Ask the panel

March 30, 2007

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

'I am a senior academic at a traditional research-led university. A colleague at a university nearby has asked me if I would like to teach one evening a week in his department to supplement my income. The pay is quite good and I would enjoy the contact with a different set of students and colleagues. But the staff handbook at my institution says academics can't take on outside paid employment without the principal's permission, who has indicated he doesn't wish to grant it. I perform well in my job and the timing of the outside work - all after 6pm - means there is no chance of it interfering with my ability to keep performing well. Is my employer allowed to place this sort of restriction on what I do in my free time? Would he be able to take a slice of or "tax" any money I make from such outside activities?'

* A spokesman for the University and College Union says: "Most employers cannot restrict the activities outside of the hours that an employee has agreed to work. However, if this provision is in your staff handbook, it could form part of your contract with your university.

"You should seek clarification from human resources or your local union rep as to whether this provision is a contractual term. If it is, it would be judged that you have voluntarily agreed to it in taking up your post. This would mean that your employer would be allowed to make this kind of restriction on your time outside your main workplace.

"You mention that the principal has indicated he does not wish to grant permission for you to take on this teaching. You should consider whether you should formally apply to the principal, giving the reasons you have cited to show that this work would not interfere with your main job. This could also give you the chance to address any concerns your university may have about the proposed additional teaching.

"It is also worth finding out if others have applied to take on outside work and whether they were successful. These examples could be useful for your own application or in assessing whether there are discriminatory patterns in approval of such requests. Your local union rep should be able to advise you on this.

"If you were to take on this teaching, it is unlikely that your employer could take a slice of the earnings, as you would have to give consent for this. This would be a highly unusual arrangement. You should be aware that you would be liable for tax on any earnings, which, as this is in addition to your main job, is likely to be at your highest rate of tax."

* A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association says:

"It is standard practice to have a procedure that requires academic staff to seek permission from their university before undertaking certain types of outside activities. Activities that go hand in hand with academic roles within a university, such as external examining, book reviewing, writing articles or undertaking broadcasts, tend not to require special permission and are usually encouraged. But activities that require an ongoing commitment from a member of staff (paid or unpaid), such as you describe, usually require permission. This is for various reasons, including the need to ensure that the outside work you wish to undertake will not interfere or conflict with your university duties in any way, that you will not be making unreasonable use of university resources and that your university will not be liable in any way for this additional work. Your university can refuse permission if it has good reason to do so. If you obtain the necessary permission and the work is entirely private, your university would not expect a percentage of your earnings."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, Research Councils UK and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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