How to Write a Job Description for Your First Employee

You’re hiring your first employee.  That’s a big deal!  But now you have to define what the employee will actually be DOING. What are your expectations of the employee? And how do you combine these with being compliant?

The job description is a summary of the tasks, duties, functions, and responsibilities of a position that is a guide for job performance. It is also used in hiring, compensating and holding staff accountable. From a compliance perspective, the job description is key in protecting your organization from Ameican with Disability Act, Title VII discrimination and OSHA claims.

That is all great, right?   Yet, how do you write one? 

Below are the key areas you will need to keep in mind from both a legal and compliance perspective. It is important to note that each section supports each other. AND they all support the way in which you are paying your employees (either exempt from overtime in the form of a salary or non-exempt and on an hourly basis.)  

Job Title

What are you calling this position? 

Classification

This is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exempt or non-exempt status. This status is determined and supported by the essential functions, required education, experience, language, math and reasoning abilities which will be listed out in the job description.

Essential Duties

These are the required duties and responsibilities that an individual performs. This section correlates with every other section on the job description as it provides the expectations for what the employee will be held accountable for. 

When writing this section, ensure that each duty is written in the form of a SMARTY goal.  This goal is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable, Time Based and describes Why this duty is important as aligned with the mission and vision of the organization.  

Legal Implications:  This section protects the organization from Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), FLSA, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) or other discrimination cases by specifically naming the expectations of the position.  

Supervisory Responsibilities

Only include this section if it is relevant to the position.  This could be responsible for all individuals in a specific department OR in a functional area.   

Legal Implications:  This correlates with the classifications as the executive exemption is contingent on the number of employees supervised. 

Certifications/Licenses

List out any specific certifications or licenses that are required or preferred for the position that is essential to perform the position. If listed as required, the individual should already hold this certification or license.  If you are doing the training and are willing to train or waive a specific certification, then it should be listed as preferred.  Examples of this include: driver’s license, industry certification, teaching license, etc.  

Legal Implications: This protects the organization from EEO discrimination cases. Listing items here as required vs. preferred differentiates if a reasonable accommodation can be made for an individual not having this certification. This correlates with the essential functions. 

Education, Math, Language & Reasoning Abilities  

These sections set the minimum expectations needed in the position for the employee to satisfactorily perform the essential functions of the role.  We recommend that you use a specific structure when creating these to ensure consistency across all levels of your organization. 

Education:  9 levels of education ranging from “Less than high school diploma” to “Doctorate Degree” 

Language Ability: “Read and speak in two to three words sentences” to “Negotiate significant organizational contracts and present organizational data to board and community stakeholders in easy to understand language.” 

Legal Implications: Consistency across positions is key to ensure you can support why individuals are paid a specific amount.  This section backs up the salary ranges you place each position into and supports the essential functions listed above.  

Physical Demands

This section lays out all the physical requirements to do the job, such as standing, lifting, walking stopping, crawling, lifting, hearing, speaking, dexterity of fingers (typing), close or distance vision, peripheral vision, etc. 

For each physical demand category, it is recommended that you have 3 levels that define the amount of time required (less the 1/3, 1/3 – 2/3 or 2/3 + of the time).  The reason for the three levels is to ensure consistency between all your positions as well as to both simplify and provide clarity in what is needed. 

Legal Implications: This section is instrumental in determining a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, return to work after FMLA, anti-discrimination based on if an employee cannot complete a specific essential function, etc.   

Work Environment 

Clarity is key to ensuring that employees are aware of the types of environment they may be exposed to.  It is recommended that this section is set up similarly to that of physical demands.  This section must lay out any specific working conditions such as an office environment, exposure to fumes, confined spaces, loud noises, heights, etc.  

Legal Implications: The environment that an employee works in may impact wages and is integral in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cases.   

Acknowledgment  

Every job description should have an acknowledgment that the employee understands the essential function of the position and can do all functions with or without reasonable accommodation and agrees that this job description is NOT a contract of employment and does not negate their “at will” agreement.  

Signature 

Upon hire into the position and on an annual basis (preferably at performance review time) ensure that each employee and their supervisor review the job descriptions for accuracy.  Both should sign and date the document.  Any changes should be noted and dated.  

Legal Implications: According to the Department of Labor, if it is not in writing, it did not happen.  Therefore, ensuring each employee AND supervisor sign their job descriptions on an annual basis will show that they have both reviewed it and the description is an accurate reflection of the employee’s position.   This supports both the employer is staying free of discrimination claims and creates an opportunity for conversation to promote a positive work environment.  

In Closing  

The key to job descriptions is to ensure that it is an accurate reflection of the job and that all of the requirements listed must be performed with or without reasonable accommodations.  The job description is one piece of a larger HR Foundation to set your organization up for success AND provide each employee with an opportunity and a choice to be fulfilled in the work that they do. 

This, of course, starts with your mission, vision, and values for the organization and rolls into every area.  The WHY of your organization must be aligned with your employee’s individual why’s.  Alignment!  If you are curious for more, check out our complimentary training on creating a job description HERE.  

 

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