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Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) and Affordable Care Act (ACA) Compliance


To outline the nature of GRA employment as it relates to compliance with ACA.

Applies to: 

All student employees.

Juniper Gardens
Policy Statement: 

GRAs perform research that contributes to completion of the research requirements for the graduate degree they are seeking. Some portion of the hours spent on research is attributable as work for the University, but that employment is contingent upon the relationship to their academic program and upon maintaining good academic standing.

The University will credit hours worked for ACA compliance based on the Standard Hours of the appointment, as determined by gross pay divided by pay rate. No GRA will receive an appointment of greater than 72.5% FTE (29 hours per week). 

Nature of GRA Employment

KU has determined that GRAs employment is comparable to “adjunct faculty” for the following reasons:

  • GRAs are assigned and are compensated for research work associated with their status as graduate students and the degree they are seeking. Adjuncts are compensated for the course work they are teaching. In the case of GTAs, the course taught relates to their degree program.
  • GRA compensation is not based on actual time spent on research work assigned to them, comparable to instructional responsibilities of adjuncts.
  • The hours of service equivalencies for non-hourly students (8 hours per day for 40 hours per week) are too high for GRAs, as reflected in the amount of compensation paid for the value of the portion of their work attributable to employment and the inherent categorizing of a portion of their research work as educational in nature.
  • Counting hours is administratively burdensome, or impossible, since research work conducted may be simultaneously performed as an employee and as a graduate student.

In order to be eligible for a GRA appointment, a graduate student must meet all of the criteria outlined by the University’s Graduate Research Assistant Appointment Eligibility policy.

The compensation paid to GRAs is market-based and competitive among other universities with similar research activities and is a reasonable measure (and somewhat conservative) of the portion of the GRAs work as an “employee.”

For these reasons, KU has determined that the Standard Hours of an appointment will be used to determine ACA eligibility for GRA appointments.

Maximum Appointment Levels

For ACA eligibility purposes, all hours worked must be counted for all active appointments with the University and appointments with any other State agency within the past measurement period. Human Resource Management determines what work hours count toward ACA eligibility, incorporating the application of rules regarding breaks in service.

GRAs’ primary association with the University is to progress and to complete their degree program. Keeping that academic goal in mind, appointing departments will monitor student hours worked. Employment for an average of 29 hours during the academic year assists in maintaining the balance between academic progress and University employment.

Appointments of GRAs to any combination of student job titles during the academic year, when classes are in session, shall not exceed the equivalent of a 72.5% full-time equivalency (FTE) appointment (29 hours weekly).

During the summer or when classes are not in session, the monitoring of total hours worked over a measurement period on all combined campus appointments is particularly important to maintain an average of 29 hours per week.

International GRAs:

International students may not work more than 50% FTE (20 hours weekly) during the academic year due to Visa restrictions.

GRAs Paid on a Salaried Basis:

Pay for salaried GRAs is based on a biweekly rate of pay. Any reporting of hours of service is required only for purposes of determining eligibility for the employer group health insurance plan pursuant to the ACA and will not affect pay

Responsibility for Monitoring Appointments

Campus units that appoint employees are responsible for ensuring employees do not exceed the maximum percent/FTE for appointments, taking into consideration all active University appointments on all University campuses/sites and with all State of Kansas agencies.

Any resulting financial obligations will be incurred by the unit(s) with the current appointment.

Failure by graduate student employees to accurately report actual hours worked on positions other than GRA and GTA appointments (which will use Standard Hours) or falsification of hours worked for ACA purposes will be viewed to determine if there may be grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.

Exclusions or Special Circumstances: 

The University offers the Kansas Board of Regents GTA/GRA/GA student health insurance plan to eligible graduate student employees, including a 75% employer-provided premium contribution.

Exceptions to the appointment limits for graduate student employees during the academic year, in the summer or when classes are not in session may be authorized by the appropriate dean(s) or vice provost(s), thereby accepting any ensuing fiscal responsibility of those exceptions. Exceptions For GTA appointment FTE must comply with provisions of the GTA Memorandum of Agreement.


Any resulting financial obligations will be incurred by the unit(s) with any and all current, employing appointment.

Failure by employees to accurately report actual hours worked on positions other than GRA and GTA appointments (which will use Standard Hours) or falsification of hours worked for ACA purposes will be reviewed to determine if there may be grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.


Department of Human Resource Management
109 Carruth O’Leary Hall
1246 West Campus Road
Lawrence, Kansas 66045

Approved by: 
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Approved on: 
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Effective on: 
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Review Cycle: 
Annual (As Needed)

ACA eligible: Employees who meet the criteria established by the Affordable Care Act and the State of Kansas Health Care Commission for being offered employer-sponsored health insurance

ACA, ACA eligible, Affordable Care Act, appointment levels, appointment limits, appointments, Child Labor Law, Fair Labor Standards Act, FLSA, FTE, full-time equivalent, GA, Graduate Assistant, GRA, Graduate Research Assistant, Graduate Teaching Assistant, GTA, health insurance, hourly employee, hours approval, hours reporting, hours worked, HR/Pay System, international students, maximum appointment levels, student assistant, student employee, student employment, student employment eligibility, student employment limits, student hourly, student intern
Change History: 

02/03/2017: Updated DLR

06/21/2015: Updated DLR

10/30/2015: Removed information regarding FTE and provided information on the standard hour calculation; included more detail regarding fringe-related liabilities for units employing ACA Eligible employees and exceptions to the hour limitations.

01/20/2015: Policy formatting cleanup (e.g., bolding, spacing).

07/24/2014: This policy was drafted by Human Resources. The draft was circulated to deans, vice provosts, and vice chancellors for comment. After revising the policies in light of comments received, the policies were discussed with graduate students and faculty researchers. Finally, the drafts were reviewed and endorsed by the Director of Human Resources, the Associate Vice Provost for Human Resource Management, General Counsel, and the Vice Provost for Administration & Finance prior to final approval from the Provost.

Personnel: Student Employees Categories: 

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