A job description provides the information employees require to perform their work to the standards set by the company. A job description is a legal document, so it must be up-to-date, accurate, and defensible in case an employee or former employee decides to take legal action against the company.

Who Uses Job Descriptions?

Within your company, both managers and employees use job descriptions to perform critical functions:

  • Human resources employs job descriptions during the hiring process.
  • Managers use job descriptions to define work activities of employees.
  • Company management employs job descriptions to evaluate performance by setting objectives to be met by employees holding certain jobs.
  • Job descriptions can bring new hires up to speed more quickly by giving them a defined set of activities and expectations;
  • In court cases, job descriptions can be used to justify business decisions, including employee termination and downsizing.

The clearer and more detailed a job description is, the more useful it is to employees and managers, and the more defensible in cases of employee-company litigation, which can be a costly endeavor.

The Components of a Well-Developed Job Description

Start with an overview of the position in your job description. Avoid placing workplace requirements in this job overview. These tasks will come later.

Next, create a Functions section that briefly describes major areas of the position and how tasks and responsibilities differ from position to position. List job functions in descending order of importance, and make sure the described functions account for 100% of each employee’s time on the job.

Move on to a Statement of Tasks. Use action words that describe work activity of each position – words like compile, report, submit, calculate – words that can be turned into actions.

In the tasks section, don’t assume new hires will understand company abbreviations, or even industry acronyms. Spell it out to make it clear. A confusing job description may not be defensible if no one can understand it.

Detail a list of actual activities that are undertaken by the employee with a particular job description, and provide reasons why these activities must be timely by providing reasons for each activity and how business activities mesh. In other words, the job description should explain how the employee’s activity integrates with the work of other team members.

Describe tools, software, equipment and other business assets provided to employees to perform their jobs. And, finally, be specific in defining tasks. If the job description simply states that the employee reports daily sales figures to a manager, it’s omitting important details: how this information is reported, what format it’s in, tools used to prepare the information, and other information necessary for the employee to perform the task required.

Job Specifications

What level of education is required to be eligible for a particular job? What skills are employed in the performance of the job? What accreditations, licenses and certificates are required by federal, state and local government agencies? Before bringing on a new employee, review job specs to ensure the candidate has all the credentials required to do the job.

Changing Job Descriptions

Change the written job description during periods of company reorganization, adding new responsibilities and moving other responsibilities to another department or individual. Review changes in job descriptions with your company lawyer and review each aspect of each job description to make sure it’s complete, clear, unambiguous, accurate, and most importantly, defensible in a legal action. 

Using a Job Description Wisely

Integrate job descriptions in the employee manual if your company has one. If not, provide all candidates and new hires with a detailed job description to enable them to understand their responsibilities and determine whether they’re meeting responsibilities in a timely fashion and performing as the company expects.

In today’s litigious society, a poorly written job description – or no written job description at all – may lead to an expensive lawsuit and a costly settlement with an employee who was terminated for activity not part of his or her job description.

The problem of defensible job descriptions becomes more complex as the company grows, and new employees are brought on to fill new positions.

The time to create defensible job descriptions is when your company is on the verge of moving to the next level through expansion. Always consult your company’s legal team to make sure your job descriptions will hold up in court in the event of a lawsuit by an unhappy employee.

A little time and expense now can save a great deal of time, expense and headache in the future

For more information about helping to protect your company from lawsuits, view an on-demand webinar on nevadasmallbusiness.com.  Insights: How to Reduce the Risk of Litigation features two attorneys from the law firm of Snell & Wilmer discussing employment law and several other related topics.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.