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Functional Job Descriptions

May 24, 2015 05:06PM ● By MED Magazine

By Kelly Marshall

Think about job descriptions for a minute: job descriptions you may have seen, job descriptions you may have written, or job descriptions you may currently be employed under. Ask yourself the following questions:


  • Are these job descriptions written?
  • Do these job descriptions include physical demand information, such as being able to lift 50 pounds?
  • If physical demand information is included, how was it measured? Was it measured objectively or was it simply a guess?
  • How are these job descriptions used? To recruit new employees? As part of the hiring process? In order to return injured employees to their jobs?


Functional job analysis utilizes a systematic approach to identify and measure the physical abilities required to perform the essential functions of a job. To do this, a job analyst goes into the workplace to objectively measure these physical requirements, including:


  • Lifting forces
  • Grip forces
  • Pinch forces
  • Push/pull forces
  • Distances walked


This information can then be included in a functional job description. Separate from the professional requirements such as knowledge, skills, and cognitive abilities required for a given job, the functional portion of the job description includes the objectively measured physical demand information pertinent to that specific job title.

Incorporating functional information into a job description has a variety of benefits. During the recruiting and hiring process, it allows potential employees a much clearer picture of the physicality of the work they will be required to perform.


Potential employees may remove themselves from the hiring process much earlier on when they realize they do not have the physical ability to perform the demands of a particular job. Employers thereby have a better opportunity to hire the employee who is a better “match” for a job from the very beginning. Given the high rate of musculoskeletal injuries that occur within the first year of employment, this has the potential to affect turnover and decrease recruiting costs for the employer.


Further benefits can be found in using functional job information in the case of an injured 

 employee. When an employee is returning to work following any sort of physical injury, medical providers are asked to determine if that employee can safely perform the essential functions of his or her job. When an employer does not objectively record the physical demands of a job, it becomes much more difficult for a medical provider to make a decision about that employee’s ability to safely return to work. The provider may be forced to rely on the report of the employee to determine what is physically required by their job. A functional job description can be shared or even created (just in time!) in order to reduce lost or restricted work days and ensure an injured employee can return to his or her job safely.


The process of functional job analysis presents the opportunity for a variety of additional benefits. A culture of safety and understanding is promoted by investing in employees from the moment they are recruited. Incumbent employees appreciate that any new hires will be physically capable of performing the job they are being hired for. Medical providers who are asked to make employment decisions appreciate a better understanding of what a job truly requires.


Recent court proceedings indicate that physical demand information should be objectively measured and job specific, especially if it is being used to make employment decisions. Job descriptions with generic measurements and physical requirements are an open door for investigation and litigation. Functional job descriptions provide objective, measurable information that can help keep employers on the cutting edge and out of the court of law.


Kelly Marshall is an occupational therapist and a member of the South Dakota Occupational Therapy Association and the American Occupational Therapy Association. She is a Job Analysis and Ergonomics Specialist with RAS.

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