As Assigned: Digging Into The ‘other duties’ Clause
By Ann Potratz
When it comes to creating job descriptions, adding “other duties as assigned” has become practically a no-brainer for many employers. After all, addressing every possible task that might arise throughout an employee’s tenure is nearly impossible.
But what exactly does “other duties” entail, and how much does the statement actually protect you? And just because you can assign workers virtually any task, does it mean you should?
Well within your rights?
For starters, companies are under no legal requirement to create job descriptions. They may choose to come up with highly specific writeups, brief summaries, or nothing at all. However, job descriptions play such an important role in everything from recruiting to accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that most employers do create them, and many choose to make them fairly detailed.
So what does this mean for your “other duties” clause? Unless your employees are working under contracts, courts generally agree that those “other duties” can be nearly anything your company deems reasonable and beneficial.
Consider a case from 2009 in which a receptionist was asked to make coffee for a couple of executives every day at 3 p.m. The receptionist refused, claiming the coffee-making duties were sexist and hadn’t been included in her job interview or job description, and she was eventually fired. When she sued, a federal district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found that the request was reasonable and threw out her case (Klopfenstein v. National Sales and Supply).
While the “other duties” clause can provide flexibility and help you make the most of your workforce, providing clarity whenever possible may help avoid headaches. For example, consider using a more detailed description to clarify the anticipated nature of the additional tasks. Phrases such as “Other duties as assigned by Marketing Department” for a marketing job or “Miscellaneous clerical duties” for an administrative position can help you avoid confusion or conflict down the road.
In addition, be sure you hand out the “other duties” fairly. If an employee claims to have been assigned extra work based on a protected characteristic (race, sex, national origin, religion, etc.), you may be setting yourself up for a discrimination claim. For instance, if the receptionist from the above-mentioned case had been able to prove that male receptionists were not subjected to the same requests, she might have had a stronger claim.
Regularly reviewing job descriptions is another way to ensure expectations remain fair and clear. If an employee has worked in the same job for 10 years, his role has likely evolved, but the job description may not have.
Keep in mind that a thorough job description is in the best interest of both employer and employee, and can be incredibly useful when recruiting, hiring, and evaluating employees.