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Is it usual for postdocs (I'm in the US) to sign one contract with the department and then have to accept a notice of appointment online which supercedes the initial one signed?

I signed my postdoc job offer before moving to the US to take up the position and then when I arrived in the country I had to accept what turned out to be my actual contract online which differed from the original one (different start date and end date). This second one stipulates that it supersedes any previous documents signed or verbal agreements given. This has now happened again after a year in the post. A pay rise which was agreed to start on one date has now been pushed back a fortnight on the second document which I am now expected to accept.

Is this normal? Is this fair? Any advice appreciated.

  • I don't think it is normal, and it did not happen to me when I had a postdoc in the U.S. – Oswald Veblen Oct 26 '15 at 22:19
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From the OP's comment:

When questioned, I was told that this is what the contract is now.

Hmm. Most of the point of a contract is that it cannot be unilaterally changed during the period it applies to. So you can absolutely insist on the old contract -- in fact, just by not signing the new one -- but the last six words of the previous sentence are key. If you signed a one year contract but have the expectation (or even informal agreement) of longer employment, then refusing to sign the new contract could place your future employment in serious jeopardy.

You are really not being treated properly, but you have to decide whether it's worth it to take action. I couldn't be completely sure, but it sounds like you are saying that you signed a contract for a certain salary and are now being asked to sign a contract to cover the same employment period for a lesser salary. Isn't that kind of the gold standard of unacceptable (and of course, illegal) employer behavior? If I were in that situation I would not be willing to sign a contract lowering my own salary. I would do my best to work the situation out amicably, but I would understand that this might lead to a parting of ways between me and the university.

In case it's not obvious, this is definitely something to discuss with both your supervisor and the department head. Their attitude might be "We know it sucks, and there's nothing we can do about it" but even so you should get their advice and, if possible, their support.

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It is not fair. It is not normal, but it is also unsurprising. Bureaucratic errors happen in large organizations. For example, once I received a contract after the deadline to sign and return it. I advise you politely ask the university to revise the contract before you sign it. They will probably need the online contract because the paper contract is too hard to keep track of.

  • Thank you for your response. When questioned, I was told that this is what the contract is now. I assume bureaucratic delay is what has lead to the change in dates. All the contracts I have received have been after the deadline, I've never been able to sign one before my previous contract expired. – Anon Oct 25 '15 at 23:57

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