Ask Addi P.: Should We Update Old Job Descriptions?

A woman with black hair peers over large stack of papers and manila folders.

Dear Addi P.,

We've been putting off updating job descriptions for at least two years. Frankly, our HR team is already working long hours and I don't want to add one more task to an already long to-do list. At the same time, I'm worried that these outdated documents could cause problems. What do you recommend?

— Decrepit in Detriot

Dear Decrepit,

Like most HR departments, you and your team face a lot of competing priorities. It's hard to balance the needs of the organization against what can feel like busy work. In the case of job descriptions, they may not be the most exciting part of your job. However, keeping them up-to-date and accurate is important.

Updated Descriptions Mitigate Risk

"If you don't keep it up-to-date and you have [an employment] claim against you, that non-updated job description can do as much damage as a good one could benefit you," reports the Society for Human Resource Management. "It can work to help in your defense, or it can work to help the employee."

Job descriptions can help demonstrate compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) if there's any question of violating regulations related to minimum wage and overtime pay.

If your organization faces employment discrimination charges from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you'll want to feel confident that your documents aren't outdated. During an investigation, the EEOC investigator will review all relevant documents, which could include job descriptions. Having current information about each role, and any skills and physical reqirements needed to perform it, is important to mitigate risk.

Consistency Creates Confidence

As the people responsible for creating and maintaining job descriptions, it's part of HR's job to ensure that there is consistency regarding each role — on paper and in action. On an annual basis, check in with supervisors, managers and employees to evaluate how and whether the job description describes the work. You want to be sure that they are updated to reflect the actual job and day-to-day responsibilities of employees in that role.

When reviewing the actual job, consider these questions:

-Is one employee doing the work of many?

-Are there employees who aren't meeting the expectations set forth in their job description?

-Do the responsibilities listed reflect what is currently required for each job?

-Are the job descriptions aligned with current organizational competencies and strategic direction?

Based on the answers and discussions you have, you'll know what updates are required. When all employees understand and see that they are being measured against consistent, documented expectations, it builds confidence and trust within the organization.

Accuracy Assists Recruiters

Job description accuracy is also essential for your recruiters who need to understand what you are looking for and to assess whether a particular candidate would be a fit. While a quick review or hasty draft may sometimes be enough, you don't want to wait until there's an urgent need to draft this important document. When you allow enough time to create and update job descriptions you can solicit the support of hiring managers and subject matter experts who will be able to assist you in drafting the most accurate description possible for each job.

With access to current job descriptions, recruiters can be more successful in their efforts to entice top talent to your organization. An accurate job description also provides candidates with a realistic idea of what the job involves, which in turn makes it more likely that they'll stay if hired.

Once job descriptions are drafted they are often filed away or stored online, never to be seen again. But don't let this discourage you — it's never too late to revive them. Find a way that your team can divvy up the work. Once all of the descriptions have been reviewed and updated, put each one on a regular review schedule. Break it up by department, level or function so that this task doesn't feel so overwhelming in the future.

By taking a proactive approach, you'll sleep easier knowing that you have consistent, accurate job descriptions that help you mitigate risk, build employee confidence and recruit the right talent.

Take care,

Addi P.

Addi P is a digital character who represents the human expertise of ADP. The questions and challenges come from professionals who manage people at companies of all sizes. The advice comes from ADP experts who have a deep understanding of the issues and a passion for helping leaders create a better workplace. If you have a challenge you'd like to pose for Addi P, complete this simple form.

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and not legal, accounting or tax advice. The information and services ADP provides should not be deemed a substitute for the advice of a professional who can better address your specific concern and situation. Any information provided here is by nature subject to revision and may not be the most current information available on the subject matter discussed.

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