Employers rely on job descriptions for many reasons. Typical uses include relaying information to prospective applicants or to a physician following an injury for treatment and return-to-work considerations, not to mention for claims settlements.
Have you ever asked where the information in the job description came from in the first place? In the past, as a young middle-management employee, I was often given the task of updating or writing job descriptions. I usually attended a brief “how to” in-service because the forms changed often. I used a blank form, filled in the appropriate information by calling line supervisors or calling employees into the office to confirm what seemed obvious and turned the document in without leaving my desk. After all, they knew the work better than I did. Little did I realize until I was properly trained in physical demands analysis how poorly written those previously job descriptions really were.
Ramifications of using old job descriptions
The task was done as quickly as possible, giving me time to move to more pressing matters like getting employee time sheets in on time. I had no idea how the job descriptions would be used or the possible ramifications. For example, how many employer job descriptions require employees to lift 50 pounds frequently or occasionally? How many managers really know if this requirement is accurate and the ramifications of inaccuracy? Years later, I wonder how many old job descriptions have been rubber stamped with new dates and signatures.
In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act which, among other requirements stated that any employer selection procedure must be related to the job. With regards to the use of a Physical Abilities Test, this means the level of physical demands required for passing such a test cannot be greater than the actual job demand itself. This requirement was highlighted in cases like EEOC v CSX Transportation 2018, and DOL v Gordon Foods 2016, which made a splashes in the news. These were also accompanied by several other challenges that didn’t receive as much press.
Physical demands analysis should be conducted by trained professionals, who measure, quantify and document the physical demands of specific tasks of a given job, i.e. the essential functions. As also stated in the Civil Rights Act, the intent or the absence of discriminatory intent does not relieve the employer from liability when using procedures or testing mechanisms that operate to eliminate an applicant.
Choose your provider carefully!
Jim Briggs OTR (Ret.) Vice President of Operations, Advanced Ergonomics, Inc.