Using Essential Job Components to Evaluate Comparable Work
Equal pay for equal work is the essence of pay equity. In practice though, no two jobs are alike. There are always some differences and figuring out what "equal work" means can be complex.
The Federal Pay Equity Act (and many state equal pay laws) use the term "comparable work." It acknowledges that there will always be some differences when you compare two people's jobs. To do an accurate evaluation of whether work is comparable, we need some specific categories and factors to compare.
Comparable work is jobs that “require substantially similar skill, effort, and responsibility," and are "performed under similar working conditions.”
These are still broad factors. Rather than make judgment calls that could come with potential bias, it's important to have clear criteria for comparing skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions.
Job Descriptions Are the Key
The best place to start is with job descriptions. Having well written job descriptions that use consistent language and accurate criteria are the key to comparing jobs for pay equity. Having comprehensive and up to date job descriptions is also valuable for recruiting, determining compensation, assessing employee performance, and planning training and career development.
To begin, review the overall process, then get the people and information you will need.
This checklist will guide you on the best practices for creating job descriptions that can be used throughout your organization.
Getting it Done
Here is the general process for creating job descriptions that will make a difference.
- Define Job Description template
- Collect content from key stakeholders
- Develop a draft
- Final review (including legal) and approval
Team – Who is involved in creating job descriptions
Human Resources usually organizes and spearheads the initiative. Because the necessary information comes from multiple sources, here is the list of who is involved, and the general information needed to bring job descriptions to life.
Human Resources– Leads and manages the process. HR coordinates the information and approvals and is an advisor
- Ensures consistent language, fairness, levelling across organization
- Ensures language is accurate for each role
- Reviews for compliance issues
- Is a strategic partner with managers and executives
Employees – Know their jobs better and what they do better than anyone. Getting employee input is essential to understanding what is involved in the job today
- Include employees to help them feel like they're part of the process
- Decide if employees should describe their own work and from there HR can determine the language to use for skills, experience, and requirements or whether to offer a list of words you plan to use and have employees choose from the list. When employees describe their work, you may discover important skills or descriptions you had not thought of. Offering a list improves the chances that employees will do the task and return it.
- Ask managers to how they view and would describe the roles.
Managers –Become HR Business partners and help fill in both the big picture and the details.
- Review and approve job descriptions of direct reports
- Uncover inefficiencies
- duties that are being done that shouldn’t be
- duties that should be done but aren’t
- may realize they need to create a new role
Executives – Become champions so the organization embraces the process
- Review and approve job descriptions of direct reports
- Develop a deeper understanding of the jobs within the organization and the work being accomplished
- Work with HR on final approval
- Typically involves functional heads and C-level
Four Core Components of a Job Description
There are four main parts to a useful job description:
- Job hierarchy
- Essential functions or purpose
- Requirements and qualifications
- Physical demands, working conditions and legal requirements
For each of these components, here is the information to include and suggestions for how to define and organize your job categories.
Job Hierarchy: This information helps establish a job framework to organize jobs, show level of responsibility, facilitate job matching, and see career paths.
- Do use a simple, descriptive title that indicates the role and level
- Don’t use gimmicky titles that won’t be meaningful or understood outside of your company
- Do include location of where the job is located, if remote indicate that as well as the city and state where the employee usually works
- Do include the title of the manager who the role reports to
- Do include the numbers of individuals and titles of those the role supervises
- Don’t include individual names
- Do use coding that works with your company systems i.e., payroll, HRIS
- Do create a logical numbering system that you can expand when you add jobs
- Don’t re-invent the wheel if you already have established job codes
- Don’t associate job codes with individuals
Job Grade (Level)
- Do ensure that grades are consistently assigned to similar jobs across the organization
- Do add current salary ranges for each job level
- Do note if grade is used to link the job to program eligibility such as a bonus, stock, or other perks
- Don’t create grades for specific promotions, i.e., Level 2a
FLSA Exemption Status (optional)
- Do classify jobs consistently across the organization as exempt or nonexempt for overtime
- Be aware of local requirements for exemptions. For example, some states, (California, NY) implement exemption pay level minimums that supersede the federal criteria.
- Do have your legal team review
- Don’t have similar jobs with different exemption status
Job Family (optional)
- Do use existing job families or create new ones that group jobs that have similar functions. For example, accounting, sales, customer service or other logical areas of the business that have functionally unique sets of jobs.
- Do create a system that allows for future expansion
- Don’t create too many job families or place only 1-2 jobs in a single category
Essential functions or purpose: This information describes the main areas of responsibility and information about the tasks that the person in the role performs.
- Do concisely capture the purpose of the job and what it does in words that are easy to understand
- Don’t include meaningless adjectives, buzzwords, or acronyms. If you need to use an acronym that is important to your company, define it at the beginning of the job summary
Significant Duties & Responsibilities
- Do: Define the key duties, actions, and responsibilities of the job
- Do: Include level of decision-making; management scope
- Do: Limit to 4-6 broad areas that really describe the job duties
- Do: Use action verbs and result statements
- Do: Ask yourself what is being done? To what? How? And with what result?
- Do: If there are numerous duties that are sporadic or only in back up capacity, describe them using a single generic statement like “May perform additional duties as needed from time to time”
- Don’t: Detail every task or create a daily activity list
Job Requirements and Qualifications: This information describes the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to be successful in the role.
- Do describe minimum education required to perform the job
- Do state acceptable alternatives to the requirements, if applicable
- Do use consistent terminology I.e., Bachelor’s degree or BA or BD
- Don’t overstate education requirements. This can limit talent pools, and in some cases can be viewed as discrimination.
- Do indicate overall range of experience required to perform the job
- Do list separately when experience ranges differ significantly by skill or competency and are necessary to perform the job
- Avoid complex descriptions or too many criteria. Examples of bad criteria are 2 years' experience in skill A, 5 years' experience in skill B, 1 year experience in skill C or 10 years doing skill B plus 3 years in skill A. Stick to the central requirements for the work rather than what has been used in prior job postings. Stating specific years also can be limiting. You want enough to be able to compare roles but not so much that you will limit or restrict people who can do the work and succeed in the role.
Certifications or Licenses
- Do include required credential(s)
- Do include authority-granting credential if known i.e., Registered Nurse (state of NY), CDL Commercial Drives License
Skills and competencies
- Do include specific skills that are critical to perform the job i.e., Excel – create formulas, pivot charts and graphs
- Do define the target level of proficiency for each skill
- Do provide examples to illustrate the level of proficiency required I.e., Skill: Microsoft Excel; Proficiency Level: Expert
- Define what your proficiency level means with a few illustrative examples-Excel intermediate – create formulas, pivot charts and graphs
Physical Demands, Working Conditions, and Legal Requirements: This information will help you with legal and regulatory implications, and define physical demands and set expectations about working conditions.
- Do state that employees may be required to stand, walk, sit, reach with hands and arms, climb or balance, stoop or kneel, talk and hear, and use finders and hands to feel objects, tools or controls
- Do include requirements to lift objects i.e., ability to lift up to 50 lbs.
- Do include if fully functionally vision is required (prescription lenses are acceptable)
- Do include any requirements or exposures in the work environment:
- Extremes of temperature, noise, odor or fumes
- Toxic materials
- PPE or special gear
- Equipment hazards
- Safety training or protocols required
- Do indicate that your list is not comprehensive, and other tasks not mentioned here may be required
- Do state that changing business conditions may trigger changes to job responsibilities I.e., COVID-19
- Do include that the job description is not an employment contract
- Do include that the job may require weekend shifts or travel, if applicable
Putting it All Together—Software Can Help
Use this guide to help you assess your job descriptions and build a template to ensure consistency and facilitate defining comparable work.
Once you review existing job descriptions, you may realize they need substantial clean-up before you can define comparable work. It may be that you are missing information, or the same thing is described multiple ways by different people. This is normal.
Explore job description management and pay equity software that can help simplify creating job descriptions and keep them up to date. They can also help compare work, improve compliance, create job postings, and get pay right. Look for tools that give you:
- Guided step-by-step Job Description template to make sure everyone is using the same language for the same skills and requirements
- Automation to help manage approvals
- Content library with job descriptions and language suggestions to get you started fast
- Bias check that evaluates your job description text for hidden bias, including race, gender, and age, so you can write inclusive job descriptions
- Regression analysis (without needing in-house expertise) to account for pay differentials based on legitimate business factors, such as experience, education, and training. You can also identify outliers based on gender, race, and age.
- Ability to monitor multiple aspects of every employee and role and make comparisons at the job level by gender and other factors. Foundational data provide the starting point to implement a fair work environment, allowing you to see where jobs align and where they differ.
Both job descriptions and pay equity require continuous updating and monitoring because they change every time someone comes or goes. Having the job descriptions and tools can make it easy.