A friend recently showed me a payment slip from a university where she had given a guest lecture back in November. The university had duly paid her fee and expenses, after the usual delays. Again as normal, it had deducted tax from her fee. All in all, a standard procedure.
At the bottom of the slip, the university had added a short message. The message was not, of course, to thank her for spending time writing the lecture, travelling to the university, and engaging with her audience. This is what it said:
Pay has been withheld in respect of the strike action on the following days:
31st October 2013 (full day)
23rd January 2014 (two hours)
28th January (full day)
To repeat, this was for a lecture in November.
I’ve just been fired. Without any notice, the payroll and pensions section of the University’s HR department has sent me my P45, along with a polite note of thanks ‘for the work which you have done for the University’, and an account of my total pay and tax to date.
This would be very depressing news, except for one thing. The letter and P45 came from the University of Surrey. So far as I am aware, my own institution has no plans to dismiss me, at least not yet. But why on earth would an organisation that doesn’t employ me decide to give me the boot?
The answer is that three years ago, I examined a doctorate at Surrey. Since then, nothing. As the P45 puts it, my salary since then comes to £0.00, and the University solmenly records that it paid £0.00 in tax on my behalf.
So why on earth is a rational HR specialist spending their employer’s time on this nonsense? In the words of the payroll and pensions section, ‘In accordance with HMRC and sector-wide best practice we are required formally to cease the post when the contract ends’. Anyone want to put a cost on this particular bit of ‘best practice’?
As university heads of HR hunt in packs, I suppose that I and my colleagues can now expect to be fired by quite a few universities who have asked us to serve as external examiners. But like the equally pointless practice of asking externals to show passports even when they are already employed in another university, it suggests that we are drifting towards a redefinition of the role of external examiner, as an employee.