This blog post was inspired by the amazing news that my partner, Patrick Murphy, was nominated by President Barack Obama as the United States Under Secretary of the Army.  My first reaction was to be impressed at this well-deserved honor for Patrick.  My second reaction was “what does the Under Secretary of the Army do?”

7995575_sAfter some quick Internet research, I discovered that the Under Secretary is the second-highest ranking civilian official of the United States Department of the Army.  After that I was even more impressed with Patrick’s accomplishments. It also got me thinking about a situation that seems to arise in a lot of organizations.

Imagine that after some organizational changes in the organization, a new head of a department reviewed the people in the department to see what everyone did just to get a handle on how to supervise the team.  After completing the review, there were several large question marks about what people did in certain positions.  Upon further investigation, there seemed to be one position that no one could explain what that person did.

This is problematic for a lot of reasons, not just how to evaluate performance when you do not know what tasks the person is supposed to be accomplishing.  Another issue issue that arises is dealing with accommodation requests.  In order to address accommodation requests, it is generally necessary to know what are a persons essential and non-essential job functions to evaluate whether an accommodation is reasonable.

It is far easier to make the accommodation analysis if there are written job descriptions that accurately describe the job functions of particular positions.  This helps to establish expectations for the position as well serves as a guideline for what non-essential functions may be removed as accommodation requests.

Also, having written job descriptions that are given to employees helps employers defend against claims of failure to accommodate.  With a written job description, it is difficult for an employee to argue that a job function is not essential or that an employer belatedly made up a job description to add tasks as essential to avoid making an accommodation.

Jobs do evolve over time so employers should periodically review job descriptions to determine if they still accurately describe the position.  If job descriptions are changed, it is helpful if a copy of the new job description is given to the employee and the employee acknowledges receipt of the job description.