Fixed-Term & Temporary Contracts in Research
On 18 April 2007 the Academic Fixed-Term Contract Law (Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz, WissZeitVG, Federal Law Gazette (BGBl) I No. 13 of 17 April 2007, p. 506 ff.) came into force, significantly modifying the previously applicable regulations on fixed-term employment contracts at higher education institutions and research facilities.
Since the 5th amendment to the HRG (Hochschulrahmengesetz, the framework law governing higher education in Germany) came into force, creating the 12- or 15-year limits (maximum fixed-term contract period or qualification phase), the DFG has been advocating for greater flexibility in these provisions to benefit employees receiving third-party funding. The DFG therefore strongly welcomes the opening up of the maximum fixed-term contract period to staff members whose positions are funded predominantly by third parties through the WissZeitVG.
The same applies to the extension of the qualification phase by two years for each child looked after in the household of a scientist or academic. This new regulation offers outstanding young female researchers, in particular, the opportunity to better combine work and family, without having to worry about the permitted maximum fixed-term contract period expiring.
§§ 57 a ff. HRG Becomes a Separate Law
The provisions created by the 5th amendment to the HRG on the limitation of contracts for scientific employees of higher education institutions and research facilities (until now: §§ 57 a ff. HRG) have been separated from the HRG and placed into a separate law – the WissZeitVG. The 12- or 15- year limit within which limited employment contracts may be concluded with no reason required, remains in place. This regulation on the maximum fixed-term contract period has, however, been expanded in two areas:
Childcare Leads to Extended Qualification Phases
If adopted or biological children of less than 18 years of age are taken care of in the household of the scientist or academic in question, the qualification phase is extended by two years per child. This ruling applies to both parents, provided that both live in the same household as the children in question; the parents’ marital status is irrelevant.
Example: If the mother and father of a minor child are both employed on fixed-term contracts, both within the maximum fixed-term contract period, and both living in the same household as the child requiring care, both can be employed on limited-term contracts for a maximum of 14 (12+2) or 17 (15+2) years.
This extension of the qualification phase also applies in cases where one or both parents take parental leave or reduce their working hours in order to take care of their children. The previously applicable prolongation of the permitted maximum fixed-term contract period by the period of parental leave, maternity leave, leaves of absence or a reduction in working time by at least 20 percent in order to provide childcare also remain unaffected.
Example: The maximum fixed-term contract period can be extended by maternity leave (14 weeks), parental leave (up to three years) and the new provisions of the WissZeitVG (two years) to 17 years and 14 weeks. Any additional periods of time in which the employee in question reduces his or her working hours by more than 20% in order to focus on childcare should be added to this; if a reduction in working hours from the full number of hours to half the number of hours takes place over the period of one year, the permitted maximum fixed-term contract period would be extended by a further six months.
Third-Party-Funded Contracts after the End of the Maximum Fixed-Term Contract Period
Once the 12 or 15-year period has expired, it has, up until now, been possible to limit employment contracts to the length of research projects funded by third parties. Due to the numerous labour-law-related risks associated with this type of arrangement, however, university administrators have only rarely taken advantage of this option. The WissZeitVG has now created the opportunity for personnel receiving third-party funding to be legally employed on fixed-term contracts even beyond the end of their qualification phase. Conditions for this type of third-party-funded limited contract are:
The overwhelming majority, i.e. at least more than half (50 percent + x) of the funding for the position in question must come from external sources. The topping up or “stretching” of third-party-funded positions from general budgetary funds is permitted.
Example: This enables two positions that are fully funded by third parties to be divided into three positions and “topped up” with budgetary funds. These may then be limited according to the regulations described above.
The third-party funding must be made available for a specific research project and for a limited period of time.
Fixed-term contract employees must also be occupied mainly with tasks pertaining to this research project; the undertaking of teaching duties, activities for other research projects, etc., is permitted, provided that work on the third-party-funded research project predominates.
The permitted contractual period is based on the duration of the grant.
Example: In a DFG-funded research project, the initial term of which is set at two years and then extended by an additional year, a fixed-term two-year contract can be concluded, and then followed by one for 12 months.
These special regulations also apply to non-scientific members of project staff, who can also be employed on fixed-term contracts under the same conditions.
The WissZeitVG has created a legally secure basis for awarding fixed-term contracts to employees receiving third-party funding after the expiration of the applicable maximum fixed-term contract period. This enables outstanding scientists and academics who have come to the end of their maximum fixed-term contract period and are waiting to be appointed to a professorship to be retained within the German scientific system. The fact that time and personal commitments involved in child-rearing are now considered in calculating the maximum fixed-term contract period is welcomed. The DFG hopes that the university administrators will make use of the opportunities created by the WissZeitVG.