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According to Fixed-term employment contracts at gov.uk:

Anyone who’s worked continually for the same employer for 2 years or more has the same redundancy rights as a permanent employee.

When ending a fixed-term contract specifically:

If a contract isn't renewed, this is considered to be a dismissal, and if the employee has 2 years’ service the employer needs to show that there’s a ‘fair’ reason for not renewing the contract.

Redundancy rights include redundancy pay and a notice period, among other things.

Do those redundancy rights apply for research funded staff on fixed term employment contracts at universities in England? My question covers both postdocs (Grade 6) and other research funded staff (Grade 7).

(There are also other rights, such as Any employee on fixed-term contracts for 4 or more years will automatically become a permanent employee, but those come with caveats already on the gov.uk page; my question is specifically about redundancy rights)


Edit: It appears this may depend on whether postdocs are legally considered trainees on a work-experience placement or not. Since my question covers both postdocs and other research funded staff, the trainee-or-not status of postdocs would need to be established in order to answer the overall question.

  • "Workers don’t count as fixed-term employees if they: ...are a...trainee on a work-experience placement" (source: gov.uk/fixed-term-contracts/what-counts-as-a-fixedterm-contract). So post-docs might not be considered fixed-term employees. Hence, would not be entitled severance pay. – user2768 Apr 26 '17 at 12:26
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    @user2768 I have no clue whether postdocs in the UK are legally considered "trainees on a work-experience placement". Certainly my employer does not describe me as such in my employment contract. – gerrit Apr 26 '17 at 14:03
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    @user2768 But they're also employees, and your link is from New York, USA. There must be many precedents of postdocs leaving employment at end of contract after >2 years in the UK that can inform an answer to my question. – gerrit Apr 26 '17 at 14:17
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    @user2768 My end of contract is only in two years (unless renewed by another fixed-term contract), but it never hurts to know what to expect, so the hypothetical situation of a legal conflict is not currently applicable. I only learned about those rights outlined at gov.uk recently (see also this question), so now I'm curious as it would mean the armies of fixed term staff employed by the university may be in a slightly better situation than I thought we were. – gerrit Apr 26 '17 at 14:50
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    I'll tell you this much: They are if the academic staff unions in the UK demand that they are, and stick by this demand. And if that's not the case I'm sure the universities can come up with some legal fantasy they declare to be the truth to avoid paying. – einpoklum Apr 26 '17 at 22:59
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Yes. If you refer to your contract, you will find it is a contract of employment (and probably explicitly states that you are an employee of the university*). Indeed, some universities issue permanent contracts, with a "we'll make you redundant once the funding runs out" clause, to their postdocs.

A few other points:

  • If you wanted to claim redundancy benefits, you would have to wait for the university to actually let you go. This prevents you leaving before the end of your contract, so will limit your ability to look for a new job in a timely fashion. The university could just shift you into another role to avoid the redundancy costs (especially if it's one you'll want to leave); although, hopefully, most wouldn't be that cynical.

    • (There's a possibility that they could also require you to apply for suitable, open internal positions, but I don't know whether they could seriously claim your failure to do this equated to leaving voluntarily.)
  • From your own link, there is no notice period on the non-renewal of a fixed term contract; so a notice period on non-renewal of the contract would only apply to people who, by virtue of over four years of service, have become permanent employees:

    Fixed-term contracts will normally end automatically when they reach the agreed end date. The employer doesn’t have to give any notice.

  • Postdocs are not students or trainees. Here's the definition of those two categories, from the Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 (part 5, exclusions) (emphasis added):

    18.—(1) These Regulations shall not have effect in relation to a fixed-term employee who is employed on a scheme, designed to provide him with training or work experience for the purpose of assisting him to seek or obtain work...

    [cut, funding info]

    (2) These Regulations shall not have effect in relation to a fixed-term employee whose employment consists in attending a period of work experience not exceeding one year that he is required to attend as part of a higher education course....

    [cut, references to the acts that define a HE course]

  • The pay grade is irrelevant.

*Weirdly, I have seen employment contracts that state you're not (and not for self-employed contracting arrangements). I don't know why because a court wouldn't find someone not to be an employee just because the contract says so.

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    Excellent answer. Just like to add 1) Employers are required to offer you internal redeployment opportunities if your services are no longer required. 2) Many universities will offer two levels of redundancy, an enhanced redundancy if you can show if engaged in good faith in the redeployment system and the legal minimum if you don't. Often if you take enhanced redundancy you will be barred from working at that uni for a specified period. – Ian Sudbery Feb 17 '18 at 15:46

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