What Employers Need to Know About Job Descriptions and ADA Compliance

What Employers Need to Know About Job Descriptions and ADA Compliance

With many employees working remotely through the pandemic, employers should consider updating job descriptions to prepare for ADA.
Alicia Heine, The Hartford
Alicia Heine, Assistant Director of Product Development and ADA Consultant, Group Benefits, The Hartford
What a difference a year makes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred employers to re-evaluate team roles and, in some cases, consider remote possibilities for the first time ever. As jobs change and shift, it is key to address accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“I think this is going to have a marked change in the workplace,” says Alicia Heine, the ADA coach at The Hartford. “There were employers in the past that wouldn’t allow work from home. I think this has really demonstrated that remote work is an effective way to accommodate an employee under the ADA.”
The reality is that jobs do evolve over time, and in this case, out of necessity. This is a good time to re-evaluate many of those jobs to update job descriptions, and most importantly, essential duties of those jobs. Under the ADA, documenting these duties helps employers identify ways to accommodate their employees if they become ill or injured and need job modifications in safely returning to work.

Accurate Job Descriptions Are Key to ADA Compliance

While the ADA does not require employers to maintain job descriptions, Heine explains that essential duties are one of the first things the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) looks at when investigating ADA complaints. If an employer doesn’t have job descriptions, the EEOC can look at job advertisements the employer may have posted and use that as evidence of essential job functions.
Heine says when determining essentials duties, employers should keep three questions in mind, offering these pointers from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free and confidential technical assistance resource:1
  • Does the job exist to perform the function?
  • Do a limited number of workers perform the function?
  • Is a specialized skill needed?
In the case of large employers with multiple plants or offices, several employees are often within the same job category. That job description should translate from site to site. The employer should note, however, if any of the worksites have specific restrictions or qualifications.

Employers Should Regularly Document Job Duty Changes

A professionally conducted job analysis by an ergonomist, physical therapist or risk engineer can give employers a clear understanding of essential functions for the various jobs in an organization. But employers can also tap into a resource to discuss job duties much closer to home – their own employees. Annual performance reviews are an optimal time to revisit job duties, Heine says.

“Employees and their managers have an opportunity to document if the job has changed and just how much it has changed,” Heine says.

For example, has technology made the tasks less physical? Are there special certifications or fluency in other languages now required? Do workers need to be on-site or can they be remote? The pandemic has certainly helped answer that last question for many.

The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee with a qualifying disability, such as a mobility issue requiring a wheelchair, deafness or blindness, as well as emotional or post-traumatic stress disorders, unless it creates an undue hardship. An effective accommodation can help an employee stay at work and stay engaged, or return safely from an extended absence due to a disability.

Resources to Help Employers Stay Compliant

In addition to the annual reviews and professional job analyses, other tools and resources are available to help make the job of documenting essential duties less burdensome.
The U.S. Department of Labor has compiled a career profiles list that details abilities and qualifications for more than 900 occupations.2 Job analysis templates are also available through various industry and trade organizations.
“Without documented essential job functions, an employer could be at-risk for an EEOC violation,” Heine says. “Documentation is incredibly vital in helping identify job modifications to ensure you’re meeting employees’ needs so they can continue to safely contribute to the organization.”
Interested in learning more about ADA topics? Don’t miss an episode of our The Line on Leave podcast.
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