Human Resource E-Bulletin - September 2000

The ADA & Job Descriptions

  • Does the ADA dictate the manner in which job descriptions must be developed?
  • Must essential job functions be designated in job descriptions?

The ADA Does not Require that an Employer Create Job Descriptions

  • The ADA does not limit an employer's ability to establish or change the content, nature, or functions of a job. It is the employer's province to establish what a job is and what functions are required to perform it.
  • The ADA simply requires that an individual with a disability's qualifications for a job be evaluated in relation to its essential functions. 

Job Analysis

  • The ADA does not require that an employer conduct a job analysis to identify the essential functions of a job.
  • In order for a "job analysis" to have some relevance in identifying essential job functions each characteristic described as necessary should be tied to a specific job function.
  • If upper body strength is identified as an essential job function it should be tied to the job task that requires it.
  • A job analysis should focus on outcomes or results.
  • Analyzing a job in terms of outcomes and results is helpful in establishing appropriate qualification standards, developing job descriptions, and conducting interviews.  It may also help in the selection of accommodations for people with disabilities interviewing for the job. 

Written Job Descriptions

  •  If a written job description states that an employee performs a certain essential function then that job description will be evidence that the function is essential, but if individuals currently performing the job do not in fact perform this function, or perform it very infrequently, a review of the actual work performed will be more relevant evidence than the job description.
  • Job descriptions do not have to identify essential and marginal functions. 
  • If an employer uses a job description as evidence of essential functions, it should identify those functions that the employer believes to be important in accomplishing the "end-result."
  • If the employer intends to use it as evidence of essential functions, the job description must be prepared before advertising or interviewing for a job; a job description prepared after an alleged discriminatory action will not be considered as evidence. 

Focus on the "end result."  Ask:

  • What is the job supposed to accomplish?
  • Must this job task be carried out in a particular manner?

Review functions and rate the importance of each in conducting the job. Evaluate: 

  • Frequency.
  • Amount of time spent on the function.
  • Consequences if the function is not performed. 
  • Do not assume that the manner in which tasks are currently being carried out dictate the manner in which they must always be performed. 



  • If a job requires mastery of information contained in technical manuals, this essential function would be "ability to learn technical material," rather than "ability to read technical manuals." People with visual and other reading impairments could perform this function using other means, such as audiotapes.
  • A job that requires objects to be moved from one place to another should state this essential function. The analysis may note that the person in the job "lifts 50 pound cartons to a height of 3 or 4 feet and loads them into truck-trailers 5 hours daily," but should not identify the "ability to manually lift and load 50 pound cartons" as an essential function unless this is the only method by which the function can be performed without causing an undue hardship. 

The information herein is intended solely as informal guidance and is neither a determination of your legal rights or responsibilities under the Act, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA

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