14

Basically, it is as the title says.

I have received an invitation to be a member of a grant proposal committee. They have offered a compensation for each working day (which includes interview sessions). Now, my department asks me to

  1. either give them back the entire compensation in a special account, or
  2. register vacation days for the days I have worked for this committee.

I was shocked because I never heard about that, the funding institution never mentioned anything like this, and when I asked my "manager" about that in the past, they did not mention anything about this.

The "rationale" (which I find very unconvincing) is that they already pay me so if I do something "Extracurricular" I should register it as vacations, or pay back whatever I have received.

Is this standard practice? Can I avoid it somehow?

Edit: this is The Netherlands and this task is not considered as ancillary activity and so that Collective Labor Agreement about reimbursing the compensation does not apply.

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  • 19
    Why do you expect to be paid twice for 1 days work? Either you are paid by the Grant Committee for that day or your Dept. This would be the norm in commercial employment, thats if you weren't disciplined or fired for taking a 2nd job without the 1st employers permission. May 19, 2023 at 21:07
  • 8
    That does not seem unreasonable to me, the institution is funding your department and your department is paying you a salary for your work on their clock (for the department's client). Of course, this should have been clarified in advance in a contract involving the department…
    – Bergi
    May 19, 2023 at 22:13
  • 10
    That's why the grant proposal committee should have given you a honorarium instead of a salary... May 20, 2023 at 3:56
  • 9
    I'll be honest, I am surprised about the general tone of answers here. Is this legal? Maybe. Is this common or ethical? Certainly not. I would take any request to pay back a honorarium as a clear-cut sign that this is a toxic place to work and you should get out.
    – xLeitix
    May 20, 2023 at 4:58
  • 7
    @xLeitix that depends on the circumstances. If you are from a country where the universities are only paying partial wages and they expect you to work on the side (in the summer) to make ends meet, then it makes sense that you should not pay back an honorarium. But other countries do explicitly pay living wages, with the intend to enable the employees to focus on that one job. That is really nice for the employee, but it also means the employer has now a legitimate interest in ensuring that he gets what he pays for. The Netherlands is such a country. May 20, 2023 at 9:11

5 Answers 5

24

Since you are in the Netherlands, your employment is most likely subject to the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities. The latest copy I could find can be found here. I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but Article 1.14 and 1.15 are potentially relevant. These basically say that you need prior permission for certain ancillary activities, and that you can only accept reimbursements with permission from your employer. Whether serving on a grant panel is an ancillary activity or not is another question, but it seems that the article about reimbursements applies regardless.

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    Ancillary activities are defined in 1.14.1 as " any work he performs for third parties", so it probably does count as ancillary activities. May 19, 2023 at 15:17
  • 5
    @PsySp as I told you before: You do not need to convince me, you need to convince your line manager. In all likelihood (s)he will tell you to report all paid work. But you need to talk to her or him, not to us. Whatever we say will not affect you. Whatever your line manager says will affect you. May 19, 2023 at 16:40
  • 3
    @PsySp I don't see "work" defined clearly in the linked document, but it seems reasonable to me that "work" would practically mean "work for pay", as anything else you do without being paid is not work. So, reading and reviewing papers seem like reasonable academic activities under your ordinary job, but if someone is paying you extra that is implying you're doing some additional work not covered by the pay of your ordinary job.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 19, 2023 at 17:03
  • 7
    @PsySp If you think that it is a regular part of your university job, then you can't take an extra salary for it. I think that's not unreasonable. You can't have it both ways: Either it's part of your job and in that case you're paid by your university, or it's not part of your job and in that case the agency that contracts for your work needs to pay you. But you can't claim it's part of your regular job and draw a second salary for it -- that's double dipping, and that's the part your employer is upset about. May 20, 2023 at 4:00
  • 6
    @PsySp: Note the word "generally" in your quote: it means there can be exceptions, and I wouldn't be surprised if getting paid for participating in a committee is considered an exception. (Also, did you actually "make working agreements with your supervisor in writing" regarding this?) In any case, even if this is not considered an ancillary activity, article 1.15 of the collective agreement linked in the answer (which says that "In his capacity, the employee is not allowed to accept reimbursements, remuneration or gifts, unless the employer grants its permission.") presumably still applies. May 20, 2023 at 9:09
18

There are often rules that govern how much you can work "on the side". It makes sense that you cannot do additional paid work during the hours that you are already employed. So at a minimum there are usually rules that ensure you are "on your own time" when doing additional work. So what you describe does not sound weird to me. Whether there is anything you can do about it is something you need to discuss with a legal expert. Whether that is worth it is something you need to decide.

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    @PsySp Not sure how it works where you are, but in the US it's common that faculty are responsible for finding money for some fraction of their time, usually through grants. There may be options to make up shortfalls with extra teaching, or you might just need to go with less pay. So, taking up an assignment like this covers part of that salary you need to cover. But, if the institution is already paying you to do something with that time, they're not going to be happy if do something else to get paid again.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 19, 2023 at 12:21
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    @PsySP They don't know your contractual obligations to your department. They want you to serve on a panel, so they ask you. If that somehow conflicts with your contractual obligations, then that is for you to sort out. Or at the least, for you to inform them of and ask to handle.
    – Servaes
    May 19, 2023 at 17:26
  • 4
    @PsySP That still doesn't make it their problem. You have entered a contract with your employer. It is on you and your employer to uphold it. Not any third party.
    – Servaes
    May 19, 2023 at 17:35
  • 4
    Of course it is a rather messy situation that is unsatisfactory for both you and your employer. The correct course of action would have been to inform your employer before accepting the invitation, as your contract (or CAO) explicitly states you should do. Then your employer can decide whether you can do this during your regular working hours, or whether you should take vacation days or unpaid leave to do this paid work for a third party.
    – Servaes
    May 19, 2023 at 18:01
  • 5
    @PsySp the resolution could also be to do such activity but inform them of this potential issue.
    – justhalf
    May 20, 2023 at 2:12
11

It seems perfectly reasonable to me. Your employer pays you for certain hours. They own those hours. Most institutions are happy for you to use some of their time for academic services that don't directly benefit them, but of course if there is any extra compensation for that time then it belongs to the owner of the time, i.e. your employer. In most cases (reviewing a paper, etc) this is zero, and your employer doesn't particularly need you to tell them every time "I have reviewed a paper, and here is the zero Euros I got paid". But the same principle applies - all the compensation belongs to them. In some cases they might decide to waive their right to it, but that is their decision to make.

I would just take them as holiday days. Then you are being compensated for time that belongs to you, so you get to keep the money. (Of course, this assumes that the compensation is enough to make it worthwhile.)

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    That would actually be perfectly reasonable if I was working only these hours my employer is paying me. But more often than not, I work easily work 60h/w without getting payed back the extra time and effort I put. So, according to them, they do not own me a dime for any extra hour of work I put for them, but I own them all the compensation I get for working in a grant panel.
    – PsySp
    May 20, 2023 at 8:15
  • 2
    @PsySp: …and you might have leverage there; Google "work to rule". Maybe you could apologize for misunderstanding the amount of flexibility allowed and expected in your employment with the university, and say that in the future you will work on tracking your time more accurately to ensure that you'll neither spend any paid work time on personal activities (like this grant committee) nor accidentally work more than your agreed upon hours per week. Having a lawyer or a union rep with you might be a good idea — they'll know both what to say and how to say it without sounding whiny or petulant. May 20, 2023 at 9:20
  • 1
    @IlmariKaronen Knowing the Dutch system PsySp is probably on a temporary contract. What are the chances of getting that contract extended after such an action? After you worked like that for a while what will your publication record look like? So that leverage is pretty limited. If I were a department head in such a conversation I would strongly recommend you against such actions because I don't want you to hurt yourself, but if you insist I would not care one way or another. So that is how much leverage you have. May 20, 2023 at 9:34
  • 4
    Whenever you make a statement like that, you need to consider what you are going to do if the department head calls your bluff. Is the department head really going to notice if you don't spent the extra time on finishing paper xyz? Probably only when it is time to decide whether to continue to employ you... May 20, 2023 at 11:47
  • 5
    @PsySp As an employer, they don't owe you extra hours they haven't formally asked you to perform. Your contract must be clear about this. If you, in the other hand, volunteered to give your employer roughly 50% more in number of hours from your time, remember that it's a personal choice. For you, it is extra labour that is providing some experience at best, detrimental to your life balance at worse. As for your employer, the truth is, most likely, they don't even care.
    – Theo
    May 20, 2023 at 18:20
4

Very surprised by this situation happening in the Netherlands and equally surprised by all the answers so far.

Compensation for interview panels is often ridiculously difficult to actually get transferred to your university account when you want to (which is the better solution IMHO since otherwise most of the $$$ goes to taxes). So in that respect, I'm all in favor. Just make sure to get it transferred to/added to your lab account so you are the one in control of spending it.

Knowing the system, I assume we're talking about a couple hundred euros at most. Nice to have as unrestricted funds for your lab, but not substantial for your university's budget. So don't add it to the pile.

As for work done during hours: Aren't most of us doing this on evenings and weekends??? I think it is really weird that there is talk of this work being done "on the clock". Does that mean you should never work more than stated in your contract? Good luck with that in academia...

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    I did most of this panel preparation work during my free evenings. Also, the money will be transferred to the department itself, I will have no clue/access that these funds (about 700eu)
    – PsySp
    May 19, 2023 at 22:02
  • Hmm, you're talking about funds being transferred to a university/lab account - something that would be used for research expenses maybe? Whereas, it seems OP got the funds personally. If the former is typical, and the latter is unusual, could that explain the confusion here? That is, OP thought this was money they could spend on themselves, and the assumption for the grant org and university is that these funds are spent on research expenses, and that's why the institution wants the money?
    – Bryan Krause
    May 19, 2023 at 22:02
  • 3
    Also, the money will be transferred to the department itself, That is new information. That suggests that it was never intended for you personally, but more for your lab account/travel account/some other account that you can use for "nice" things at work like going to a conference or stocking up a contract for a student assistent. This means that you need to know how university accounting works, and that is an arcane art in itself. Here I cannot overemphasize the importance of friendly relations with the secretaries. May 20, 2023 at 9:00
-3

Engage work to rule, aka malicious compliance.

If you're paid to work 37 hours (insert your actual time here) per week, then actually work that.

Then apply for leave for the time you're doing grant panel things, and all is good and above board.

You're fulfilling your contractual obligations.

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    All of that is strictly speaking true, but what will happen when you ask for your contract to be extended? May 20, 2023 at 12:37
  • And therein lies the issue with the casualisation of academia.
    – masher
    May 21, 2023 at 13:02
  • 1
    sure, we can agree that that many temporary contracts is bad. However, it still means that if the OP follows your advise (s)he will not attain her goals, but will suffer harm in her/his/their career. That is why I think this is bad advise. Is that how the world should be? No. Is that how the world is? Yes. May 22, 2023 at 7:34

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