Benefits and Compensation

The 5 Questions that Identify Essential Functions

In fact, we turned to SmartJobs for the five questions that can help you decide whether a function is an essential function:

1. Does the position exist specifically to perform this function? For example, when a person is hired to proofread legal documents, the ability to proofread is an essential function. Or, for example, a manufacturing company advertises for a “floating” supervisor to substitute when regular supervisors on all three shifts are absent. The only reason this position exists is to have someone who can work on any of the three shifts. Therefore, the ability to work at any time of the day is an essential function.

2. Is the function highly specialized? In certain professions and highly skilled positions, you may hire a worker because of his or her special ability or expertise in performing a particular function. The performance of that specialized task would be an essential function.

3. Is there a limited number of employees among whom the function can be distributed? If you employ relatively few employees, the options for reorganizing work may be more limited. For example, in a three-person office, each employee might be required to answer the main telephone line; in a 20-person office, an employee might be excused from that duty because others would be available to perform it.

4. Would the job be fundamentally altered if you were to remove the function in question? If the purpose of the job would still be accomplished without performing the function, it might not be an essential one.


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5. What happens if the function is not performed? If the consequences of failure to perform the function are severe, then the function might be essential, even if infrequent. For example:

  • An airline pilot spends only a few minutes of flight landing a plane, but landing the plane is an essential function.
  • A firefighter only rarely has to carry a heavy person from a burning building, but being able to perform this function would be essential to the firefighter’s job.

Other Factors

Other factors that might be considered in determining whether a function is essential:

  • The employer’s judgment of what duties are “essential,” as reflected in a current job description;
  • How the function is treated in documents, such as the job description and job advertisements, which are created before advertising or interviewing for the job;
  • The amount of time spent performing the function; and
  • Whether the performance evaluation includes the function.

Job descriptions—you have to get it right. What’s the status of your job descriptions? Essential skills delineated? Mental, physical, and environmental requirements all there? Ready to back you up in court?

If not—or if you’ve never even written them—you’re not alone. Thousands of companies fall short in this area.

It’s easy to understand why. Job descriptions are not simple to do—what with updating and management and legal review, especially given the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirement of a split-off of essential functions from other functions in the description. Wouldn’t it be great if your job descriptions were available and already written?

Actually, with BLR’s new program, they are.

BLR® has now released its collection of 700 job descriptions, formerly only available in the classic, but shelf-filling, Job Descriptions Encyclopedia, in a program called SmartJobs on CD. That’s cause for celebration—your job descriptions are a click away from being done.

And we’re talking about virtually all of them, covering every common position in any organization, from receptionist right up to president. They are all there in BLR’s SmartJobs.


More than 700 prewritten, legally reviewed job descriptions are ready to go at the click of your mouse. Try BLR’s remarkable SmartJobs program at no cost, and also receive the FREE report, 5 Mistakes Everyone Makes with Job Descriptions and How to Avoid Them, today! Click here to learn more.


These are descriptions you can depend on. Our collection has been constantly refined and updated over time, with descriptions revised or added each time the law, technology, or the way business is done changes.

Revised for the ADA, Pay Grades Added

BLR editors have taken apart every one of the 700 descriptions and reassembled them to be ADA-compliant. And now they’ve added pay grades for each job, based on BLR’s annual surveys of exempt and nonexempt compensation, as well as on other data.

According to our customers, this is an enormous timesaver, enabling them to make compensation decisions even as they define the position.

SmartJobs also includes an extensive tutorial on setting up a complete job descriptions program, as well as how to encourage participation from all parts of the organization. That includes top management, employees, and any union or other collective-bargaining entity.

Twice-Yearly Updates, at No Additional Cost

Very important these days are the updates included in the program as a standard feature—essential at a time of constantly changing laws and, yes, emerging technologies. And the cost of the program is extremely reasonable, averaging less than 66 cents per job description … already written, legally reviewed, and ready to adapt or use as is.

You can evaluate BLR’s SmartJobs at no cost in your office for up to 30 days. Just click here, and we’ll be delighted to send it to you.