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Physical Requirements and Job Descriptions

Posted on July 16, 2018

Physical Requirements and Job Descriptions


Many employers have written job descriptions for positions at their companies. However, most companies don’t realize that including the physical requirements and working conditions of a position is as important as the duties and qualifications. If there are environmental, psychological, and or physiological requirements that applicants or employees must meet, these should be included in the job description.

Documenting the physical requirements and working conditions is useful in determining accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is also helpful in defending a claim of disability discrimination.  When a charge of discrimination is brought under the ADA, and initial issue will be whether the disabled individual could perform not only the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation but could also perform the physical requirements. 

When listing physical requirements, a task should state that specific physical exertion, such as lifting, standing, bending, or reaching, is required. Remember to consider whether a process is truly an essential part of a task.

When writing job descriptions, it is very important to use the correct language.  Certain words can exclude individuals with disabilities.  It is better to select words that convey the actual requirements of the job without limiting the physical demands to certain abilities.  The following table contains examples of words that tend to be exclusionary and substitutes for these words. 

If a physical demand is not essential in the performance of the job, then reference to that demand should be omitted.

Amount of TimeWording
NoneOmit from Job Description
Under 1/3Seldom to Occasionally
1/3 to 2/3Occasionally to Frequently
Over 2/3Constantly
Physical DemandADA Compliant WordsJob Description Language Example
Stand or SitStationary positionMust be able to remain in a stationary position 50% of the time.
WalkMove, TraverseThe person in this position needs to occasionally move about inside the office to access file cabinets, office machinery, etc.
Use hands/fingers to handle or feelOperate, Activate, Use, Prepare, Inspect, Place, Detect, PositionConstantly operates a computer and other office productivity machinery such as a calculator, copy machine and computer printer.
Climb (stairs/ladders) or balanceAscend/Descend, Work atop, TraverseOccasionally ascends/descends a ladder to service the lights and ceiling fans
Stoop, kneel, crouch or crawlPosition self (to), MoveConstantly positions self to maintain computers in the lab, including under the desks and in the server closet
Talk/hearCommunicate, Detect, Converse with, Discern, Convey, Expresse oneself, Exchange informationThe person in this position frequently communicates with students who have inquiries about their tuition bill or financial aid package. Must be able to exchange accurate information in these situations.
SeeDetect, Determine, Perceive, Identify, Recognize, Judge, Observe, Inspect, Estimate,AssessMust be able to detect funnel clouds from long distances.
Taste/SmellDetect, Distinguish, DetermineOccasionally must be able to distinguish sweet and bitter flavors when creating desserts for Applewood customers.
Carry weight, liftMove, Transport, Position, Put, Install, RemoveFrequently moves Audio/Visual equipment weighing up to 50 pounds across campus for various classrooms and events needs.
Exposure to work environmentsExposed, work aroundConstantly works in outdoor weather conditions.

Source: Office of Human Resources – Mott Community College

Lauren Sims is the article’s author and the Director of Human Resources.

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