Many job descriptions contain the following seven elements:
(1) Job identification/position summary,
(2) Essential functions,
(6) Experience and education, and
(7) Physical and environmental conditions.
This framework may vary from employer to employer and from job
to job. The basic elements will be discussed, and the overall format of the
job description will be discussed further in this section. One important thing
to remember is that all job descriptions within an organization should follow
the same rules for application of a particular format. Those individuals responsible
for writing them should receive similar instructions and follow the same guidelines
so that valid comparisons can be made among jobs.
Job identification is the basic introduction to the job description.
It includes elements such as the job title, job code, Fair Labor
Standards Act (FLSA) status (i.e., exempt or nonexempt), immediate
supervisor's title, and department. The job identification should also include
the date on which the job description was written and approved. Only items
of information that are relatively permanent should be included in the job
identification (e.g., use a supervisor's title, not his or her name). This
information may be arranged in a number of ways. For example, a smaller company
may simply ask for the job title, department, supervisor's title, and the
Job titles. The most important element in
the job identification is the job title. A job title that identifies the job
accurately and precisely is not only valuable to the jobholder or to someone
just starting the job, but also establishes the relationships among jobs and
serves to help in comparing the job with others in the organization. A good
job title describes the job in a word or two, indicates the job's specific
field of activity, its relationship to that field, and its professional standing;
provides some form of prestige to the jobholder; and accurately reflects the
job's content, purpose, and scope of responsibility. A good job title should
also indicate skill level or supervisory level, where valid distinctions exist.
Job titles should be similar or identical to one of the titles the job has
had in the past so that employees and supervisors won't have to learn a completely
new vocabulary every time job descriptions are written or revised.
Job codes. Another major item in the job
identification section is the job code. This refers to the employer's unique
combination of numbers or letters that the company has assigned to the job.
Many firms have either used or adapted the six-digit numerical code used by
the Department of Labor in its Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), now
known as the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). Other companies set
up their own set of numbers and letters to denote various categories for internal
HR use. For example, the first letter of the code might be 1 for exempt or
2 for nonexempt; the second might be 3 or 4 for supervisory or nonsupervisory;
the third, 1 through 9 for job categories under the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (used in the Commission's EEO-1 Form); the fourth might denote
which, if any, bonus compensation program the job is part of, etc.
The second section of a well-written job description format is
known as the "position summary." It is a brief, narrative picture of the job
that highlights its general characteristics. It is especially valuable to
the reader who wants to obtain a quick overview of the job. The job summary
should provide enough information to differentiate the major functions and
activities of the job from those of other jobs.
Since brevity, accuracy, and objectivity are primary goals in
writing the job summary, it is wise to follow these three basic rules:
• Start the position summary with an action word (verb).
• Explain the job's requirements; in other words, tell what is
• If necessary, explain the why or how of the job--its purpose.
If it is necessary or helpful to do so, use an example.
The choice of words in the position summary is a crucial factor.
The meanings established for certain words in a particular job summary should
be applied consistently throughout all job descriptions. Try to avoid ambiguous
words that leave themselves open to a number of possible interpretations.
And finally, use simple terms and phrases with which everyone in the company
is familiar. It is often in the job summary section that the phrase "Performs
other assignments (or duties) as required" is included. This conveys the message
that certain things that must be done are not always included in the job description.
Essential functions are common to all job description formats
and represent a summary of those functions associated with the job. The essential
functions should represent those duties that must be performed in the job.
When assigning essential functions to a job, first determine whether the employee
is actually required to perform that function. For example, a description
might say that typing is an essential function for a receptionist, but if
the employer never required any employee in this position to type, typing
would not be considered an essential function. If individuals who hold the
position are actually required to perform that function, the function may
be considered essential. Sometimes, the essential duties section will be followed
by a section on "Additional Responsibilities," which are nonessential or marginal
job functions. When trying to identify the essential job duties and responsibilities,
it is vital to focus on the function of the job rather than the means used
to achieve that function.
What to include in essential functions. Some
of the items that might be included in essential functions are regular day-to-day
functions; duties that occur at irregular intervals but that are of a recurring
and essential nature; quantity and quality of supervision received; quantity
and quality of supervision exercised; amount of human interaction required
(in teaching, counseling, coaching, and training); extent of contacts made
both inside and outside the company; responsibility for maintaining records;
requirements for following instructions or orders; responsibility for company
funds; degree of accountability for human and material resources; office machines
or equipment that must be operated; physical demands; emotional demands; and
any other unusual demands.
Using the 80/20 rule. When deciding which
functions to include as "essential" to the job description, some employers
use the "80/20 rule." The rule states that 80 percent of what comes out of
a job is the result of 20 percent of what goes into it. In other words, only
about 20 percent of what the employee actually does is responsible for achieving
80 percent of the job's results or objectives. This 20 percent of the job's
content constitutes the essential functions of the job description.
Essential functions and the ADA.
The federal Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA)
prohibits employers from refusing to
hire or employ an otherwise qualified individual with a disability as long
as that individual can perform the essential functions of the job, with or
without reasonable accommodation. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008
amended the ADA effective January 1, 2009, significantly
altering the way in which disabilities are evaluated and accommodated. For
Please see the
. Under the ADA, as amended, "essential functions" are defined
as those duties that an individual must
be able to perform (i.e., fundamental
rather than marginal duties). This is where job descriptions come into play.
In determining whether a function is essential, one of the elements that the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will look at is a written job
description prepared by the employer before advertising the position or interviewing
An employer may ask about an applicant's ability to perform job-related
functions, with or without reasonable accommodation. This can be accomplished
by describing a particular job duty (e.g., an employee must be able to transport
50-pound bags from a loading dock) and then asking whether the applicant can
perform that function. An employer may conduct nonmedical tests that measure
an applicant's ability to perform job-related functions (e.g., a lifting test).
If an applicant is asked to demonstrate performance and indicates that he
or she will need a reasonable accommodation to do so, the employer must either
provide a reasonable accommodation that does not create an undue hardship
so that the applicant can demonstrate job performance, or allow that applicant
to describe how he or she would perform the job function.
Job descriptions are not required under the ADA, but for most
employers, detailing the essential functions in a job description will help
ensure that applicants and employees with disabilities are not discriminated
against because they cannot perform marginal job duties.
Please see the
Practice tip for documenting essential functions. When
writing job duties/essential functions, use brief, to-the-point sentences
or phrases. Begin each sentence or phrase with an action verb. Use the present
tense. Avoid verbs that do not specifically indicate the action involved.
For example, "handles mail" might be better expressed as "sorts mail" or "distributes
The skills section of the job description refers to work-related
attributes acquired and/or developed through experience and education. Required
skills should be related to work performance and are generally divided into
basic skills and cross-functional skills. Basic skills are skills such as
the ability to read or acquire new knowledge, listening, and writing. Cross-functional
skills are skills such as problem solving, technical skills, and equipment
Knowledge represents the acquisition of facts and principles
about a domain of information. Knowledge can encompass areas such as business
and management administration, economics, accounting, sales, marketing, customer
and personal service, as well as many other position disciplines. There may
be some overlap between knowledge and experience/education. However, in the
knowledge portion of the job description, the employer should address the
facts and principles of the particular discipline with which the candidate
should have a specified level of familiarity. For example, a knowledge requirement
may be computer engineering, but an education/experience requirement would
be a Bachelor of Science degree.
Attributes encompass specific abilities an incumbent has that
influence his or her job performance. For example, cognitive abilities, verbal
abilities, written comprehension, oral expression, and written expression
may all be encompassed in the "Attributes" section of the job description.
Experience and educational requirements lay the foundation for
establishing procedures to work with given knowledge. The job description
should include requirements related to previous work activities, information
about the typical experiential backgrounds of workers in an occupation, including
certification, licensure, and training. For example, information about the
professional or organizational certifications required for entry and advancement
in an occupation, preferred education or training, and required apprenticeships
should be documented in this section of the job description. Specifically,
the description should answer questions such as what does the job require
in terms of formal schooling, training, or knowledge of a specialized field?
How long should the incumbent have worked in this job or in closely related
jobs? Within or outside the organization? Wherever possible, the employer
should describe measurable qualifications, such as education and experience,
in terms of years.
EEOC Statement on Educational
Requirements. In 2011, the EEOC issued a letter stating that if
an employer adopts an educational standard for a job such as requiring a high
school diploma, and that requirement “screens out” an individual who is unable
to graduate because of a disability that meets the ADA’s definition
of “disability,” the employer may not apply the standard unless it can demonstrate
that the diploma requirement is job related and consistent with business necessity.
The employer will not be able to
make this showing, for example, if the functions in question can easily be
performed by someone who does not have a diploma. Even if the diploma requirement
is job related and consistent with business necessity, the employer may still
have to determine whether a particular applicant whose learning disability
prevents him or her from getting a diploma can perform the essential functions
of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation. It may do so, for
example, by considering relevant work history and/or by allowing the applicant
to demonstrate an ability to do the job’s essential functions during the application
process. If the individual can perform the job’s essential functions, with
or without a reasonable accommodation, despite the inability to meet the standard,
the employer may not use the high school diploma requirement to exclude the
applicant. However, the employer is not required to prefer the applicant with
a disability over other applicants who are better qualified.
Because the ADA requires that otherwise qualified applicants
and employees be able to perform the essential functions of a job with or
without reasonable accommodation, job descriptions for positions that have
physical and/or environmental requirements should include precise descriptions
of those physical and/or environmental requirement(s). The inclusion of physical
and/or environmental requirements in a job description may also assist the
employer in addressing occupational safety and health issues and workers'
Relate to essential functions. It is important
to remember that physical and environmental requirements in a job description
must directly relate to the essential functions of the job itself. If the
job does not have a physical or environmental requirement that directly relates
to the essential function(s) of the job, the job description need not contain
physical or environmental requirements.
Caution: If the physical requirements listed
as part of the job description are overly restrictive, the employer is in
danger of a claim that it intended to discriminate against certain workers
(i.e., disabled individuals), rather than a good-faith effort to provide an
accurate description of the job.
Determining physical and environmental requirements. The
physical and environmental requirements to be included in a job description
are really driven by the job itself. When crafting an accurate description
of the physical requirements of the job, consider the physical activity required
by the job (that directly relates to the essential functions of the job).
Sample physical requirements.The elements
to be considered for physical requirements might include standing, walking,
sitting, finger or manual dexterity, repetitive finger motion, lifting or
exerting force (up to 10, 25, 50, 100, over 100 pounds), reaching or stretching,
climbing or balancing, crouching or stooping, creeping or crawling, speaking,
hearing, tasting, smelling, seeing (with correction), close vision, distance
vision, color discrimination, peripheral vision, depth perception, focusing
ability, or other factors that are applicable to the job.
Sample environmental requirements. For environmental
conditions, consider whether the essential functions of the job require work
in outdoor weather conditions, wet or humid conditions, extreme cold, or extreme
heat; work requiring exposure to fumes or airborne particles, toxic or caustic
chemicals, bloodborne pathogens, risk of fire or explosion, risk of electric
shock, risk of radiation, risk of drowning, prolonged vibration, loud noise
levels; or other factors that are applicable to the job.
For each of these physical and environmental requirements, consider
the amount of time the essential functions of the job require the individual
to be exposed to the condition(s).
The job description should not restrict the right of supervisors
to assign additional duties not specified in the job description. However,
it is important to realize that because of legal considerations, these extra
duties and responsibilities should not be considered "essential functions"
of the job. To avoid any possible misunderstandings, many companies have a
statement similar to the following at the bottom of their job description
"This job description in no way states or implies that these are
the only duties to be performed by this employee. He or she will be required
to follow any other instructions and to perform any other duties requested
by his or her supervisor."