Contract Research Position and Unemployment
June 10, 2021 9:17 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone had an experience with applying for unemployment after a grant-funded job ends? I accepted a two-year research assistant position with a large university, but when I signed, it was represented to me that the fixed-term nature was solely due to funding concerns: my position would be funded by a two-year grant, so although there was no *guarantee* there would funding after those two years, if another grant could be found to support me, I would be kept on/re-signed. Unfortunately, another grant couldn't be found, so I had to leave, despite the fact that both I and my boss wanted me to stay on. However, I recently learned that the university marked my departure as "voluntary," which may cause some problems re: unemployment, etc.

In my experience/to my knowledge, this is the standard setup for grant-funded positions like this! The last job that I held like this, I *did* leave voluntarily, so I never had to try to apply for unemployment, etc. But it can't be the case that all un-funded research assistants are just left out in the cold...right?

Has anyone else held (or hired for, I suppose) a grant-funded position like this, and are/were you able to get unemployment (or the recently enacted COBRA subsidy, COVID relief pay, etc.)? Did you have to go through extra steps/is there something you would recommend that I do?

I did apply for unemployment, before all this came to light, and my claim was accepted, so the state apparently thinks that my leaving was involuntary, although I suppose it's possible they just took my word for it and didn't check in with my employer?? (It was when I tried to apply for the COVID COBRA subsidy that I learned, from the company that coordinates those benefits, that the university said my departure was "voluntary")
posted by Meow Face to Work & Money (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In most/all states, fixed term employment agreements are not covered by unemployment.

That said, if the university doesn't contest your unemployment claim, that detail is somewhat irrelevant. A decent number of organizations (academic and not) have a policy of not contesting unemployment claims that are not especially egregious. It's generally poor optics to leave students out in the cold, even if the law allows the organization to.

You should be aware that in most states, your claim can be contested or denied after you start receiving benefits. If that occurs, you may be asked to pay back the benefits you receive. You may consider being somewhat cautious on how you spend the money you're receiving.
posted by saeculorum at 9:42 PM on June 10, 2021

I do not think what saeculorum is saying is true- especially if you were paying into UI.

Though each state is different, you had a job for two years. I would call COBRA and simply explain the situation grant-funded employee, the contract ended and no alternative position was offered. See if they continue to say no, or how to file an appeal. I'd file an appeal no matter what.

You can also reach out to your States labor board/department of labor and ask them, they should be able to provide an answer fairly quickly.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:58 PM on June 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It was a long time ago (like almost 20 years) but I definitely got unemployment after my grant funding ran out and I was let go as a research assistant. And I left more voluntarily than you - things weren’t working out and I was ready for a career change, so when there was a shortfall, of the two RAs in the lab I was the one who got let go.
posted by mskyle at 3:39 AM on June 11, 2021

Best answer: Yes, I did have this happen and got unemployment benefits, but it took several phone interviews with my case person. My leaving also coincided with summer, so I had a difficult time convincing them that I wasn’t a nine-month employee returning in the fall who was trying to game the system. My person only thought of universities as places that employed faculty and did not know about the existence of research, and that it was unconnected to instruction. They called the university HR office, not my PI, so I didn’t have the hassle of “grants are temporary by nature” and hopefully you won’t, either. The whole experience was really tailor-made for adding insult to injury, but I got the benefits.
posted by Knowyournuts at 8:09 AM on June 11, 2021

Response by poster: (Just to close out this question, if anyone was curious, the university *did* end up changing my termination to "involuntary"---it took a couple phone calls, and they didn't explain exactly what led them to change their decision, but since it ended up in my favor I didn't pry too much)
posted by Meow Face at 12:08 PM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

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