Preventing Future Headaches: The Importance of Written Job Descriptions

Employers often underestimate the power of a well-written job description. Whether because their business is expanding too quickly or frankly, they have not thought about writing a job description, often times, written job descriptions get overlooked. But, in a recent Tenth Circuit case, a well-written job description saved one business the headache of continued litigation.

In Kilcrease v. Domenico Transportation Co., the plaintiff, a cancer survivor, sued Domenico Transportation, a trucking company, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) because his job application was rejected. Domenico had the following written job qualifications for the position of truck driver: (1) hold a Class A commercial driver’s license; (2) have three years of recent and verifiable mountain driving (Domenico is located in Colorado); (3) have no moving violations within a three-year period; and (4) be able to drive year-round in the Colorado mountains.

Kilcrease disclosed to Domenico that he had been unemployed for several years while he battled cancer. However, Domenico rejected Kilcrease’s application because he lacked three years of recent driving experience, which was required by the company’s auto-insurance underwriter. Kilcrease warned Domenico that not hiring him violated the ADA. Domenico did not change its mind.

The United States District Court of Colorado rejected Kilcrease’s claims, and the 10th Circuit agreed – largely because of the Domenico’s written job description. The court found that the prospective employee was not a qualified individual with a disability because he was unable to perform the essential functions of the job. The job description explicitly required applicants to have three years of mountain driving experience, and the plaintiff only had half of that. The court did not question the employer’s description of the job’s essential functions, particularly the three-year mountain driving requirement, because the requirements were job related, uniformly enforced, and consistent with business necessity.

Now, compare Domenico’s well written job description, to the written job description in Budhum v. Reading Hosp. & Med. Ctr. In Budhum, the plaintiff was a credentialing assistant, and her written job description required her to “generate and maintain records, and demonstrate efficiency and accuracy in the credentialing of network healthcare providers.” About 60% of the credentialing assistant’s job was typing. Problems arose when the assistant broke her pinky in an incident unrelated to her job. She was no longer able to type as fast, because three of her fingers were taped together for support. Thus her job productivity slowed. She was then replaced.

Budhum brought suit under the ADA. The court held that although she wasn’t able to perform her duties as “efficiently” as she could previously, there was no requirement of a minimum words per minute in her job description. Also, because other co-workers typed slower than the injured plaintiff she was still able to perform her “essential functions” per the vaguely written job description.

The important take-away from these two examples is that employers should prepare written job descriptions before advertising or interviewing applicants for a job. While it is not going to prevent every lawsuit, it is a preventative measure. The job description should include the essential functions of the job, should be uniformly enforced, be consistent with business necessity, and any specific requirements the employer expects from the employee should be written as concisely as possible.

If employers find themselves already employing employees with no written job descriptions, it is not too late to implement them. However job descriptions should be implemented in a uniform manner and not exclude any employees. If you run into issues, we here at Joseph, Hollander & Craft are available to help.

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