The purpose of a job description is to clearly state exactly what a person in that role does. Furthermore, it should convey as much as possible about the actual experience of working in the role. Thus, a crucial element of ADA compliant job descriptions is a section titled “Working Conditions and Physical Demands”.
The working conditions of a job are conditions that a person encounters or is exposed to during the course of performing the job. Examples could be exposure to hazardous materials or exposure to various weather conditions. The physical demands of a job are the demands that any person in the role should be able to meet in order to perform the job successfully, and should be directly related to the functions listed in the “Essential Functions” section of the job description.
There are several aspects to consider when crafting this section. It should cover strength guidelines, such as the need to lift heavy boxes. The demand should be as specific as possible, such as “Must be able to lift 40-50 pound boxes”. The section should cover motion requirements as well, such as the ability to climb ladders, or the ability to drive a vehicle. The section should also include vision and hearing requirements, such as the ability to read road signs, or the ability to speak on the telephone.
It is important to include the working conditions and physical demands in a job description because it clearly conveys what is required to be able to perform the job, thus helping prospective applicants determine if they are a good candidate for the role. In addition, listing the physical demands allows those with disabilities to make accommodation requests, if necessary. This makes the hiring process more efficient for all involved.
While including working conditions and physical demands in a job description can help employers to be more compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), ensuring that this section of the job description itself is compliant can be a tricky task- it can be difficult to distinguish between words and phrases that are clear and concise, and those that are potentially exclusionary to those with disabilities.
For example, the word “walk” might not be the best descriptor of a physical demand, and it can exclude those with disabilities that cannot walk but can still move from one place to another. Thus, using the word “move” or the word “traverse” is considered to be much more ADA-compliant. Another example is the word “talk”. In some instances, speaking out loud may indeed be a necessary aspect of the role. In other instances, however, the role may require the employee to communicate in one way or another, and words like “communicate” or “exchange information” can be more ADA-compliant.
Thus, it is critical for employers that are developing the Working Conditions and Physical Demands section of any job description to be mindful of the language they are using and how it may or may not be ADA compliant. They should also be careful to include only the conditions and demands that are essentially critical to the successful performance of the job, as including marginal conditions and demands that are present but not critical can be unintentionally exclusionary to individuals with disabilities.
Creating inclusive and compliant job descriptions can certainly be a challenging task for employers, but the ability to do so will prove to be beneficial, as the job descriptions will be more effective tools of communication for employers and prospective candidates alike. That being said, if employers are finding the process too tricky to tackle alone, they can turn to professionals for help. A Professional Employment Organization, or a PEO, is focused on helping business owners tackle thorny issues such as this, in order to ensure compliance, avoid costly litigation, and keep the business thriving.
This post is part of a series on job descriptions. Check out the other posts in the series:
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Tom DiSilva has been providing professional human resource services for over 30 years. As the CEO of Navigate PEO, he actively partners with organizations of all sizes in the Greater New England area and across the country to help their businesses grow. He has expertise in HR and Labor Management, offering guidance and support for key areas of business such as negotiations, operations management, employee coaching, and employee benefits design.