Assignments and duties

Your rights regarding your employee assignment


Your employee rights regarding assignments vary greatly depending on whether you have a contract.

Contract employees

In general, school districts have a great deal of discretion when it comes to assignment decisions, but the amount of discretion they have for contract staff is based on the wording of the contract. Employees under contract have agreed to work and the district has agreed to employ the employee for the entire school year under the contract terms. These terms determine what assignments and reassignments can be made.

Noncontract employees

A noncontract or at-will employee has no contract, so there is no binding agreement between the district and employee as to what the assignment will be. This makes it easy for either party to make changes, though practically, the district, as the employer, has far more opportunity to force the employee to make an unwanted assignment change. That said, employees who do not have contracts have greater flexibility in responding to unwelcome assignments/reassignments; they are free to resign at any time.
Employees who begin work with a new district often believe that they have been hired for specific positions and that they will always be entitled to hold that position until they retire or resign from the district. That’s why it’s often an unwelcome shock when word comes down that their job assignments are being changed. 

The reality is that almost all employees can be reassigned to different positions, whether they are bus drivers getting different routes, secretaries being moved to another campus or teachers moved from one grade level to another. Again, the key document is the contract, if there is one.

Contract employees

As explained above, a district is generally free to assign an individual to any position that fits within the contract’s professional capacity, and most if not all contracts also contain an assignment and reassignment clause stating that the district may reassign the employee. This clause allows the district to change the educator’s specific assignment to another specific assignment that also fits under the contract’s description of the professional capacity. In this case, the more narrow the stated professional capacity, the more limited the district’s right to reassign the educator.

For example: If the contract states a professional capacity of “certified classroom teacher,” the district can reassign the educator to any classroom teaching position for which he is properly certified. If the educator’s contract states “fifth-grade classroom teacher,” then the district can only reassign the educator to another fifth-grade position.
 
A negative reassignment, such as a demotion, motivated by factors such as retaliation or discrimination might be illegal and therefore contested legally.
 
There might also be reasons specific to a particular employee, possibly related to a disability or health condition, limiting a district’s ability to reassign the employee to a particular position, even if the reassignment was valid under the employee’s contract.

Even if a reassignment fits within the contract, it can be contested by filing a grievance or other appropriate administrative procedure.

Noncontract employees

Generally, noncontract at-will employees can be legally reassigned to any position at any time. As with contract employees, there might be evidence in rare instances that a reassignment was made for an illegal reason, such as retaliation for filing a grievance or because of the employee’s gender, race, ethnicity, religion, disability or age. Generally, if a reassignment is made primarily because of one of these characteristics, and it amounts to a demotion or is in some other way negative, then it might be an illegal action. If it is based in part on these factors, but the district can show it would have reassigned the employee anyway for other valid reasons, then the reassignment is probably legal.

Also, as with contract employees, there might be reasons specific to a particular employee, possibly related to a disability or health condition, limiting a district’s ability to reassign that employee to a particular position, even if the reassignment was otherwise acceptable.

Even if a reassignment is legal, the employee can contest it through the grievance process.

Reassignments outside of your certification area

School districts are required to fill all teaching assignments with people who are fully certified for them whenever possible. When it’s necessary to fill an assignment with a person not certified in that area, the district must secure a temporary or emergency permit for the assigned individual. An educator can usually refuse to accept reassignment to a position for which they are not properly certified. However, if the educator’s previous assignment no longer exists due to a reduction in force (RIF) or a program change, the educator might face termination if an assignment is refused.  

Districts are also required by law to notify the parents of students who are in classes taught by teachers who are not certified for the assignment. This includes teachers on emergency and temporary permits. This law does not apply to teachers in alternative certification programs, on district permits or who are certified in another state and awaiting Texas certification. Districts must distribute this notice no later than 30 instructional days after the teacher begins the assignment.
From time to time, an employee might be asked or required to perform some duty outside of his primary job.

For example: A teacher might be required to act as an afternoon bus monitor or attend a grade-level meeting after regular work hours. An assistant principal might be required to attend all after-school athletic events.

Employees might wonder whether they can be required to perform these extra duties and, if so, whether they have to be paid extra for doing so. Neither answer is simple.

Contract employees

For contract employees, the subject of additional duties is first governed by the contract itself. Most teacher contracts contain a specific clause stating that additional duties can be assigned at the district's discretion. Most teacher contracts also do not state duty hours. These two factors mean that generally, a district is able to require some work time beyond the ordinary workday. Exactly how much work can be required is a subject of hot debate.

The question becomes whether working any extra hours or days would be considered a reasonable additional duty. The inquiry typically used in making that decision is whether it was something that the parties—educator and district—knew or reasonably should have known might be required when they initially entered the contract.

The reasonableness of an additional duty is a very subjective determination. There is no “black-and-white” test for what falls under the contract, but individual facts in each case will determine the outcome. The focus is first on what is commonly expected of educators in general and, second, what has been expected of educators locally. The question is: Should the educator have known this was or could be expected when he signed his contract?

Traditional teacher tasks would be considered reasonable, such as preparing lessons, grading in the evenings, and occasionally attending after-school department meetings and parent-teacher conferences. But, as expectations evolve, so does the standard for reasonable. It has become increasingly common for teachers to tutor after regular hours and attend weekend pre-STAAR preparation sessions. As these become more common and an understood part of teaching, it is also possible that they are a more reasonable additional duty.

Local expectations are also important. If teachers know that in their district teachers are expected to work at the concession stand during school athletic events and sign their contracts knowing that, then they have agreed to accept that as a part of their jobs. If teachers know that on their campus, the teachers are expected to attend weekly grade-level planning meetings after hours, that means the meetings are more likely to be considered reasonable additional duties.

Sudden changes raise more questions—changes such as a mid-year 30-minute extension of the workday or being told that you must provide medical services to a new student. It might be less clear that a teacher should have known that he was “signing on” for this duty when he agreed to his contract.

The same analysis is used when the issue is not extra time but instead some sort of new duty. As mentioned, having teachers work as bus monitors is fairly common, so that would pretty clearly be considered a reasonable additional duty under the contract. The same would be true for meeting with parents, even difficult parents, so a teacher generally cannot refuse to do so. But other more unusual tasks can raise questions. For example, a teacher might be informed that a new student has special medical needs that she is going to have to perform—perhaps giving a shot or assisting with restroom needs. These might raise questions about needed training or safety, and that might make a particular duty unreasonable. Again, there is a lot of gray area here.

Most educator contracts also state that the educator’s normal salary compensates the educator for all additional duties performed. So, if an assignment would be considered a reasonable additional duty, the district does not provide additional compensation. Generally, when an educator receives extra compensation for performing a duty, that duty is called a supplemental duty rather than an additional duty. (Supplemental duties are discussed below.)

Can you refuse an additional duty? The answer is a definite "maybe." Your contract gives the district the right to assign additional duties, so reasonable additional duties cannot simply be refused. However, supplemental duties are usually not covered by the contract and can be refused. A lot depends on the classification of a particular assignment. Generally, supplemental duties are included in the supplemental duty salary schedule and are those that take more time and thus warrant more compensation. Coaching is probably the most common example of a supplemental duty. There is a lot of gray area as to when a reasonable "additional duty" that cannot be refused becomes so burdensome as to make it unreasonable.

As with all issues involving the workplace, an educator can try to have additional duties removed or modified by informally discussing the matter with supervisors or by filing a grievance.

Noncontract employees

The answers are much simpler for noncontract employees. Because there is no contract, the district is generally free to require that the employee perform any legal task. The employee can try to explain why the additional duty should not be required, but—except in situations where some specific legal right is at issue, such as a reasonable accommodation for a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act—the employer can demand that the employee perform the task. Should all efforts to persuade the employer fail, the employee’s only recourse is resignation.  

Can districts extend the school day?

Section 25.082(a) of the Texas Education Code requires a minimum school day of seven hours, including intermissions and recesses. There is no maximum workday set in state or federal law. Local policy therefore determines the number of hours in a workday.

For contract employees, an extension might be considered a change in the contract term that cannot be made during the contract. This is why school districts usually announce planned changes for the next school year in the spring.

Work hours can be changed at any time for noncontract employees. 
Because schools generally close during the summer months, most educators are not required to work during the summer unless their contracts extend through the summer, as is the case for many administrators, or the educators have agreed to perform some type of special service, such as summer school. However, district-required summertime professional development is becoming more frequent.

Most school district employees are familiar with a clause in their employment contracts stating that "additional duties" may be assigned. This means that the employee and the school district agree that the employee can be expected to perform duties beyond his regular duties during the contract period. However, that "additional duties" clause does not permit the school district to assign duties beyond the contract dates. This means that the duties assigned to you based on this clause of your employment contract should end with the last workday of the school year. So, in most cases, a summer professional development requirement cannot be based solely on this clause in your contract.

However, each school district has the legal authority to require a particular level of professional development or continuing education for its employees to maintain employment with the district. Such requirements may be greater than the general Texas teacher certification requirements.

For example: A school district could decide that all of its teachers must be certified in bilingual education by a certain date. Every teacher in the school district would be responsible for meeting the additional education and certification requirement by the required date. If a teacher didn’t meet the requirement, the district could likely end the teacher's employment following the deadline.
 
In addition, as noted above, in most cases a district cannot directly require an educator to work during the summer because the educator’s contract does not cover the summer. However, an increasing number of districts are “swapping out” two days of professional development in the summer for two days of work during the traditional school year, effectively extending the contract to cover these days. If the summer workdays are actually contract workdays, then a district can require the work and, as is often the case, “dock” the salary of an educator who fails to complete the professional development.   
Supplemental duties, like additional duties, are assignments that are separate from an educator’s primary duty. But there are two important distinctions between a supplemental duty and an additional duty:
  1. A supplemental duty has a stipend attached to it under district policy. The district realizes that the duty is time-consuming enough to warrant additional compensation. Coaching is a good example. But because it’s up to each district to determine what positions have stipends, one district might treat a position as a supplemental duty with a stipend, while another district might consider the same position an additional duty with no stipend.   
  2. A supplemental duty is often considered to be outside the contract, while an additional duty is part of the contract and, as such, an educator can be directed to perform the additional duty. This means that in many cases an educator can decide to “quit” the supplemental duty without any effect on her contract. By the same token, the district can often terminate a supplemental duty without having to provide the due process required for contract termination. Educators should be aware that there are many nuances related to supplemental duties, when they can be terminated and when that termination can result in losing the stipend attached to the supplemental duty. 




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