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We’ve compiled a list of the 100 most commonly asked questions we have received on the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime regulations.
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This report, "Top 100 FLSA Q&As", is designed to provide you with an examination of the federal FLSA overtime regulations in Q&A format, including valuable tips for bringing your workplace into compliance in an affordable manner.

At the end of the report, you will find a list of state resources on wage and hour issues. This report includes practical advice on topics such as:
  • FLSA Coverage: How FLSA regulations apply to all employers and any specific exemptions from the overtime requirements
  • Salary Level: Qualifying for exemptions and nonexempt employees
  • Deductions from Pay: Deducting for violations, disciplinary reasons, sick leave, or personal leave

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June 25, 2010
Why Do Job Descriptions Matter?
The compelling presenter at a recent BLR webinar told listeners from the start that there are no laws requiring employers to have job descriptions. So why bother? For lots of important reasons that Olivia Goodkin, partner in the Los Angeles office of Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff described during the session.

Just for openers, said Goodkin, there are four major reasons for having job descriptions:

  • Given a well-crafted job description, a business can recruit wisely, focusing on the skills and attributes really needed in a particular position.
  • A description that accurately depicts the essential functions of a job can be crucial in helping you decide whether someone with a disability can do the job—as well as providing a good defense if you get sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Good job descriptions help employers properly classify employees as exempt or nonexempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • Finally, accurate job descriptions are a great foundation for (at least annual) performance evaluations and/or if termination becomes necessary.

As for ADA, the role of the job description is to define what’s truly necessary to the performance of any job. That helps an employer determine—without making snap judgments that could lead to liability—whether an individual can perform all the essential functions of a job in spite of a disability. If the person can’t manage a marginal or occasional duty, the employer can consider moving that to someone else’s job. But employers are not required to reallocate essential functions nor to create a position that someone with a disability feels he or she is able to perform.

What’s a reasonable accommodation? As lawyers love to say, “It depends.” Goodkin recently had a client with a disabled employee who needed a wheelchair that could lift the individual to a particular height to perform a job function. But the chair cost $5,000—clearly an undue burden on a small employer. But what if the organization were a subsidiary, Goodkin asked, of a much larger company? Then such a chair purchase might not represent an undue burden.

The exempt/nonexempt problem. Goodkin stressed how valuable accurate job descriptions can be in helping employers properly classify their workers. She reviewed the five categories of exempt employees—administrative, executive, professional, outside salespersons, and some computer workers. She emphasized that job titles are not meaningful for classification—calling someone a manager doesn’t mean the person really is one.

Goodkin also noted that the administrative exemption creates the most confusion: It’s important to distinguish between production functions and those that are truly administrative, such as purchasing, advertising, public relations, quality control, HR, and legal/regulatory compliance. The key question to answer affirmatively is, “Is the individual assisting the proprietors in running the business?”

In answer to a question at the end of the presentation regarding the worst and most common mistakes in job descriptions, Goodkin pointed to calling people exempt when they’re not. Citing a new client who has about 30 employees, she recalled that the chief executive said, “They’re all exempt.” Goodkin wonders who’s answering the phones and keeping the files straight—jobs that are likely nonexempt.

What’s the “anatomy of a job description”? Goodkin then moved to the nitty-gritty of creating descriptions. She strongly recommends that HR and the relevant line manager be jointly responsible. And, unless it’s a new position, she urges the line manager to talk with the incumbent before creating or updating the description. If employees have considerable autonomy, she noted, they may be devoting significant time to duties that their managers didn’t know about.

As you begin a description, ask where it fits into the company’s mission and organizational chart. In describing the receptionist’s job, for example, you might say, “Provides the first point of contact and essential communication link between the company and the outside world.” Start the description with the job title, job code or pay grade if any, and department. Include who the person reports to and who, if anyone, reports to the jobholder.

List the customary work days and hours, and, yes, says Goodkin, you can do so for exempt employees to set expectations. Some employers include the starting salary or other compensation indicator, but that’s optional. Then describe the essential functions of the job, and what skills are needed to perform those functions. Functions can be listed in their order of importance or in the order in which they’d be done on a typical day. For FLSA purposes, include estimates of the percentage of time needed for each task.

If there are quality or quantity standards for the position, list them, as well as minimum qualifications. Include any physical demands, and be sure to describe anything about the work environment that is significant, such as that it is not heated or air conditioned or that it’s noisy. A good way to conclude is by listing required behaviors, such as dependability, attention to detail, tolerance for multiple demands, and the like.

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