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I wanted to ask how I could discuses wage disparity between student positions. I currently work for two professors at my university at different pay-scales. Because of a hard limit of 18 hours a week (university policy) I need to choose how many hours I report to which. For the past two-three pay periods, I had a ratio of 4:14 for the two professors. Admittedly, one part is due to the economics of the situation and the other, the limit in the hours I report.

From my perspective, I know exactly how many hours that I worked and whether or not I 'worked'. The trouble is that my Professors don't know, the only information they have are the time-sheets and work tasks that I submit for review. In the case of Professor A, I work more hours that I bill for due to the hard cap. In the case of Professor B, I work exactly the amount that I bill for.

In a recent meeting with Professor A, the professor mentioned that he/she believed that I was 'underselling' my reported hours based on the work that I complete and I should report more if I did more (I did). The trouble here is that I am now in an awkward position where I would like to bill for more hours, but I am unable to (due to the cap)- and even if I did, it would be for less than my other position. Right now, Professor A and I have scheduled to discuss this disparity next week Tuesday.

Background Summary:

  • Student Researcher for Professor A @$10.
  • Student Researcher for Professor B @$15.
  • University Policy limit of 18 hours a week combined.
  • I have decided to report 4 hours for Professor A and 14 for Professor B.
  • I under report for A and report 'on the mark' for B.
  • A asked why I was reporting low, a discussion was scheduled next week.

Question: How do I discuss the disparity of pay without leaving the impression that I was only working 4 hours (when in actuality I worked more) as a direct result of the disparity?

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    Is there a reason that you can't just level with A? Tell him that you are undrereporting hours but that you're doing so because that's the way to maximize your earnings? What outcome are you hoping to achieve? That A ups your salary? That he just accepts your answer? Something else? – Justin Cave Nov 19 '15 at 22:28
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    @JustinCave You should post that as an answer. – paparazzo Nov 19 '15 at 23:03
  • @JustinCave I think that's exactly the OP's question. – user42272 Nov 19 '15 at 23:25
  • Here's a thought, stop working hours you are not being paid for. – HLGEM Nov 19 '15 at 23:57
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    While I agree with @HLGEM in general, specifically in your case the cap sounds like it's been set in the best interests of your education. I don't think either Professor wants to risk you to neglecting your studies. It's not so much "don't work for free", I don't even think your employers want you to work for free. – Nathan Cooper Nov 20 '15 at 0:45
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Just explain to Professor A that you are under reporting your hours because you make more money that way due to the 18 hour cap and the fact you work for Professor B. He should understand, there is nothing wrong with what you're doing it's the smart way to handle the situation.

You're not claiming for hours you didn't actually work.

In view of your comments it seems that you're particularly worried about being terminated by Professor A. In my opinion this doesn't seem likely unless you're underperforming. So negotiation is what I would focus on.

If as you commented the best experience for you is the lower paying one, I would go in to the meeting prepared to tell him you will drop the other and you feel working for him is the best option for you careerwise. This will show you are committed and give him/her a bit of an ego boost. And then discuss your monetary needs and try and negotiate some sort of a raise.

Most Prof's will be willing to accommodate anything reasonable from student workers, you're basically their bread and butter, and they know it. 150% or more may well be ok for the professor. At the end of the day he has to balance his books and has a budget to pay out. If you're under reporting your hours, he has money to spare, and he needs to spend it or something nasty will happen to his budget next year. It's NOT his money. You're creating a problem for the Prof by under reporting.

  • He understands the underlying premise of the hours reported, the trouble is that he wanted to meet with me in regards to pay. (Of which I don't dare to ask for at the moment). – Frank FYC Nov 20 '15 at 2:44
  • So what is the problem? I don't see that in the question you asked? If he wants to meet you about it, there's not much you can do except meet him. If he knows he only pays 2/3's of what you get elsewhere he'll either up his amount or tell you that you're working too many hours and he doesn't want to interfere with your studies... he's (probably) not going to spank you. – Kilisi Nov 20 '15 at 3:02
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    The trouble is termination. Currently, I value the experience over the pay. If I had a choice between working 18 hrs @ $15 versus 14:4 @ $15 and $10. I would choose the latter. I do not want to convey the impression that I am ungrateful for the opportunity to conduct research and I chose to work less as a direct result of less pay. But I chose to <i>report<i> less hours as a direct result of trying to maximize my total pay. – Frank FYC Nov 20 '15 at 3:07
  • good info, probably best to modify your question to reflect that, you'll get better answers – Kilisi Nov 20 '15 at 3:15
  • @kilsi Just did! – Frank FYC Nov 20 '15 at 3:15
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I'm surprised this hasn't been brought up yet, but there are serious issues with falsifying time reporting. In some environments, such as contracting (especially for government agencies), accurate time keeping is a requirement. Falsifying time reporting in any manner could result in penalties for a company that you work for, and many companies do internal audits. Falsifying time cards may result in termination. It may not be the case where you are now, but I would develop the good habits of accurate time keeping now.

Based on some of your comments on other answers, it sounds like you value the experience of working for Professor A over the experience of working for Professor B, even though the pay is less. You need to make a determination here on what to do. You do need to stop falsifying your time, though, and determine how you want to spend your 18 hours/week.

I would also like to point out that the difference in pay between the two jobs is $90/week. The job with Professor A would pay $180/week at "full time" and the job with Professor B would pay $270/week at "full time", where "full time" is 18 hours/week.

I see two good options here:

  1. Decide to drop one of the two jobs. My recommendation would be to keep the one that gives you the best experiences to help you on your career path, even if the pay is less. If you need more money now, keep the job with Professor B - even though it may not align best with your career paths, it still sounds like it could be a positive experience for future work. If you stay with Professor A, you could also choose to ask about the pay difference, if money is a concern and you feel comfortable that it won't jeopardize your employment.
  2. Keep both jobs. Work with Professor A and Professor B to determine how you should be allocating your time. The professors are your managers in this case. Based on their needs, your allocation may change over time. In a workplace, if you're assigned to multiple projects, your technical manager and project managers work together to allocate your time. That needs to happen here. However, a possible outcome is that they both need you for an amount of time that exceeds 18 hours/week so you'll have to give up a job. This leads you to 1 or 3.
  3. If money is truly a concern, you appear to be working more than your university's limit now. If it's possible to, you could seek a job outside of your university. It doesn't seem like this would fall under your university's limit on working 18 hours/week. Admittedly, the experience isn't as good as working for a professor, but hopefully you'll also be keeping one of the two positions with a professor at 18 hours/week.

I would like to say this one more time, though: inaccurate reporting of your hours worked is not acceptable. Start building good work habits now.

  • I am aware of the ethical ramifications of over reporting timesheets, but how would the same apply to under reporting? – Frank FYC Nov 20 '15 at 18:52
  • @BobtheBuilder In my industry (defense contracting in the US), it's a violation of federal law to under report. Being caught by your company usually leads to termination, being caught in a government audit can disqualify your company from bidding on future work and losing current work. Some contracts have performance bonuses associated with performing better than expectations. If people under report, companies can get large bonuses. In addition, companies that encourage underbidding can undercut competitors who bid their projected expenses fairly. – Thomas Owens Nov 20 '15 at 18:56
  • @BobtheBuilder I think another side of it is that it can be hard to prove after the fact whether the employee voluntarily under-reported or was coerced into it. If someone gets in a tight spot down the road and decides they want to sue for the work they volunteered for, showing that they recorded 5 hours and worked 15 is a pretty easy case if all the employer has is hearsay. – ptfreak Nov 20 '15 at 22:26
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If Professor A believes you're underselling your own time, then that means he/she is worried about you to some extent. You can talk over your situation with professor A. If the rate of pay per hour is under A's control, then A should be able to understand, which may lead to him/her upping the pay to accomodate you underselling.

  • I asked a similar question in the main comment thread, but would it be polite to ask for an 150% raise? – Frank FYC Nov 20 '15 at 2:43
  • I'm going to assume you meant 50% raise (up to $15) instead of 150%. Explaining your situation to Prof A already is kind of hinting him/her to up your wage. However, if he doesn't take the hint, then I would only bring it up at the very end, just because I think asking for a large raise, while reasonable in your situation, may still take a turn for the worse. – Sophia Nov 20 '15 at 16:34
  • As an aside, wouldn't the two be the same? 150% = 1.5. $10*1.5=$15. Or am I thinking of it incorrectly? – Frank FYC Nov 20 '15 at 18:38
  • 50% raise is $5 raise, so wage is now 10 + 5 = $15 150% raise is $15 raise, wage is now 10 + 15 = $25 I ignored the "raise" part from 150% from my first sentence in my first comment as it was implied. – Sophia Nov 20 '15 at 19:09
  • I understand "50% raise...$15" But why would the statement 150% raise be any different? $15/$10=1.5=150% – Frank FYC Nov 20 '15 at 19:10
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This may be a liability issue. The reason why this may be an issue for Professors A, or the university, is that they are, depending on the place, legally obligated to pay you for work done. Including whether you report it correctly or not, even if you want to or not. (In Canada for instance, you simply can't volunteer your time like this where the other entity makes such a benefit.)

Certain people in certain places at certain universities have been in your situation or similar (ex. cheated out of pay) and at the end of their tenure or years later they simply report the missed hours, go to civil court, and get the missed pay + interest. It is that type of issue that the professors (or HR person seeing such low hours) may be concerned about.

Bearing this in mind, that you may be a legal timebomb in someone's eyes, be honest and open. Maybe they can talk to someone from accounting/hr/whomever to raise the number of hours that you're allowed to report.

Edit:

I was in a similar situation, twice, a few years ago. For me, the fix was to honestly report the hours worked or just to stop working when I exceeded them. Its hard on the employer to not actually know how hard the work is and its hard on you to work for sub-the-pay-they-want-to-give-you. As rough as it sounds, if that doesn't work one shouldn't keep doing it.

  • If I don't raise an issue, How would this be a legal timebomb? – Frank FYC Nov 20 '15 at 19:07
  • @BobtheBuilder Not all timebombs go off ;) Some (you) are nice and aren't being cheated. – Lan Nov 20 '15 at 19:46
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Your professor may be under a legal obligation (through a government program) to accurately report hours. Also, the school may have grants or subsidies that require accurate reporting of student work hours.

You should approach the professor and tell him what you have done to learn what the issue is and how it can be handled. If you tell him that you worked "8 hours but only billed 4" the two of you can probably discuss the matter, understand the issues and, worse case, bill it during the next billing cycle and clear things up.

You also can discuss working for the professor as a volunteer or find another way to continue working for him/her. If not, you best approach is to work as much as possible within the rules - or at least trying to stay very close to them. This is an important part of the integrity you need in order to keep these job(s) with the school, or be eligible for student jobs in the future.

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