Thursday, July 24, 2014

Anyone ever had grad student/postdoc pay stop because of the university changing its policies?

I'm hearing about grad students at a research university having their pay periods change, and therefore basically missing a paycheck. There is blame on the Affordable Care Act, which is a little odd.

What happens in these sort of situations? Has anyone ever heard of such a thing? What is the most effective way for a group of graduate students or postdocs to mount a response? 

15 comments:

  1. Does seem odd regardless of ACA as presumably there are labor laws that protect even grad students so would never actually "miss a paycheck". In the past I have experienced a pay schedule switch from every two weeks to a twice a month schedule where the transition was planned well in such a way that there was virtually no disruption in when received the deposit for new scheme (and in fact may have been a couple days before would have gotten a payment under the old system, one of few times can say HR was worthwhile). Maybe in a university operating on a school calendar there could be semester/summer session factors to cause a wider gap than usual but again would doubt would not be addressed to accommodate least disruption. Most departments should have and then Universities always will have people in charge of payroll that can find and if there are any questions or concerns would recommend getting in touch with them (and could clear up any rumors).

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  2. Is it only one department that's experiencing the lapse? I don't know if this student's grad program is unionized, but obviously that would be the first place to go if they are (same for the post docs, our post docs are part of the faculty union). The distinction between one department screwing up pay and all grad students at the university getting hit should help them figure out whether it's the department or the university accounting that gets the first call (ACA blame to me sounds like it's a whole university thing, which is definitely shady).

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    1. The Iron ChemistJuly 25, 2014 at 8:57 AM

      Seemingly everything gets blamed on the ACA.

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  3. It happened fairly regularly at my PhD university that individual students or occasionally a whole department would miss a paycheck because of a technical error. It was usually blamed a faculty member forgetting to register someone or respond to an admin about how they were supporting a student, or sometimes a problem in the Chemistry office. It was usually resolved with an extra paycheck a week or two later. It happened to me once in six years, and it was fixed the next week.

    We also switched from monthly to weekly paychecks after my 3rd year, and no one was particularly happy about it, because there were large gaps with no checks between semesters (until they finally figured out a gap-free schedule right as I was leaving). Plus, in Boston a weekly paycheck didn't come close to covering your rent...

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  4. Not this problem, but I had written for and received a grant to work on a special project during one summer and the monies to pay for the summer were set in that grant. It was to be payed out as a lump sum or over three months and the university instead decided that it would pay the deposit out over the entire calendar year. The shock that came when my first paycheck of summer hit and it was not enough to purchase minimal food let alone rent. I had to really fight with the university to get them to pay me the money in order to live. Thankfully the department head really went to bat on this for me and my landlords were more than willing to let me pay late while my parents sent me money to cover the bills. My experience is that they will try and hold and sit on as much money as possible.

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  5. I'd like to clarify the situation. I'm the person (or perhaps one of the people?) that contacted CJ about this.

    This is not a change from every 2 weeks to every month. Our contact ends on a certain day and begins again two weeks later. We will not be compensated for that time afterwards (no extra check will be sent out), but we're obviously expected to still work during that time. No union, but we are mounting a general response from grad students and post docs.

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    1. Sounds like time for a holiday...

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    2. Anon#4 This is the notification that we received: "All Spring/Summer contracts end on 08/15/2014. This is the end of the 2013-2014 Academic Period. Due to ACA reporting requirements introduced this year the effective dates on student contracts must now coincide with the 1st day of the pay period. Therefore, the start date of the 2014-2015 Academic Period will be 08/30/2014. Contracts for Fall Semester 2014 will be created during finals week in August (08/11/2014-08/15/2014) and will be effective 08/30/2014-12/19/2014.

      Please note for continuing students this creates a two week gap. You will not be covered by a contract between 08/16/2014 and 08/29/2014. Your last pay check in August will be August 22nd. Your next pay check will be September 19th."

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  6. I'm Anon #2-- is this chemistry only or with more departments involved?

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    1. Anon#4 We are still trying to figure out if it is University wide or only our department that is affected.

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  7. I'm Anon #3. When my university switched from monthly to weekly paychecks we had gaps that weren't paid, but the actual amount paid (Monthly x 12 / number of weeks we actually got checks) was still the same, but we just had to adjust to the new schedule. Are you sure your department / university isn't changing the amount of money in the checks to compensate for the different schedule? I'm sure your university argues that you aren't compensated based on time worked, but instead are compensated on the academic calendar. Unfortunately grad school (in science at least) doesn't work that way so without a union you probably don't have much ground to stand on.

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  8. Sounds hinky to me. I do know that when I was in grad school there could be a summer month without pay switching between RA and TA. Special circumstances I think. It happened to my (now) spouse I think.

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  9. I've been out of grad school for ~10 years, so my memory on this is a little fuzzy, but I believe that during my graduate career, I was getting some kind of health insurance through the university. If that's your situation, I'd recommend doing some advanced digging to see how not being under contract might impact your insurance coverage. While it's never a good time to have a lab accident, a period where you might not have insurance would be a particularly bad time for that to occur.

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  10. Anon #4. I had a good conversation with my advisor who then talked to the business office. The matter is now resolved: "Please disregard the contract change mentioned in Wednesday’s email (see below). All current graduate students will continue without a break into Fall Semester. Your contracts will be effective 08/16/2014-12/19/2014. Contracts for new graduate students will begin on 08/30/2014."

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  11. Anon #2 again-- Congrats! I'm glad that they got their shit together.

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