The Hazard Lurking In You Filing Cabinet... Generic Job Descriptions

By JDXpert - April 03, 2016

The oftentimes overwhelming task of maintaining comprehensive and up-to-date job descriptions has led many HR professionals to choose more generic cut-and-paste job descriptions as an alternative.  Unfortunately, the time and effort saved in managing these generic job descriptions can lead to a multitude of unintended consequences.   
Job descriptions are the foundation of many HR functions including recruiting, performance and pay-for-performance compensation.  A clearly defined job description can help HR better evaluate potential and current employees and pinpoint the critical elements that differentiate between successful and unsuccessful job performance.  It outlines the position, not only the duties and responsibilities of the job, but also what behaviors, values, and goals the company expects the employees to uphold.  A well-defined job description can help attract the right talent, lead to accurate and actionable employee evaluations, and support a pay-for-performance compensation plan.

Generic job descriptions and job titles can also leave HR and employees in the dark when it comes to career laddering.  If companies do not specify the differences between jobs, it will lead to confusion about what promotional opportunities an employee may have.  When growth potential is unclear, it can make employees despondent and may push good employees right out the door.

Job descriptions aren’t just useful when recruiting, evaluating employee performance, and determining compensation, they can also mean the difference between winning and losing a lawsuit.  While most HR professionals will go their entire career without having to step foot in a court room to defend their hiring or firing decisions, some will have to show compelling evidence to back their choices.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for example, was established to help protect those with disabilities from being discriminated against in the workplace.  Although the ADA does not require job descriptions, it does require that applicants and employees are able to perform the “essential functions” of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who oversees the law, has said that one of the documents the agency will look at when determining essential functions are job descriptions written before an employer advertises to fill a job opening.  Therefore, companies are encouraged to accurately and precisely reflect their essential functions in some way, and a generic description is not the best way to do that. Having accurate, detailed, and up-to-date job descriptions can be the best evidence in defending against damaging litigation.

There are no quick fixes in HR management especially when it comes to job description management.  However, if an organization wants an effective recruiting, performance, compensation, communication, and legally-defensible document, there is no substitution for a clearly defined job description.  While the process can be time consuming, the benefits more than justify the investment.


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