work on a computer and communicates primarily through email, it isn’t essential. Separate out what is critical for the job from what is preferred.
Watch assumptions about how the tasks are performed, too. While ladders need to be climbed, the ground doesn’t need to be walked across. The job may require someone who can move across the ground, rather than someone who can walk across it; someone in an all-terrain wheelchair might be perfectly capable of the task (and quite possibly faster).
One way to figure out these criteria is to watch someone performing the job, then think through what kinds of disabilities would force you to let go of your best employee in that position. You might be able to accommodate deafness but not blindness – or vice versa. Each job is different and the essential functions need to be thought through and spelled out for each of them. The time taken up front can save you headache down the road.