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Managing fixed term contracts

In line with our Fair Employment For All (FEFA) initiative we are working to significantly increase our use of permanent contracts, recognising that fixed term contracts will be appropriate only in a limited range of circumstances such as cover for study leave and family leave.

Since May 2020 we have moved a significant number of fixed term employees to permanent contracts and are in the process of reviewing another cohort of fixed term staff with a view to moving those who are eligible onto permanent contracts.

Fixed term contracts should be continuously reviewed in line with organisational need and our commitments to the FEFA initiative.  We understand that managers need to sufficiently resource their teams to ensure quality services are delivered which is why, where there is a quantifiable need for additional or continuing support, there is a process in place for managers to make a case to recruit, retain or extend temporarily contracted employees.

Managers should seek advice from the HR Advisor team at the earliest opportunity in every case.

Fixed term contracts will only be used in the University for transparent, necessary and objective reasons which include:

  • Cover for a member of staff who is absent for a limited period (eg maternity leave, sickness absence);
  • Where the appointment requires specialist skills for a limited period or is to accomplish a particular task or project for a limited period;
  • Externally funded, time limited research projects where the prospect of continued funding is unlikely (usually only for the employee's first appointment with the University, where there is no evidence of continued funding.  In such circumstances the University's commitment under the research concordat will apply);
  • Appointment to clearly defined training or career development positions (eg apprentices, PTAs);
  • Secondments with the University;
  • Appointments to cope with unexpected or unpredictable period of demand over a time limited period.

It is important to identify the correct reason for issuing a fixed term contract in the first place.  If in doubt, please contact your HR Advisor for further advice.

For externally funded positions such as research posts, fixed term appointments should be offered for the maximum duration of the funding available from the outset.  Where fixed term appointments are funded from University budgets, please seek further advice from the HR Advisor team on the duration of the contract in relation to the availability of funding.

Where it is decided to offer a fixed term contract, managers should be aware of their legal responsibilities for entering into the contract, and most importantly, for ensuring the correct process is followed to bring the contract to an end.  There is a common perception that a fixed term contract will end on its stated expiry date without any further action being required on the part of the manager but this is incorrect and could potentially risk a claim of unfair dismissal being brought to the Employment Tribunal.

The expiry of a fixed term contract without renewal is treated as a dismissal in law.  To ensure any dismissal is fair within the law, managers must follow a process which includes explaining to the employee why their role is ending, having a meeting at which they may be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative and offering a right of appeal.

Managers responsible for staff employed on fixed term contracts have the following obligations:

  • Identifying the reason for offering a fixed term contract from the outset;
  • Keeping fixed term staff updated about whether their contracts may be renewed or extended;
  • Monitoring the use of successive fixed term contracts and transferring fixed term staff to permanent contracts where contracts have been extended beyond four years;
  • Following the correct procedure to end a fixed term contract including consulting with the fixed term employee, holding a meeting before confirming a fixed term contract will expire without renewal and offering the right of appeal.

HR Advisors will advise and support managers through the automated Trent workflow which will guide the manager through the procedure to follow.  Below is a summary of the roles and responsibilities of managing fixed term contracts:

  • Recruitment teams - will assist managers in advertising vacancies and determining the circumstances where a fixed term contract may be appropriate. The Recruitment team has a role to play in identifying staff applying for different roles or redeployment opportunities whose length of service or number of successive fixed term roles would require consideration for moving to or maintaining an open-ended position.
  • Employee Services - responsible for the administration and monitoring of fixed term contracts on Trent.  Working closely with the HR Advisor team, they send emails to managers and fixed term staff as part of regular administration processes and keep records on a "tracker" report.
  • HR Advisors - responsible for liaising with managers in their areas and ensuring compliance with the process.  They regularly check the status of the "tracker" adding in any known information and prompting actions where necessary to ensure the correct procedures are followed in a timely manner.  The HRAs will take a joint responsibility with the HRBPs to ensure compliance with procedures.
  • HR Business Partners - responsible for having oversight of the process in the areas they support, linking in with PVCs/DCOs/Service Heads as necessary and reminding them of the financial and procedural implications of not following the process.  They will also review the "tracker" with the HRAs on a weekly basis and make decisions about any urgent, outstanding or more complex cases.
  • Line Managers - responsible for managing fixed term staff in accordance with the relevant procedures and for responding to Employee Services when prompted through the workflow emails.
  • PVC/DCO/Heads of Service - responsible for ensuring compliance in their areas and supporting HRBPs in cases where managers are not responding.
  • Research Services - working with managers to encourage early conversations about extensions, renewals or expiry of fixed term contracts and sharing information with HRAs/Employee Services.
  • HR Casework team - provide advice and guidance to the HRAs/HRBPs on more complex cases.