Everyone has an opinion, especially when it comes to performance appraisals. The internet is bursting with forum and blog posts by professionals denouncing the annual performance review process, touting it as a bureaucratic and ineffective waste of time. Annual performance reviews are time consuming and can be futile if only viewed as a nuisance. But what if we looked at performance reviews as more than just an annual occurrence? Maybe instead of trying to fit our performance management process into the mold of what we think a performance program should be, why not adapt it to the needs of our organizations?
Performance management is changing because we are changing. We are a no wait society who wants to know how we measure up…now. We are also more engaged in our performance and thrive in communicative environments in which we can discuss our strengths and how we can improve. In the 2012 Employee Satisfaction and Engagement Report by SHRM two of the top five contributors to employee satisfaction were communication-related, communication between employees and senior management (57%) and relationship with immediate supervisor (54%).* And in a 2012 survey conducted by Achievers, a San Francisco consulting firm, 13% of employees said they received feedback annually compared to 24% who said they receive immediate feedback. When asked how frequently they would like to receive feedback, only 1% said they would like to receive feedback on their performance annually while an astounding 61% said they would like on-the-spot/immediate feedback.** Clearly we value communication and want feedback more frequently than employers provide.
Again, there is no one-size-fits-all model for performance management, but there can be a lot said for adding more time to discuss employee performance. One of our clients, for example, found that with feedback only being offered once a year, employees were left with information that was often outdated or irrelevant. Compounding the issue, leadership had very limited data to make promotion and compensation decisions. After adding quarterly feedback to their annual performance reviews, leaders had access to accurate, substantial, and current data to back compensation and promotion decisions while employees were provided with valuable feedback that they could use for self-improvement and setting future goals.
Instead of only relying on annual performance reviews, start filling your calendar with periodic, more informal performance discussions where employee and manager get together and provide two way positive and constructive feedback. The more frequent the feedback, the more in tune employees will be with what is expected of them, how they have contributed to the company objectives, and the more opportunities they will have to improve. Regular feedback sessions can also help managers determine what makes each employee tick, and how they can use that knowledge to help motivate their employees to reach department goals.
Don’t immediately abandon your entire performance review process; simply make it pertinent to your organization’s current needs. Evaluate what parts of the process work for you and adapt or eliminate the parts that don’t.
We’d like to hear from you. What does your company do to make the most out of your performance review process? If you are looking for a performance management system that fits into your way of managing performance, then check out HRTMS Performance. HRTMS Performance does not force you into a standard, one size fits all model. Every aspect of HRTMS Performance is configurable, every form, workflow, calculation... everything.References
Now that the market is seemingly on a slow but relatively steady rebound from the Great Recession, many compensation managers are taking a closer look at their compensation plans. With massive layoffs that lead to the absorption of responsibilities by other employees, the recession has left many companies with a pile of out dated job descriptions not reflective of the new duties and contributions of their employees. Without a clear picture of how each employee contributes to the success of the company, compensation managers are working with plans that are not as effective or efficient as they could be. To stay competitive, it is crucial to adjust your market pricing activities in accordance with the always evolving compensation landscape and economy. Step 1: Determine Your Compensation Strategy and Objectives
To make the most of any compensation strategy you must first determine what you want to accomplish with market pricing. Collaborate with leaders to determine what plan will fit with your company’s business strategy and work culture and ask yourself:
Step 2: Assure Job Descriptions are Up-To-Date and Accurate
- Are you focused on retaining talent? Updating salaries after an extended salary freeze? Boost morale?
- What drives value in your organization? Does your current pay strategy produce your desired results?
- What labor market do you compete in and how has it changed?
- What is your desired level of competitiveness?
- Where and how will you use incentives and for what employees?
Accurate job descriptions are a vital element of your market pricing project during this time of economic recovery. To determine if your job descriptions are out of date, a job analysis questionnaire (JAQ) should be given to each employee. A JAQ will provide a detailed overview of the position’s responsibilities and how each job is currently performed, allowing for a truer comparison to the market. Aside from editing your job descriptions, you may also find that you must reassign responsibilities or train employees on their job’s duties. Although this is usually the most tedious step in the process, the information gathered will allow you to more accurately and competitively price your salaries. Step 3: Determine Effective Markets
Firstly, you must identify your competitive market or markets. Your market can be based on industry, geography, number of employees, or other criteria and many organizations are finding that they must define multiple groups that correspond with various functions and levels in the organization. Next, select benchmarks that are common in position, represent a cross-section of the workforce, total a significant portion of the employee population, and include hot jobs which tend to move more quickly in the marketplace. And lastly, select your data source for your competitive markets. Step 4: Develop Your Pay Structure (Grades & Ranges)
Once you’ve selected your data source, develop a pay structure by comparing your internal data gathered from your JAQs to the market and to your compensation philosophy. Assign benchmark jobs to the appropriate grades and ranges based on the market and then slot non-benchmark jobs based on internal equity and similarity to benchmarks. Then, you should use the data you’ve gathered to identify where you’ve been over paying and under paying in regards to the market. And lastly, decide how you will handle the discrepancies in pay. For those who have been under paid you may choose to grant a lump sum payment or give them more increases over a period of time until the pay levels out with the market. Resolving the issue of overpaid employees is a tougher situation but you may choose to freeze pay until the market catches up or give lower than normal increases. Either way, you must be aware of the message you are communicated to your workforce. Step 5: Communicate Your Plan
And lastly, you should have a clear plan of how you will share your compensation decisions with your employees. Without a plan for effective communication, your market pricing project may fail if employees do not understand the changes. Determine the most effective method for communication. Will HR or managers be responsible for informing personnel? Will you conduct group seminars or one on one meetings? Also, don’t underestimate the influence of direct managers; employees tend to trust their manager above all others. So be sure managers are well versed on the new plan and can effectively communicate the benefits of the program to their staff.
Hopefully you will find these tips helpful when trying to overhaul your compensation plan to be more current with today’s economy. Are you looking to revamp your compensation plan this year? What steps are you taking to assure that it will be a success? We’d love to hear from you so please leave us a comment below. References
The oftentimes overwhelming task of maintaining comprehensive and up-to-date job descriptions has led many HR professionals to choose more generic cut-and-paste job descriptions as an alternative. Unfortunately, the time and effort saved in managing these generic job descriptions can lead to a multitude of unintended consequences.
Job descriptions are the foundation of many HR functions including recruiting, performance and pay-for-performance compensation. A clearly defined job description can help HR better evaluate potential and current employees and pinpoint the critical elements that differentiate between successful and unsuccessful job performance. It outlines the position, not only the duties and responsibilities of the job, but also what behaviors, values, and goals the company expects the employees to uphold. A well-defined job description can help attract the right talent, lead to accurate and actionable employee evaluations, and support a pay-for-performance compensation plan.
Generic job descriptions and job titles can also leave HR and employees in the dark when it comes to career laddering. If companies do not specify the differences between jobs, it will lead to confusion about what promotional opportunities an employee may have. When growth potential is unclear, it can make employees despondent and may push good employees right out the door.
Job descriptions aren’t just useful when recruiting, evaluating employee performance, and determining compensation, they can also mean the difference between winning and losing a lawsuit. While most HR professionals will go their entire career without having to step foot in a court room to defend their hiring or firing decisions, some will have to show compelling evidence to back their choices. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for example, was established to help protect those with disabilities from being discriminated against in the workplace. Although the ADA does not require job descriptions, it does require that applicants and employees are able to perform the “essential functions” of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who oversees the law, has said that one of the documents the agency will look at when determining essential functions are job descriptions written before an employer advertises to fill a job opening. Therefore, companies are encouraged to accurately and precisely reflect their essential functions in some way, and a generic description is not the best way to do that. Having accurate, detailed, and up-to-date job descriptions can be the best evidence in defending against damaging litigation.
There are no quick fixes in HR management especially when it comes to job description management. However, if an organization wants an effective recruiting, performance, compensation, communication, and legally-defensible document, there is no substitution for a clearly defined job description. While the process can be time consuming, the benefits more than justify the investment.
2012 was a big year for us at HRTMS; we've grown our customer base by an astounding 83% and end the year in a strong financial position. The client base includes large organizations including Xerox, Aeropostale, Charming Shoppes, Lincoln Financial and Dollar Thrifty.
Mitch Stephens, principal and Chief Software Architect states, “We continue to see very strong demand for our Job Description Management system in all verticals but especially in healthcare and financial services. We delivered significant new functionality including support for multiple languages, SAML authentication, questionnaires for FLSA and ADA, and completion of our advanced workflow engine to support group collaboration.”
HRTMS Jobs is the leading SaaS-based Job Description Management tool. It allows companies to replace Word-based job descriptions with a secure, structured system that gives all stakeholders easy access to the most current job descriptions.
Mitch Stephens said, “As more of our customers go live with the system we are incorporating best practices and streamlined operations into the system. We are seeing a more diverse set of use cases and deeper levels of integration with other systems. This is all very positive as we look forward to 2013.
We are planning on releasing an SMB/multi-tenant version of HRTMS Jobs next year called ‘Job Description Exchange’. This new system will broaden the market base and allow for smaller organizations to collaborate with other companies.”So stay tuned to hrtms.com for
more information about HRTMS as well as our new product, Job Description Exchange....coming soon!
Hiring a new employee is certainly not an easy task and can prove costly for companies who choose the wrong candidate. According to Society for Human Resource Management (
a poor hiring decision could cost up to five times a bad hire’s annual salary and the higher the person’s position and the longer they remain in that position, the more it will cost to replace him or her. And a recent survey by Career Builder found that 41% of companies surveyed estimated that a bad hire costs more than $25,000, and 25% said it costs more than $50,000. Hard Costs vs. Soft Costs
So why are these numbers so high? Hard costs such as the cost of recruitment advertising, interview expenses, employment testing, training, orientation, and termination costs such as unemployment and COBRA make up much of the costs associated with bad hiring decisions but also less obvious soft costs like time, decreased office morale, and opportunity costs such as possible loss of customers and/or sales can be just as costly. Why Do Companies Hire The Wrong Person?
No hiring manager or recruiter wants to hire the wrong person, but with deadlines from superiors and frustrated employees doing double duty, it happens. Oftentimes the desire to fill a position quickly masks the need to find an individual who will fit into the corporate culture and develop into a long-term employee. It’s important to choose a candidate who believes in the organization's mission and shares a common goal, not just someone with the best resume.
Another common error is that many professionals confuse the job description with the job criteria. A good job description can provide applicants with an accurate reflection of the work they are expected to perform and recruiters and interviewers with a guide to how each candidate should be evaluated. Job criteria are simply the duties the employee needs to perform while the job description includes what is needed to succeed
in the position.
Traditionally, job descriptions used skills, duties, and responsibilities to define the job; however, today things are changing and companies are placing more emphasis on the worker, not just the work. It is more important than ever to have a flexible and multi-skilled workforce. No longer can employers depend solely on an employee’s skill level, but must also consider what characteristics and strengths they possess that can bring more value to the company.
Hence, the emergence of the competency-based job description.
A competency-based job description not only outlines the skills required to perform the tasks of the position but also includes the knowledge and behavior needed to succeed in the position. For example, a person can become a good presenter (skill) through practice, learning from others, and education but in order to be a strong communicator (competency) one must rely on a combination of skills PLUS
behavior and knowledge. A person can learn
how to be a good presenter but only a strong communicator has advanced language skills, the knowledge of diverse cultures, and behaves patiently when communicating. Tips on Improving Your Job Descriptions
- Focus on the worker not just the work
- Write your job description in accordance with your corporate culture and goals
- Understand what competencies a candidate should possess for not only that job but also any promotion opportunities
- Involve those currently in the position as well as other stakeholders while writing the job description
- Keep your job descriptions up to date by taking a fresh look at your needs and the people you’d like to add to your team
- Consider replacing your Word-based job description with an automated system for easy updating and collaboration
- Develop a master template so your recruiting strategy remains consistent
A job description can be one of your strongest recruiting assets. It outlines the position, not only the duties and responsibilities of the job, but also what behaviors, values, and goals you expect your employees to uphold. A well-defined job description can help you attract the right talent and avoid costly hiring mistakes. If you’ve been hiring the wrong candidates, then maybe it’s time to redefine your job description strategy. Click here learn more about HRTMS Jobs, the simple, nimble, and powerful job description management tool. Or call us at 919.351.JOBS to speak to one of our representatives.
Last week we spoke about The Joint Commission requirement for hospitals to have an Emergency Management Plan in place in case of a disaster. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, a few New York and New Jersey hospitals remain closed or are providing limited service. But the story of New York University Langone Medical Center was the most publicized example of how important a disaster plan is to a hospital and a community during an emergency.
If you watched any of the Sandy coverage, you probably saw the evacuation of 215 patients from New York University Langone Medical Center Monday evening. After not one, but two generators failed, the hospital lost all power and patients had to be relocated to surrounding hospitals. While watching the live coverage of the event, I couldn’t help but notice how organized it seemed. I’m not downplaying what is sure to have been a very hectic scene but after stories that came to light about hospital emergency plan failures during Hurricane Katrina, I was surprised to see images of ambulances lined up neatly down First Avenue and 30th Street, staff leading patients down flashlight lit stairwells, and nurses hand pumping oxygen into critically ill infants.
It could have been much worse had other preparations not been in place. The success of NYU Langone’s evacuation was due in most part because of their Emergency Management Plan as well as their staff’s ability to react to the situation. Below are just a few lessons we can take away from this evacuation:
- Make sure every employee knows their role during an emergency
- Coordinate your evacuation plan with surrounding hospitals and emergency response teams
- Train employees on how to handle hectic situations and patients during an emergency
- Create a plan for evacuating immobile patients when elevators are down
- Have sufficient quantities of electrically independent equipment such as flashlights, hand pumped breathing masks, and portable battery operated monitors and make them easily accessible to each department
- Verify that your computer’s uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is in working order
- Plan how medical records can be safely and efficiently transferred with the patient
- Confirm that your back up generators are in a area of your facility that is not prone to flooding
- Know how long those generators will last during an emergency and if they are able to also provide critical hospital functions such as heat, air conditioning and ventilation
- Setup a plan for how family members will be notified of the patient’s transfer and safety
Not all hospitals in the New York City area were as lucky. This included nearby Bellevue who had to conduct a full evacuation of 725 patients on Tuesday after basement pumps meant to deliver fuel to generators on upper floors were flooded. The Joint Commission mandates a long list of steps on how to prepare for a disaster; however, many hospital drills do not simulate a disaster where the hospital itself is in the middle of the mayhem.
The Joint Commission also requires that hospitals maintain backup equipment and test it 12 times a year for half an hour and for four hours once every three years. But there is no set requirement for protecting that equipment. Only with "new construction or renovation projects" are hospitals supposed to place such equipment above flood level, explained The Joint Commission’s head engineer, George Commission's Mills, and even in those cases it is something that "should" be considered but is not required. “
No hospital can ever fully prepare themselves and their staff from possible disaster but it is the duty of hospital leadership to do what they can to protect their patients by educating and testing staff and going above and beyond the requirements of The Joint Commission. What other lessons would you add to this list? We’d like to hear from you so please leave us your comments. References
by Kyle Lagunas
HR Market Analyst, Software Advice
Mistaking a high-performing employee for a high-potential employee can be costly. As Vincent van de Belt, a consultant at Cubiks
, points out, “If an organization is not able to distinguish between performance and potential, it will have difficulty identifying talent.”
This happens all the time. A top-performing sales rep is promoted to sales manager, and struggles to transition from killing his sales goals to helping a team of junior reps kill theirs. Meanwhile, the junior rep whose hard work has facilitated the success of sales teams for years feels undervalued, and decides it’s time to start looking for growth opportunities elsewhere. Both scenarios hurt morale and drive turnover.
Performance and potential are not mutually exclusive. Van de Belt suggests that “people always possess a combination of both.”
But a manager who understands the difference will be more effective in engaging and retaining employees who exemplify aptitude in one or both. To that end, this article outlines strategies any manager can apply to identify, assess, and develop high potentials and high performers. Identifying High Performers and High Potentials
High performers stand out in any organization. They consistently exceed expectations, and are management’s go-to people for difficult projects because they have a track record of getting the job done. They’re great at their job and take pride in their accomplishments, but may not have the potential (or the desire) to succeed in a higher-level role or to tackle more advanced work.
High potentials are birds of a different feather. Malcolm Munro, President at Total Career Mastery, LLC
, says that “High potentials have demonstrated initial aptitude for their technical abilities and…have future potential to make a big impact.” In short, they can do more for the organization–possibly much more–with the caveat that high potentials who are consistently low performers are rarely strong candidates for management roles.
High potentials can be difficult to identify, for two reasons. First, high performance is so blindingly easy to observe that it drowns out the less obvious attributes and behaviors
that characterize high potentials–like change management or learning capabilities.
Second, few organizations codify the attributes and competencies they value in their ideal employees–which means that managers don’t know precisely what to look for to assess potential. As a result, most managers focus exclusively on performance, and that can be a problem.
“When performance is the only criteria employees are evaluated on,” warns Brian Kight, Director of Performance at Focus 3
, “high performers will be the only ones moving up–and your high potentials will be moving out.”
Don’t get me wrong–you should definitely value and reward performance. If your end goal is to build a more robust talent pipeline, though, performance can’t be the only point of entry. Kight advocates working with leadership to profile what constitutes excellence in key roles, and communicating that to managers to help them identify high potentials. Assessing Performance vs. Potential
Because employees possess varying degrees of performance and potential, you should assess your employees across both dimensions. Figure 1 provides a framework for identifying where an employee falls in the spectrum.
Figure 1: Typical traits of performance vs. potential.
After you’ve determined which quadrant an employee falls under, you can develop a plan for employee development. “Each of these categories requires a specific approach when it comes to discussing development opportunities,” says Van de Belt.
In an ideal world, every employee in your organization would be a high performer with high potential–but that’s obviously not realistic. The appropriate question is how to move employees toward the upper-right quadrant, or at least to the high-performance tier.
It’s not always possible, nor always the desired goal (you might want to keep your high performers right where they are, for instance). There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy, but Figure 2 provides a general framework.
Figure 2: Development strategies to consider.
“High performers need constant encouragement and challenging assignments. Recognition is key,” says Munro.
Kight agrees, pointing out that “High performers tend to be lone wolves, working for themselves and their own success.” As such, they want something to execute on a bigger scale. Give them the independence and autonomy that allows them to thrive, and engage them with projects that they can take full ownership of.
Alternately, Munro suggests pairing high-potential employees with established high performers who can serve as mentors.
“They need to know that while they are high potential, they need seasoning. On-the-job training is a great way to accomplish this.”
As they develop a stronger understanding of the organization and their role in it, test the capabilities of high potentials with more projects to manage, new hires to train, put them in charge of an intern or two, or offer cross-training opportunities. If they do well, consider moving them into a different role–perhaps one with more responsibilities–in which they may perform better.
A Stronger Talent Pipeline for a Stronger Company
Your managers play a bigger role in building a pipeline of thriving talent than they may realize, and it’s increasingly important that you empower them to do this successfully. While employee development is no cakewalk, failure to assess performance versus potential is a very real business problem.
The good news is that it’s a solvable problem. It simply takes dedication to identifying your high-potential and high-performing employees, assessing their competencies and attributes, and putting them on the path to success. It’s time well spent.
As the east coast prepares for what federal forecasters call Frankenstorm, a hybrid storm comprised of Hurricane Sandy and a frigid airstream from Canada, municipalities, response teams, utilities and hospitals are doing what they can to prepare for the worst. Countless hospitals in the storm’s path that are accredited by The Joint Commission are more than likely reviewing their Emergency Management Plan (EMP) and hoping that their staff is well trained on what to do in case of an emergency.
The Emergency Management Plan
For more than 30 years, The Joint Commission has required accredited healthcare organizations to maintain a disaster plan. The Joint Commission’s Emergency Management Standards require that the organization identifies the potential emergencies that could affect them, and develop a plan which describes how the facility will mitigate, prepare, respond, and recover from all hazards, both natural and man-made. The plan must also address command structures, backup communications systems, building evacuations, and coordination with other community health care organizations and emergency responders.
* From BoardBrief: The Hospital Board’s Role in Disaster Readiness http://www.htnys.org/publications/docs/2011-05-17_boardbrief_disaster_preparedness.pdf How To Prepare
“When a community is afflicted with a disaster, citizens don’t run to the police or fire station, they run to the hospital,” says Joe Cappiello, past vice president of Accreditation Field Operations for The Joint Commission. “The hospital becomes the beacon and a source of fortitude to the community...disaster preparedness should rise fairly high on the board’s priority list of hospital responsibilities, right up there with quality of care and safety to the public.”
You cannot simply write a disaster plan and expect everything to work out; you must be proactive and make sure you are doing what you can to prepare for a disaster. Below are a few tips to help you successfully implement your plan.
- Identify who should be trained and the training needs for each staff member.
- Make sure every employee knows their role.
- Ensure competency-based training programs.
- Identify cross-training opportunities.
- Access other training programs offered through the federal government or Joint Commission Resources.
- Ensure incident command training for appropriate personnel.
- Recognize drills or exercises as a critical element of the emergency preparedness process.
- Involve all players in exercises and drills.
- Practice with other communities.
- Identify performance measures for drills and exercises.
- Ensure the realism of drills and exercises.
- Include alternative care sites and shelters in disaster drills.
The Joint Commission specifically requires that accredited healthcare providers:
How HRTMS is Helping
- Develop a written Emergency Operations Plan (EOP)
- Conducting a hazard vulnerability analysis
- Work with community partners
- Ensure a communication plan is in place
- Conduct at least two emergency response exercises per year (at least one to include an escalating event where the local community is unable to support the event and at least one to include participation in a community-wide exercise)
Knowing how important Joint Commission compliance is to numerous healthcare organizations, HRTMS has added a new feature to its already comprehensive performance management solution, HRTMS Performance. The Joint Commission requires at least two emergency response exercises or drills per year but the more you can do to prepare your staff for an emergency, the more likely you will be able to continue to safely serve your community and meet Joint Commission disaster planning requirements.
That’s why HRTMS has just release the Annual Validation Test that allows HR to test employees on organization safety and of their knowledge of the hospital’s emergency plan. HR administrators can create a customized test based on their individual plan and make it available on each employee’s page. They can also choose which group of employees will receive each question and receive updates on who filled out the test, when and what score each employee received. This is just one way to test employees on emergency plans. What does your organization do to prepare employees in case of an emergency?
If you’ve ever implemented a new program at work you’ve probably heard phrases like, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it or that’s the way we’ve always done it streaming from the company break room. What these phrases are really saying is that they are not only resistant to change but don’t even want to attempt something new that may make their workday easier. It’s normal to be weary of change; we crave comfort and tend to shy away from the unknown. But it is our job as HR to lead the way and help make our fellow employees comfortable with the transition.
Step 1: Listen
Before you can expect employees to embrace a new system, you first have to listen to what they expect and what they fear. It’s not what you say but how you respond to what employees are trying to tell you. So welcome employees to voice their opinions through questionnaires, group meetings, or even comment boxes.
Step 2: Really listen
Really, it’s all about listening. You may assume employees are objecting to the change just to object or because they don’t want to explore other ways of doing business. But you may find that employees are simply worried about not being able to learn the new system or mistakenly think their job will be made more difficult. Acknowledge their fears, answer their questions, and communicate how they will benefit from the system.
Step 3: Identify Influencers
Just think of all of the books sold simply because Oprah recommended them. Take time to familiarize yourself with the hierarchy of influence within your organization and identify those who are consistently sought out for advice. These individuals should be approached during the infancy of your campaign to recruit them as allies.
Step 4: Start Small
Before introducing the new system to the entire company, start with a small pilot group made up of key stake holders and influencers. By starting small, you can work out any kinks early and use questions, common errors and feedback to create a more comprehensive and informative training program.
Step 5: Training is Key
Create a well-organized and inclusive training program to introduce employees to the system. Setup multiple information sessions and even make training videos or starter guides and post them on the company’s intranet or shared drive for easy access. Also consider making training mandatory but provide multiple sessions at convenient locations so employees can attend the session that fits best into their schedule.
Step 6: Be Available
No matter the amount of information you provide to your employees there will always be questions. If you cannot make time to answer incoming questions, setup a help line, help forum, or peer training program so employees can ask and get answers to question they may have about the system. If employees know they will have access to help along the way, they will be more likely to comply with or even welcome the new system.
As an HR professional, you are well aware of employment law and how legislation such as FLSA, ADEA, and ADA affect business processes and procedure. But even the most knowledgeable and experienced professional has to remind him/herself of the intricacies of each law. This post focuses on ADA and how job descriptions may provide you with the evidence you need, if ever faced with a discrimination claim.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, making it unlawful to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms pertaining to employment. The ADA defines an individual with a disability as a person with a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Individuals may also be covered under the ADA if he or she has a “record of such an impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment.” Also, those “associated with a person with a disability” are also protected against discrimination but employers are not
required to provide reasonable accommodations to a person without a disability due to that person's association with someone with a disability.
While alcoholics and former illegal drug users may be protected under the ADA, (if he or she is qualified to perform the essential duties of the job) individuals who currently use illegal drugs are not. The ADA also specifies that conditions including kleptomania, pyromania, compulsive gambling, all sexual behavior disorders and current illegal use of drugs are not covered by the ADA. It is important to note that employers may discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic (or other protected individuals) if they violate the employer’s safety, conduct, and/or job performance standards.
In 2008, President George W. Bush signed The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) in to law making it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability. The ADAAA does not
alter the definition of “disability,” however; it does require that the definition of a disability be construed broadly. Because of this amendment, courts are to shift their focus from whether a person is disabled to whether discrimination has occurred or reasonable accommodations were refused.
So what does it mean to provide reasonable accommodations to an individual with a disability? A reasonable accommodation is “any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.” Common accommodations may include: making a facility accessible to individuals with disabilities, restructure a job or work schedule, modify equipment, tools, training procedures or other programs, or provide qualified readers or interpreters.
An employer does not have to provide reasonable accommodations if it would impose an “undue hardship.” Undue hardship is defined as an “action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.” Employers do not have to sacrifice quality or lower production standards to make accommodations; nor do they have to provide the individual with personal use items such as glasses, hearing aids, walkers, etc.
Although the ADA does not require employers to maintain job descriptions, having accurate, detailed, and up-to-date job descriptions can be your best evidence in defending you against damaging litigation. It is important, if faced with an ADA claim, that you provide the courts with the essential functions of the job. Job descriptions are not the only piece of documentation that can establish essential functions, but they are however a widely accepted exhibit that can prove which functions are essential to a position. When writing the essential functions section of your next job descriptions keep these tips in mind:
- Include the approximate amount of time the employee will spend on the job performing certain functions. An employee will have a much harder time establishing that a task is a minor one or could be passed off to other employees if it requires a significant portion of the employee's work day.
- If a position requires repetitive motions, use the word "repetitive."
- Be specific regarding lifting and other physical requirements. Do not just say "must be capable of some heavy lifting" but instead specify the exact amount of weight that an employee is required to be capable of lifting.
- Human resources should work with front-line supervisors to ensure that the job description accurately reflects the actual tasks being performed.
- As always, make sure your job description is up-to-date. Job duties can evolve over time, so be sure that the job description accurately reflects the current functions of the job.
With an economy as it is today, it is not uncommon for employees to hold dual roles within a company; so be sure that your job description(s) reflect the essential functions of all
roles, not just the primary tasks of the job in which they were hired to fill. When duties or roles change, this is the perfect time to update your job description.
You should also be mindful of the language you choose to write your job descriptions. There are no forbidden words, but it is important that the language in your job descriptions is not prejudicial to a qualified individual with a disability. When writing your job descriptions, focus on the essential functions of the job, not the ways they are currently or customarily performed. For example, an employee does not necessarily have to walk in order to move about the office; an individual in a wheelchair can accomplish the task even if he/she cannot walk.
Below are a few ways you can express physical demands/essential functions in an ADA compliant way. Also, if a physical demand is not essential in performing the job, you should omit it from your descriptions.