Job descriptions are an absolute must for all positions and should be updated, ideally, semi-annually.  Essential components of a job description include the job title and the title of the immediate supervisor, a list of job duties and responsibilities derived from job analysis, and a list of qualifications needed to successfully perform the job.

While larger/chain businesses typically have job descriptions, they could become easily outdated as positions evolve.  Smaller, independent businesses may not always develop job descriptions by following a thorough job analysis technique as they may be too involved in day-to-day activities.  However, every hospitality business, independent or chain, small or large, needs to create and update job descriptions for a number of compelling reasons.

Reason 1: Job descriptions can be deemed binding contracts

While in many cases an employer has the right to alter job descriptions to reflect changing needs of the organization, there are important exceptions to doing so without seeking employee agreement.  Union contracts (collective bargaining agreements) and explicit employment contracts may dictate a list of job duties associated with specific positions.  Alterations to these agreements cannot be made without following procedures called for by the contract.  Employers also cannot change job duties to retaliate against an employee exercising an employment right.

Reason 2: Threat of discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits

foodservice, job descriptionsIn 2010, in the case of Richardson v. Friendly Ice Cream, the decision was made in favor of Friendly’s due to the company’s detailed job descriptions that included “Essential Function” and “Task Analysis.”  The plaintiff, Katharine Richardson, sued Friendly’s for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and wrongful termination because of her disability following a surgery for shoulder impingement syndrome.  Katharine was issued a work release by her doctor prohibiting her from performing repetitive tasks with her right arm and lifting objects weighing more than five pounds.  Friendly’s job description for Katherine’s position clearly identified a substantial physical component resulting in a summary judgment in favor of the company.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 makes it easier for individuals seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he/she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.  In a lawsuit filed in February 2014, the plaintiff, who was a server with congenital achondroplasia dwarfism, alleged that a Houston restaurant and sports bar unlawfully discriminated against her due to a disability.  Although the previous general manager who hired the plaintiff allowed a reasonable accommodation of a modified work station, the new general manager disallowed the accommodation, reduced her work hours, and eventually fired her.  The lawsuit is pending.

Reason 3: Prevents misclassification of tipped positions

Several recent lawsuits are challenging restaurant practices with respect to classification of tipped positions.  In September 2011, a United States Court of Appeals upheld a decision made by a lower court against Chili’s Restaurants, agreeing with the restaurant chain’s servers that expediters (or Quality Assurance workers) should not be in the tip pool.  After reviewing the job description of expediters at Chili’s, the jury found that Chili’s did not meet its burden to prove that Quality Assurance workers were employed in an occupation that customarily and regularly received tips.  The decision covering 55 servers resulted in a judgment of $1,772,000.  In 2012, Iron Cactus, an Austin-based Tex-Mex chain also faced a similar lawsuit.

Reason 4: Ensures a non-discriminatory hiring process and a quality hire

A list of physical characteristics, education, experience, personality traits, knowledge, skills, and abilities associated with a specific position created by observing incumbent employees’ behaviors can ensure a fair hiring process.  Hiring managers can adopt a uniform approach to screen applicants by deciding appropriate interview questions and designing non-discriminatory pre-employment tests.  In addition, advertising the job title and a list of job duties associated with a position can also result in a higher quality hire as potential applications have a clear understanding of the job expectations.

Reason 5: Ensures a fair performance appraisal process

Having a job description helps an employee have a complete and accurate understanding of his/her job duties.  At the same time, an up-to-date job description also helps managers conduct a fair and thorough performance appraisal, ensuring objective decisions related to raises, promotions, disciplinary action, and termination.  The role played by job descriptions in performance appraisals is particularly significant in the hospitality industry due to higher than average turnover rate of management.

Aside from express or union contracts, adding a disclaimer stating that the job description does not imply a contract and that employees may be required to perform other related duties not stated in the job description is recommended.