Fixed-term employee regulations

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The Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 are designed to prevent fixed-term employees being treated less favourably than similar permanent employees, and to limit the use of successive fixed term contracts. The main provisions of the regulations are that:

  • Fixed-term employees should not be treated less favourably than comparable permanent employees on the grounds that they are fixed-term employees, unless this is objectively justified. Employees who believe that they are being treated less favourably than comparable permanent employees may request a written statement of the reasons for the less favourable treatment and are entitled to receive such a statement within 21 days of the request.
  • The use of successive fixed-term contracts is limited to four years, unless the use of further fixed-term contracts is justified on objective grounds. Employees who believe that their fixed-term contract should be deemed permanent under the regulations may request written confirmation of this and are entitled to receive a reply (either confirming that the contract is now permanent or setting out the objective justification for it remaining fixed-term) within 21 days of the request. Any such requests which are received must be forwarded to your HR Business Partner who will advise on a response.
  • Fixed-term employees are entitled to receive information on permanent vacancies in their organisation.

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The University's main terms and conditions of employment apply equally to all staff but divisions and departments should take care to ensure that fixed-term staff have equal access to training, career progression, appraisal, etc. Any difference in treatment between fixed-term and permanent staff should be avoided if at all possible; where it is genuinely unavoidable there must be a clear objective justification which can be provided within the statutory 21-day period to any staff who query it.

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The Fixed-Term Employees Regulations permit the continued use of fixed-term contracts in certain circumstances, for example, where an 'objective justification' exists. No specific justification is required for the use of the first fixed-term contract and there is no limit on the length of time for which an initial fixed-term contract may be offered (although of course there must be a fair reason under employment law for any non-renewal of such a contract and it is therefore strongly recommended that divisions and departments are able to justify objectively every fixed-term contract which they offer).

The regulations must be very carefully considered in relation to the renewal of a fixed-term appointment where the individual has already been, or would be under the new contract, continuously employed on one or more fixed-term contracts for a total period of four years or more. In such circumstances, the employer must be able to demonstrate a clear objective justification for issuing a further fixed-term contract rather than a contract of indefinite duration: and where, on application by the postholder, this cannot be demonstrated within the statutory 21-day period, a contract of indefinite duration will be deemed to exist and will be enforced by an Employment Tribunal.

Staff employed on fixed-term contracts may exercise their right to assert that they are employed on a permanent contract/to receive an explanation for the continued use of a fixed-term contract. Departments and divisions who receive such a request from a member of staff must seek advice from University HR before responding.

The UCU nationally takes a particular interest in monitoring the implementation of the Regulations. The overall use of different types of contract across the University is monitored centrally by University HR, and regular reports on this are given to joint committees with staff representatives. The annual reports to UCU highlight a relatively low take-up of the open-ended contract, and a lower reduction than had been hoped in the percentage of fixed-term contracts overall.

Departments are asked to give very careful consideration to the rationale for continuing to employ staff on a fixed-term rather than an open-ended contract.

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Fixed-term professors, readers, lecturers, and certain other academic staff covered by the sabbatical legislation (Council Regulations 4 of 2004) are eligible to apply for sabbatical leave provided that they have sufficient service and are able to satisfy the expectation under that legislation that they intend to serve for at least one subsequent term in respect of each term of leave granted. In practice this means that only staff holding contracts of 8 terms or longer will be eligible. As with all applications for sabbatical leave, divisional boards have discretion whether to approve or not, but must bear in mind the requirements of the legislation to treat fixed-term staff equally unless there is an objective justification for not doing so.

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In order to comply with the requirement to treat fixed-term staff equally to permanent staff, fixed-term professorships, readerships and associate professorships must be associated with a college fellowship. As with permanent posts, this does not have to be a tutorial fellowship.

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