The success of your small business starts here.

You write a killer job description, post it on some job boards, and the applications start piling in. You find your perfect candidate and he/she meshes well with the other handful of people on your team. Hired.

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That employee exceeds your expectations and is a real contributor to your business’s success. And it all started with that job description. This of course is a perfect scenario. The words you string together to write the perfect description are one thing. Writing a description that doesn’t unknowingly break any laws is another.

So: Are your job descriptions compliant?

Here are a few things to consider.

Why do you need job description?

First things first – do you even need to write one? While job descriptions are not legally required, having one sets clear expectations for the employee and allows them to understand his/her responsibilities. They are also used as a baseline for performance reviews if you choose to implement them.

When it comes to compliance, a job description is extremely crucial to ensure that you’re providing the appropriate information that will keep you on the right side of the law. This is especially true for requirements under the:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Having a compliant job description is also necessary to defend wrongful termination claims, prove equal pay, and defend retaliation claims.

Because of all the legal nuances, it’s best that you, of course, check with your state’s regulations, as well as a trusted advisor before hitting ‘publish.’ The rest of the guidelines we’ll explain here are simply meant to provide general education. But as we all know, a little knowledge goes a long way!

Before you begin, do a job analysis.

Performing a job analysis will give you some guidance as to what the exact role is that you need fulfilled and thus lay the groundwork for the job description.

The Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) suggests that gathering and examining data about the job’s tasks will give you the proper information to enable your business to perform efficiently.

Ask your current employees about the tasks being performed and observe how they are being performed. Document it all based on what knowledge, skill, ability, physical characteristics, environmental factors, and credentials are necessary.

If it’s your first time hiring for a certain role, you might want to check out the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook for tips on salaries and projections.

What goes into a job description?

Once you’ve established the details of the role, it’s time to drill down the construction of the actual description. Here are the key items to include.


The summary should describe a brief, high-level overview of the essential job functions. It will give job seekers a framework of the role, without going into too much detail.

This is a good place to get a little creative and really capture a candidate’s attention.

Minimum required qualifications.

Different than functions, qualifications should be listed as the basic knowledge, skills, abilities, licenses, education, etc. required for the role.  Ex. A license to sell insurance. 

Under this section, take care in writing out the qualifications that are truly necessary for the candidate to successfully perform the job. Exclusion otherwise could put you at risk for a discrimination claim.

Ogletree Deakins gives the example of listing a requirement that applicant must be able to lift 100 pounds on the job, when really the job only requires the person to lift 50 pounds. This could be discriminatory because of its impact on potentially discouraging female job seekers to apply.

Essential job functions.

This section is where that job analysis we talked about will come in handy. Ensure that what you’re listing is truly a necessary task and requirement to perform the job (and not a marginal function). When writing these out, it makes sense to start each line with a verb (ex. Process reports vs. You will have to process reports). Being deliberate with the order in which the functions are listed may indicate the importance of each task.

The accuracy of writing out these functions is crucial for determining if an applicant with a disability is qualified under the ADA (and what accommodation might be required). Note that you are not required to eliminate any essential job functions as part of reasonable accommodation.

Here are some ADA-specific tips to keep in mind, thanks to HRTMS.

  • Include the approximate amount of time the job candidate would spend on the job performing certain tasks.
  • Use the exact amount of weight that an employee would be required to lift (rather than general physical requirement statements).
  • If the duties require the use of repetitive motions, HRTMS suggests actually using the word ‘repetitive’.


While you’re not legally required to include the benefits your company offers, you may want to consider adding a section that lists them. After all, a recent SHRM study indicated more than 72 percent of organizations increased their benefit offerings to retain employees. If you offer great benefits, why not showcase them?


ThinkHR explains that the description should also include unexpected duties. Ex. ‘The employee may be asked to perform other duties as required by business needs.’ This way, all your bases are covered.

Exempt or non-exempt.

To comply with wage and hour laws under the Fair Labor Standards Act, you must indicate whether the position is exempt or non-exempt from overtime requirements.

That’s a lot to take in, isn’t it? Putting out a job description is more than just writing an exhaustive list of duties you need completed. It’s always a good idea to review the information with a trusted advisor so you ensure your descriptions are compliant. That extra step will save you in the long run.

PrimePay’s HR Advisory solutions can help you with that. Click here to learn more or fill out the form below.

Disclaimer: Please note that this is not all inclusive. Our guidance is designed only to give general information on the issues actually covered. It is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of all laws which may be applicable to your situation, treat exhaustively the subjects covered, provide legal advice, or render a legal opinion. Consult your own legal advisor regarding specific application of the information to your own plan.