Contract legality question


 I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask this but I'm looking for advice so if someone could advise me where I could possibly seek guidance, that would be great. I figured HR professionals might be of help because it is a job/HR issue.

 Some background information. I'm a full-time graduate student but I was also hired as a graduate assistant. I signed a contract for the graduate assistant position for the academic year which pays me a small stipend per week in addition to having my tuition paid for. In the contract it states I will work 20 hours per week. In the graduate assistant manual, it clearly states graduate assistants will work a maximum of 20 hours per week.

However, the department I am working in and for the specific graduate assistant job I have, made it quite clear that working just 20 hours a week was not OK. And in fact, previous G.A.'s worked a standard 40 hour work week (10 to 6) in addition to having numerous assignments on week nights and weekends. It's an athletic department at a major D-I university and requires working events and traveling with teams so a lot of weekends are completely away and working quite a bit. I wasn't aware prior to be hiring that this was the case. I figured it'd be around 20 hours, not 48 a week. It seems highly unfair because if you are a G.A. in another department, say the history department or the business school, you get paid the same amount but only have to work those 20 hours under the same exact contract.

 It seems quite clear that what this department is doing is violating the contract and it upsets me because they are getting a lot of free value out of me, not to mention overtime. I am not sure what my options are. Classes are about to start so if I quit I will lose my tuition and then I can find a full time job and go to classes part-time, which is OK. But I feel I shouldn't have to be put in this position because I am quite okay with working to the extent the contract deems. I am, however, not OK with a 40-plus hour work week. Should I seek out the HR department with the university? If I do that, don't I risk creating a bad working situation for myself? Should I quit? It just seems unfair me to have to quit when I've been mislead. And there are many other G.As in this department that work long hours but never have thought to complain about it before, at least not that I am aware of. I just started. If anyone could provide any guidance or direct me to a Web site or someone else that might be of help, I'd greatly appreciate. I am very confused about the situation.



  • 3 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • Not knowing the specific language of your contract, and whether there are any clauses that provide exceptions to the hours requirement, it is tricky to answer your question. However, if there are no exceptions and the hours requirement in the contract is ironclad, sounds like a pretty clear violation of your contract with the school. You are right, if you challenge the work arrangement it will not endear you to the staff at the athletic department. What they are doing is improper, possibly illegal, and certainly unfair. However, it sounds like they have done it before and gotten away with it, so rocking the boat will be unpleasant.

     You can now either (1) work the extra hours, keep your job and get the tuition benefits, (2) question the hours arrangement, use the contract as your basis for arguing that hours should be reduced and (most likely) risk alienating your supervisor(s) and co-workers. The school may be unaware that the athletic department is violating the G.A. contracts, so any reporting by you could be met with surprise, and could result in serious repercussions and restructuring within the department. So, beware that your actions may have serious consequences beyond your personal situation. I do not envy you, but this is definitely a personal choice.

    For more information on your contractual rights, I would definitely get an attorney to look over your contract to ensure that you are within your rights to ask for an adjustment in hours (assuming you are considering challenging this arrangement). Good luck.

  • I agree with Joy1 that this definitely is not a pleasant situation to be in.  I also agree that an attorney may be an option, but if you don't want to go that route, here are a couple of other suggestions.  Is there an academic advisor or someone of that nature that you could go to?  Another option is a law professor that could talk about contracts with you.

    I would read the contract over very carefully and see if there are any disclaimers regarding the number of hours.  If there aren't then I would go see someone about this.  If you have a contract and then a manual that talks about hours then something needs to be said and done.




  • There are definitely some real legal issues here - especially the overtime and breach of contract possibilities. Universities usually have a pretty good set up as to who you should go talk to about situations like this. An HR department, or an academic advisor, or even one of your professors. I wold certainly bring it to someone's attention. Yoiu might also conside getting a lawyer to look at the contract - or perhaps your university has a law school with a clinic or a law professor that would be willing to take a look at your agreement.

    It certainly seems like you've been put in a very unfair position - and I don't think that it would be wrong for you to look into it... Good luck!

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