HR Management & Compliance

How Do Job Descriptions Relate to the ADA?

Effective job descriptions are important. Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is important. But how are the two tied together? Does the ADA place specific requirements on job description contents?

The technical answer to that question is no, the ADA does not impose specific requirements on the job description. But the longer answer is that meeting the obligations under the ADA will be easier when all job descriptions keep ADA regulations in mind and are written accordingly. Let’s explore this concept further.

How Do Job Descriptions Relate to the ADA?

In general, job descriptions affect ADA compliance in two ways:

  1. They show the job requirements, thus allowing an employer to choose a qualified applicant.
  2. They show the essential job functions, thus allowing employers to make distinctions between these and other job functions.

These two issues overlap significantly, but both are important.

Job requirements should include information about the education, experience, and other skills and abilities required to perform the job. This is very relevant for the ADA because it establishes the basis among which applicants will be compared. In fact, job descriptions are often considered to be evidence (along with other information) of the job requirements if an employer is ever sued for discrimination.

If a disabled applicant is able to perform all of the job requirements, this means that individual is qualified for the position and his or her disability should not affect the employment decision. On the other hand, disabled individuals who are not qualified to perform the role in question are not protected. They must be qualified to perform the essential functions, with or without accommodation.

As such, employers should think of the ADA when determining true job requirements and qualifications. Often, this means including requirements and qualifications that are key to performing the job, but often overlooked, such as the ability to lift a specified amount of weight, the ability to stand for an entire shift, or the ability to concentrate in a stressful environment.

Be careful, however. All physical requirements should be consistent with business necessity. Do not be overly restrictive when listing physical requirements if there are ways to accomplish the job satisfactorily outside the specified parameters. This alone could be deemed discriminatory. A better way to accomplish this goal is to focus on outcomes rather than processes. Focus on the output that needs to be achieved to be successful in the role. List that output.

This is where the second component comes in: the essential job functions. If an employee needs to be able to lift 50 pounds, for example, but this is something he or she will encounter only infrequently, it’s probably not an essential job function (it’s a marginal function at best). Applicants and employees should be assessed on the ability to perform the essential job functions, with or without accommodations, but marginal job functions should not be disqualifiers for disabled individuals.

Another way the essential job functions come into play with the ADA relates to reasonable accommodations. Employers are required to use an interactive process to determine whether there are reasonable accommodations that can be made to allow a disabled individual to perform the essential functions of the job.

One type of reasonable accommodation may include reassigning some aspects of the job, such as some of the marginal functions, to other individuals. But an employer is not required to remove or transfer an essential job function. (They can opt to do so if they desire, but are not required to.) If the individual cannot perform the essential job function even with a reasonable accommodation, this may mean the individual is no longer qualified to do the job in question. Alternatively, if there is no reasonable accommodation that does not pose an undue hardship on the employer, this may also mean the employee cannot stay in that role. (Undue hardship is a high standard to prove, however.)

As has been shown here, job descriptions are directly tied to ADA compliance. Effective job descriptions will clearly outline the qualifications needed to perform the essential functions of the job. They will list the essential functions clearly. To retain their benefit in ADA compliance, job descriptions will need to be periodically assessed to ensure they’re still accurate. Doing this will help employers stay in compliance now and in the future.


About Bridget Miller:

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.