On the Heels of the H1-B and H2-B Visa Scandals, Job Description Inflation

As the H1-B visa and H2-B visa programs are finally receiving broader recognition for the fraudulent scandals that they are, there is another sinister, albeit silent, employment cancer ravaging the American worker.  The use of the H1-B to replace qualified American workers with cheaper foreign workers, and the use of H2-B visas to provide American companies with year-round lower skilled workers both steal and eliminate American jobs outright.  As if this were not enough pain to inflict on the American worker, this other employment killer is used to silently rob American employees of ten of millions in earnings every year.

Probably the most common infraction committed by businesses with employees who are represented by bargaining units, or unions, is job description inflation.  Interestingly, this is also the infraction that is least likely to be addressed and corrected. 

Job description inflation is a means by which companies bestow additional responsibilities on employees and require more duties from them without also compensating them for those new requirements.  To explain why this infraction remains a phenomenon in American labor, a review of job description creation would be helpful to our understanding of what job description inflation is, and why and how is occurs.

When companies are formed, areas of responsibility requiring various duties to be performed by those responsible employees are identified, and job descriptions for those different positions, or classification, are authored and implemented.  When those employees elect to be represented by a union, guild, or other bargaining unit, that agency works with the company’s human resource department, and or other company representatives to review and tailor job descriptions to comply with applicable labor laws, and to ensure that the responsibilities and associated duties to be exercised and performed in a specific job capacity are paired with fair and appropriate compensation for those positions. 

It would be easier for us to see what these negotiations look like by examining the creation of a new position at an existing company.

Over time, companies usually change and grow, and they also may provide more goods and services or change the way those goods and services are delivered.  At the beginning of these change cycles, existing employees will typically take on more duties and responsibilities to fill the gap created by the new demand.  Usually, more than one employee group will share in performing these new duties. When the need to create a new job position to supply the new demand becomes self-evident, the company will begin compiling a job description for the new position.  This process is not overly complicated, and is similar to creating a shopping list.

Here, it would be helpful to view the company as a shopper, and the representing employee agency as a cashier at the check stand. 

The company produces a list of duties that need to be performed, and the requisite responsibilities the new employee would exercise in order to perform those duties.  Next, they present their shopping list to the cashier at the checkout stand.  The agency chosen by the employees to represent them will review the list.  The agency will access the level of skills, experience, and education that the company requires for the position, along with job duties and the level of responsibility to be conferred upon the new employee to perform those duties.  From these specific requirements the agency will devise a salary scale, and the agency and the company will negotiate its acceptance.

That salary, along with other benefits, becomes the price the company must pay to purchase that new position.  From this point, we can give a clear example of how job description inflation takes place.

As the growth and change cycles continue for our company, a demand is created for more duties to be performed.  The new job position, created by absorbing the previous demands that were placed on other employee groups, may typically be assigned those duties.  This is when job description inflation is most likely to occur, but let’s first be clear on what does not constitute  job description inflation.

One of the corner stones of unionism, in addition to seniority, is just compensation for duties performed, and for the level of responsibility the employee is required to shoulder.  Job description inflation does not occur when an employee is required to work either below, or laterally to, their classification.  Under certain circumstances, employees may be required to perform work that is below their classifications, but for which they are clearly qualified.  Likewise, an employee may, under certain circumstances, perform duties that may be somewhat different than the ones specified in their job description, but that are equal to their typical duties in skill requirement and the level of responsibility that would be required to perform those duties.

Job description inflation occurs when employees are routinely and regularly asked to work above their classifications, performing duties and shouldering responsibilities that are at a higher level than those specified in the employee’s job description. 

These duties and responsibilities may be ones that the company has formally recognized, and for which they already compensate another existing employee classification group, or they may be referenced by consulting industry standards, or they may be identified by their clear and specific identification as duties and responsibilities of a superior nature exceeding those in an employee’s job description. 

This is what job inflation is, and in part we can see how growth and change cycles are factors that contribute to creating this infraction.

We can now see why job description inflation takes place, but let’s see how it takes place.  Remember the shopping list?  Employers who have identified new duties and responsibilities for an employee group to shoulder merely add them to the existing job description after a fair price has been negotiated and settled on with the agency representing the employees; without an increase in compensation for these newly added duties and responsibilities.

 This process of getting smoothing without paying for it takes place far easier in the work place than it could ever take place outside the work place.

One reason for this is that employees rarely consult their own job descriptions’.  Also, they are often accustomed to receiving instructions from supervisors or others in management who, while ostensibly in a position to know better, are not clear on job descriptions themselves. 

Furthermore, employees are more likely to go above and beyond the scope of their job descriptions during times of economic down turn when prospects for employment are bleak.  Nevertheless, this makes job description inflation no less of an infraction.  It is the equivalent of going into a supermarket to purchase a loaf of bread, and after paying for it turning around and heading for meat department.  There is no way you would be let out of the store with a shopping cart full of steak carrying a receipt for only a loaf of bread in your hand.  Unfortunately for American workers, companies across America are getting away with some degree of this infraction every day.  When companies do this, they are in essence stealing from their employees.

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