Ready to add to your team? Writing job descriptions of the roles you want to fill in your company can be one of the most useful tools for communicating your expectations to prospective employees, recruiting the right people and evaluating new hires. Job descriptions also ensure your compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to businesses with 15 or more employees.

The ADA stipulates that employers cannot discriminate against a qualified applicant with a substantial impairment if the person is capable of performing the essential functions of a job with or without reasonable accommodation. Job descriptions are vital for establishing exactly what those essential functions are and assessing whether an applicant can perform them. If written with ADA rules in mind, they can help protect your business from discrimination charges and costly lawsuits.

In a recent case, the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a worker who alleged that his employer’s job description did not comply with the ADA. Though the description listed the essential functions of the job, it did not provide a reasonable accommodation for an on-the-job shoulder injury he suffered, which limited his ability to lift heavy equipment and required him to ask other workers for help.

Factors That Matter

A job description should describe the tasks, duties, functions and responsibilities of a position in clear and concise language, detailing the skills, expertise and abilities required for performing the work, expectations for how it is to be completed, and its frequency and purpose for helping further your company mission and goals.

Not only does it define what you are looking for in a candidate, but it also sets a baseline for what you can reasonably accommodate for disabled or injured workers. Focus on these elements to make sure your job descriptions are ADA compliant.

Essential Functions

These are the main duties an employee must be able to perform. It helps to list them in order of importance, frequency and the time they require. Ask these questions to determine whether a duty is essential.

  • Does the position exist to perform this function?
  • Would removing this function fundamentally change the position?
  • Would serious consequences arise if the person in this position was not required to perform this function?
  • Could this function be performed by or distributed among any other employees?
  • What kind of skills or expertise are required to perform this function? Could it be performed in a different way?

Though you don’t have to hire anyone who can’t perform the essential functions of a job, you can’t reject someone whose disability prevents them from performing minor duties not essential to the job.

Physical Demands

This includes any physical attributes applicants must have to perform basic duties, such as being able to carry or move heavy equipment, go up and down a ladder frequently, or stand or sit for hours at a time. When describing the physical demands of a job, be sure to include:

  • How often an employee is expected to perform these functions in specific terms such as “occasionally,” “frequently,” “constantly,” etc.
  • What kind of exertion is required, such as bending, lifting, loading, etc.

Physical demands must be essential to the position to avoid excluding individuals with disabilities who would otherwise be capable of performing these tasks with or without reasonable help.

Environmental Factors

This describes working conditions inside and outside of the office. List factors such as:

  • How frequently or for how long these conditions might occur.
  • Any irregular hours the position might require, such as working overtime, at night or during weekends.
  • Any hazardous or unusual conditions associated with the work environment such as exposure to extreme cold and heat, inclement weather, loud noise, etc.


It’s a good idea to conclude your job description with a statement that accounts for “other duties as assigned” that may arise as your company grows or the position evolves. You may also want to add a statement that addresses any “reasonable accommodations” you are willing to make to help a qualified person with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job. Such accommodations might include:

  • Modified equipment or devices
  • Modified work schedules
  • Resources such as an interpreter
  • Physical adjustments that make the work environment more accessible to disabled individuals

One final point to remember: Make sure to review your job descriptions every few years, or when you get ready to hire someone new, to keep this information accurate and up to date.


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