This Job Description May No Longer Be Current

This morning, I happened to see a web link that caught my eye in my Google news feed on my phone. When I opened the page, I saw a box just below the articles byline that contained the following:

This article was published more than 3 years ago. Some information may no longer be current.

This is something that we need to think about in terms of job descriptions as well. Many employers do not put a created or a revised date on their job descriptions. They really should. The created/revised stamp helps to remind those who use the description as to what may have been going on when the description was created or what events may have caused the revision of the job description. Without the note, it is difficult to tell when the description has been updated.

Why is it important to know when the job description has been created or revised?

A creation or revision date can help let treating medical professionals (doctors, physical therapists, nurse case managers, etc.) know whether they need to ask if there have been any changes to the job description that need to be taken into account when planning treatments to return an injured employee back to full duty. Accurate, up to date job descriptions also help with completing the return to work process when a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) is performed. The dates help to make sure that the most up to date version has been sent to the FCE provider for comparison. Note: This happens more frequently than it should – an outdated version is sent to the FCE provider and then the updated copy is sent for a new comparison against the FCE performance of the injured employee.

Why should you update your job descriptions?

It is a good habit to review your job descriptions annually to determine whether there have been any changes to the particular description in terms of roles and responsibilities for the job title as well as whether there are any changes in the policies, procedures, and real world processes of how the job is performed.

  • Do all of the roles and responsibilities of the job description still apply?
    • Have any roles and responsibilities been added to the job title?
    • Have any roles and responsibilities been removed from the job title?
  • Are the job tasks still performed in the same manner?
    • Has the equipment that is used to perform the job been changed?
      • Has updating equipment made the task simpler?
      • Do equipment updates change a task from a 2 person task to a 1 person task?
    • Are supplies for a task shipped differently?
      • Do they come in a different type of container?
      • Do they come in a different weight or volume of product?
  • Have there been changes to PPE required to perform a task?

How has COVID changed task performance?

One of the questions that I now routinely ask is “How are things different in how you do your job since the pandemic?” I have heard a variety of answers in response to this question in terms of changes in tasking, task timing (more frequent cleanings of communal surfaces for custodial staff), and changes in task performance. Within public works departments, some bulk trash pickup teams now utilize heavy equipment to lift certain pieces of trash (furniture in particular) into the trucks. While this change started in the early days when there were many unknowns about how COVID was transmitted, it helped to reduce some of the significantly heavier physical demands on these employees.

For warehousing staff at large retailers, shipping difficulties have led to changes in both tasking and how tasks are performed. I’ve talked with warehouse staff that now perform other duties on days that shipments are not received and on the days that shipments come in, often work at a much quicker pace due to the influx of arriving merchandise on those days.

The pandemic has brought changes to how companies operate that should make them take a moment to review their job descriptions and see if the descriptions still match how the tasks are performed.

What do we do if something has changed?

Update the changes in your job description. Once you have updated the description, make sure that you have included a revision date either in the text of the document or in the footer.

If there have been significant changes to the description that potentially alter the physical and postural demands of the position (or if you haven’t previously documented these demands), we can help you to accurately and objectively document the physical and postural demands. As mentioned above, well documented demands can help physicians and physical therapists in their task of helping to rehab an injured worker so that they can safely return to work.

Dictionary of Occupational Titles versus Rodeo Clown

They are rodeo clowns but the DOT calls them rodeo performers. However, these two clowns aren’t the same. The one in the barrel is a barrelman while the clown to the right is a bullfighter.

What Do the DOT and O*Net Tell Us About Job Demands

We’ve mentioned that when an FCE is performed and the provided job description does not outline essential minimum physical or postural demands that the evaluating therapist must use the Dictionary of Occupational Titles to determine a work level category for comparison.  The Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) was a publication of the United States Department of Labor and contained information on over 13,000 job titles.  The DOT provides a basic list of task functions that may be performed within a job title as well as placing each job title entry into a work level category (sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy).  The last version of the DOT was published in 1999.  For most purposes, the DOT was replaced by O*NET (Occupational Information Network) which provides information collected by incumbent employees and uses a different method for grouping and defining job titles.  One important difference – and the main reason that FCE providers refer to the DOT today – is that O*NET does not include a physical work level category for each job title. 

What Does The DOT Tell Us About Rodeo Clowns?

All too often, job titles in the DOT get lumped into a closest possible job title instead of a singular, job specific title.  In many ways, this dictionary is like a thesaurus when it comes to finding a specific job entry to use as a reference.  Due to the fact that a wide range of applicable job titles may all fall under one specific entry, the information is not always as applicable as we would like it to be.  Sometimes, it gets the main theme of the job but the demands may be off – or in other cases, the listed physical demand is more of an average of the possible demands.

Not too long ago, I went to a Cowtown Rodeo in southern New Jersey and was wondering how the Dictionary of Occupational Titles would define the demands for a rodeo clown.  Rodeo clowns fill a unique role within the world of rodeo.  At first glance, they seem to be for entertainment and they do fill that role.  However, one type of rodeo clown – the barrelmen – provides the comic relief while the other type of rodeo clown – the bullfighters – help to keep the riders safe when they have fallen off of a bull or a bronco.  From observation, it appears that rodeo clowns have to be fast, be agile, have good balance, and an ability to climb fences at times to get out of the way of a bull or bronco.  They don’t appear to have the heavy lifting demands of rodeo performers involved in calf roping which requires the ability to pick up a calf and put them back on the ground.

A Google search of rodeo clown and Dictionary of Occupational Titles leads to an entry for rodeo performer (after a little digging).    The entry explains the position of rodeo performer as:

“Demonstrates daring and skill by bronco riding, calf roping, bull riding, steer wrestling, or similar feats in rodeo competition to entertain spectators and compete for prize money.”

It really only covers the rodeo clown in the entertaining spectators portion as the rodeo clowns don’t perform the other tasks listed.  And the entry for clown in the DOT does not really seem to cover what a rodeo clown does, other than:

“Dresses in comical costume and makeup and performs original or stock comedy routines to entertain audience.”

There is a huge variation in the physical demands between the two entries.  The clown entry places the physical demand as light (20 pounds occasional, 10 pounds frequent, negligible constant) while the rodeo performer entry places the demand at heavy (100 pounds occasional, 50 pounds frequent, 20 pounds constant)

Once could argue that the rodeo clown fits closer to the rodeo performer description at heavy as they may have to help an injured rider up from the ground but DOT entries don’t do a good job of explaining the balance required or describing the surface that the rodeo clowns perform on (a dirt surface that has been churned up by the hooves of horses and cattle) or the need to be able to move quickly out of a need for safety for themselves and others.  However, the entry doesn’t explain to a person that hasn’t seen a rodeo clown in action that they may have to sprint to the edge of the arena and quickly climb the fence that separates the audience from the arena to get to safety.  Alternatively, the entry for rodeo performer is a little on the light side for use with rodeo riders that perform calf roping – a calf in a competition can weigh between 220 and 280 pounds per competition rules. Being that the roper is trying to get the calf roped, secure, and immobilized they are more likely than not to exceed 100 pounds of force in pushing, pulling, lifting, and carrying.

Rodeo clown runs away (quickly) from a bull.


Ideally, a job description for a job title when being used for comparison during an FCE will include information about the physical demands (lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying and the heights and manners that these tasks are performed) as well as the postural demands (balance, walking, kneeling, squatting, reaching, etc. and how they are performed/where they are performed).  Rodeo clowns definitely walk (and run) on uneven terrain that sometimes may be wet or muddy and is definitely slippery – balance and speed of movement for safety is definitely important.  Some rodeo performers need to have enough balance to stand on a horse while going around the arena at speed. Their climbing needs are not the usual climbing needs for your standard party or circus clown.  As a matter of fact, most jobs don’t require you to climb a 6 to 8 foot fence to escape from a rampaging bull.

A rodeo performer demonstrates significant balance while flying the flag. This is not your every day balance related work task.

Upcoming

In upcoming posts, we will take a look at other job titles to see how well the Dictionary of Occupational Titles matches up against the actual demands of the job. Posts will look at nursing, skilled trades, and many other jobs including a comparison for the personnel that work in Weights and Measures. Some positions, such as nursing, present many of the same issues outlined in this post. The entry for nurse in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles lumps almost all of the varied roles that nurses perform into one singular entry – however, some occupations such as police and fire have breakdowns of the different internal roles. We will visit each of these and look at the impacts that these entries may have on performance of an FCE.

Quick notes: All images in this post are owned by Quin Bond. Usage is available upon request.