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PhD candidates, Postdoctoral fellows and Corona

(14.05.20) The corona situation is unique and has led to a great deal of uncertainty. Forskerforbundet receives many calls from PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows who are being delayed in their work. We believe a national scheme must be established for this group, to ensure equal treatment.

PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows can be affected in various ways by the coronavirus and the measures the authorities are now taking, whether you become infected and ill yourself, or you are prevented from normal progression because you have to perform care work, are in quarantine or otherwise do not have access to the necessary research infrastructure.

PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows are fixed-term employees on special terms with the aim of completing a doctoral dissertation or qualification work within an agreed period of time. The terms of employment are therefore formulated so that the employees shall be ensured an extension in case of illness or other legitimate absence of a certain duration. Read more in the National Regulations concerning terms and conditions of employment, Section 2-3.

The employment regulations (and corresponding national rules for employees outside the state and the university and college sectors) do not cover all such eventualities. However, the regulations ensure that you get an automatic extension for sick leave that lasts for 14 days or more, for your own part or for children you care for.

Also, short-term sick leave may, at some institutions, grant access to an extension if these total 14 days or more, so it is important to document all absence.

From the National Regulations concerning terms and conditions of employment, Section 2-3 (6):

In the case of research fellows, the appointing body may in specific cases grant extension of the period of appointment owing to circumstances that have precluded the progression of the research training. Such circumstances may be special care burdens or unforeseen obstacles of a work nature for which the research fellow cannot be held responsible. When such circumstances result in delays, extension of the period of appointment may be granted, provided that the research fellow will be able to complete the research training before the expiry of the extension period. 

If, for various reasons, you are unable to work on your doctorate or qualification work now, we recommend that you register and document it and apply for an extension.

We take it for granted that the authorities and employers take into account the purpose of the terms of employment and will show flexibility and secure extension where PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows have been effectively hindered in their progression.

On March 25, we sent a letter to the Ministry of Education and research demanding temporary, national guidelines to ensure extension for PhD candidates and postdocs who are affected by the corona pandemic.

The Ministry have asked Universities Norway (UHR), to consider the need for temporary changes to the regulations. Universities Norway are currently charting the scope and assessing the need for such changes.

Several of the major Norwegian universities have made guidelines for extension on the basis of corona measures for their PhD candidates, but not yet for postdoctoral fellows.

The University of Oslo, the University of Bergen, NTNU and UiT the Arctic University of Norway have jointly prepared a policy for handling possible extensions for PhD candidates. Read more about this on each university's information page.

Supplementary information

There is legal basis in the regulations for extension as a result of leave that the employee is entitled to according to law or collective agreement.

Both self-certification and sick leave are statutory in Chapter 8 of the National Insurance Act. The number of self-certification days is basically 3, IA enterprises have 8 days and the regulations allow self-certification days to apply to the entire employer period of 16 days.

Sick leave is not required for the first 3 self-certification days, but if an employee is away from work beyond the 3 days, the employer may require sick leave certified by a doctor. During the coronavirus situation, the authorities have urged employers to accept the extension of self-notification days to 16 and they have said that they want to remove the provision that the employer may require sick leave when the employee is away for more than 3 days.

Quarantine and isolation are regulated by the Government in an Extraordinary Cabinet Meeting on 15 March this year.

Quarantine applies to those who have been in close contact with someone who has been confirmed infected. If the employee cannot work from home, the authorities will open for self-certification days to be used. The employee must agree the use of self-certification days with the employer.

Isolation applies to those who are confirmed infected. Those who are isolated may be entitled to sick pay. The authorities have urged employers to accept self-certification for up to 16 days for those who are not entitled to sick pay. The employee must agree the extended use of self-certification days with the employer.

Care benefit days are statutory leave in accordance with section 12-9 of the Working Environment Act. The authorities have allowed for care benefit days to be spent by parents who have to stay home with children as a result of closed kindergartens and schools.

On this basis, it is our opinion that self-certification days and care benefit days entitle you to extension in accordance with the regulations.

Article updated Thursday May 14

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