I am employed at an American school in Europe, under a contract which is “governed by the laws of the State of New Jersey.”
Contracts end in August 2008, but the time for renewal is now. The present Appointment Agreement states:
A - 2. By December 15, 2007 the Employer will (i) notify the Employee as to whether the Employer wishes to continue employing the Employee after the end of the Contract Period and (ii) deliver to the Employee a new Appointment Agreement signed by the Employer, if the Employer wishes to continue such employment.
We are then given two weeks in which to decide whether we accept the terms and conditions of the new agreement. By January 1, unless a later date has been agreed, we are asked to sign or resign.
The Employer / head teacher, did not make the notification until late in the afternoon of Friday January 4, 2008. Many teachers (myself included) did not receive their new contracts until the Monday. Just a few minutes before the new contracts were distributed, one of my colleagues, a close friend, was called into the Head’s office and told that his contract would not be renewed for school year 2008-9.
The head teacher was appointed in 2005, and notification was late that school year, on January 6. That time he sent an email (dated December 29) apologizing for the delay, which he said was because he did not know the system. (On that occasion, we were given just two days in which to read and sign, or resign. Several teachers regretted not readng their contracts thoroughly, for several important changes had been introduced.) Notification was again late in 2006, but that time only 5 days late.
This year, it was three weeks late again, January 4 as noted above, with one week in which to decide. I asked for and obtained an extension. On December 28, an email was sent to all teachers: the excuse given for non-delivery on December 15 this time was that the new contracts were not yet ready, because the school offices had been closed between December 20 and December 25.
This might be laughable if it was harmless. My colleague’s contract was not renewed, but he was not notified until three weeks after the due date. The new contracts might not have been ready, but as he was not getting one, there is surely no reason for not notifying on, or before, the due date. The harm is that my colleague has missed the December 31 deadline for signing up for the February recruitment fairs; he may have missed his opportunity to find employment in Europe next school year.
To make matters worse, some clauses in the new contract are different to those in the present contract; these affect me. Changes have again been made. One example: points of origin (for home leave and end-of-contract repatriation purposes) have been changed from city of origin to country. The school might be intending to pay our way to anywhere in the country – or it might intend to pay our way only to the nearest or cheapest point of entry. We have not been told.
Another change has been to change the date of notification from December 15 to the last working day in December, with a signing-on deadline of January 10. This may be a recognition that the present head teacher cannot keep to the contractual deadline.
I am not sure I like these new conditions. If I had received that new contract on December 15, I would have thought seriously about not agreeing to the new conditions, and might have applied to attend a recruitment fair. If I do sign the new contract, I am trapped, in that I would prefer not to resign unless and until I have a new job to go to. Catch 22. However, given my colleague’s non-renewal, and given my employer’s record of slipping new clauses to which I do not agree into new contracts, I am still considering not accepting it. It would seem that this head does not value the word of the contract.
The questions, then: is there a breach of contract here? is my colleague entitled to compensation, especially if he does not find employment for the next school year?
And for myself: am I able to reject the new clauses and insist on retaining the current clauses (re notification and point of origin)? Especially as I was not notified of the changes at a time which would have allowed me to sign up for a recruitment fair? if I choose to leave anyway, am I entitled to compensation if I do not find employment for the next school year?
With regard to the second question, you might bear in mind that teachers may choose to have a one-year or a two-year contract; the only difference being the year of notfication and renewal. The head teacher is required to notify those presently in the middle of a two-year contract by or on December 15, 2008 – or be late yet again.