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Physical Job Requirements

When a candidate looks at a job description, they are generally looking for details about job duties and pay range. However, the physical requirements of the job are also important, and shouldn’t be overlooked by job seekers, hiring managers, or you as you write the job description. Read on to find out why.

What Are Physical Job Requirements?

Physical job requirements are the requirements of a position that a prospective employee needs to be able to meet. These can include a wide array of things, such as where the job takes place, lifting requirements, shift type, etc.

Why You Need to Identify and Disclose Physical Requirements to Candidates

Besides the courtesy of providing information to your candidates, there are laws that require the disclosure of this information.

  • Common courtesy. When we are looking for jobs, we want to know what will be expected of us. By providing this information up front, your prospective employees will know what will be expected of them from the beginning.
  • It protects the company. While interviewers can’t legally ask if a candidate has a disability that would prevent them from doing the job, they can ask if the candidate can complete all of the essential functions and physical requirements of the job.  If a candidate discloses that they can’t due to an underlying disability or condition, then the company needs to determine if a reasonable accommodation is warranted.
  • Reasonable accommodation. By outlining the physical requirements of the job, you are setting yourself up for success when it comes to accommodations. If a function of the job may be able to be performed using a reasonable accommodation and you have outlined the physical requirements in an ADA-compliant way, you have covered your bases in regards to accommodations.

How to Determine Physical Requirements for a Role

How do we actually decide what the physical requirements are for a particular role? Oftentimes this can be the trickiest part of writing job descriptions. Your goal is to record any part of the job that uses or impacts the employee’s body.

Step 1: Spend Some Time Observing

If you are updating the job description for an existing role, spend some time observing and talking to that employee and figuring out exactly what they do on a day-to-day basis. If this is a new role and no one is currently filling it, reach out to the manager to determine what they think the requirements should be, and go from there.

Step 2: Determine What the Requirements Actually Are

You may see or find things that the employees are doing that may not be part of their essential job function. Try to limit your list to things that are actually required of the job. This can be things such as lifting requirements, operating a certain piece of machinery, sitting or standing, working in hot or cold environments, etc.

Step 3: Audit Your Requirements

This is potentially one of the most important steps, but one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Once you have made your determination as to what the job requirements should be, it’s important to spend some time reviewing those requirements after you’ve seen them in action.

Common Physical Requirements and How to Describe Them in a Job Description

It’s important for each job description to include wording such as, “The ideal candidate must be able to complete all physical requirements of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.” This not only protects the company from discrimination lawsuits, but also shows that you are open to providing reasonable accommodation to your candidates.

Below are some of the items commonly found in job descriptions and how to write them so they are compliant with ADA requirements.

Requirement 1: Sitting or Standing

If you require your employees to sit or stand for a prolonged period of time, it is probably worth mentioning in your job description. However, instead of stating sitting or standing, use a word such as stationary.

“Must be able to remain in a stationary position 50% of the time.”

Requirement 2: Carrying or Lifting

Are your employees required to carry or lift things during their day-to-day operations? You should include that in your job description as well. Use words such as move or transport.

“Frequently moves boxes weighing up to 50 pounds across the office for various needs.”

Requirement 3: Environment

Do your employees perform their job duties primarily in an office environment, warehouse, or even outdoors? This is another thing that should be included in your job description.

“Constantly works in outdoor weather conditions.”

Spends time in freezers and a hot, noisy kitchen.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Physical Job Requirements

When should we talk to candidates about physical job requirements?
As soon as possible. Clearly express all requirements and discuss them as soon as possible in order to start determining if an accommodation may be warranted.
Is it legal to not hire someone who doesn't meet our physical job requirements?
Potentially. However, if a candidate discloses that they can’t meet the physical requirements of the job and you can provide them with an accommodation, then you must do so. For example, if you require your employees to sit at a desk but you have a candidate who needs to be able to stand due to back surgery or anything else, you have the option to provide them with a standing desk if you determine that that is reasonable from the company’s perspective.
Nick Staley

Nick Staley

Nick is a certified HR professional holding an SPHR from HRCI. He is passionate about the employee experience and creating some of the top workplaces in Utah. He has built HR departments from the ground up as well as working for large companies. When not working, Nick enjoys spending time with his wife and three kids and flying airplanes.

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