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How to Accurately Describe Job Duties in Job Descriptions

Job descriptions, although not essential, can be very helpful when hiring a new employee. But it is important that a job description accurately reflect the current job duties of the position you want to fill. If a description hasn’t been updated in a while, the duties it includes may not match the duties actually performed by the employee who previously held the job.

Hiring mistakes can result from job descriptions that fail to accurately capture the essence of a job. Good matches can be less likely as you proceed through job posting, narrowing down applicants, and interviewing. Poorly drafted job descriptions also can be used against your business in litigation — instigated either by a job applicant or by an employee you’ve hired.

Be careful not to understate or overstate any of a position’s job duties. Embellishing the duties of a job to make an employee feel better isn’t helpful. If, for example, a job description is to be used as a performance management tool, then exaggerating the responsibilities may create unrealistic expectations to which you cannot reasonably hold the employee.

Apart from everything else, a job description reflects your company’s hiring practices and terms and conditions of employment — which are areas subject to federal and state laws prohibiting your company from unlawful discrimination. As such, any references to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, genetic information, or other status protected by state or local law can expose your company to a possible discrimination suit.

In rare cases, an employer can rely on certain protected statuses in hiring (or in other employment practices) when doing so is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). One frequently cited example is recruiting only women for a position as a live-in counselor in a female residence hall.

Rarely will a discriminatory hiring criterion qualify as a BFOQ, however, and BFOQs are very difficult for an employer to prove. So, before you include such criteria in a job description, it’s smart to consult an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer.

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