At this question, there was a comment:

Labor laws are likely to forbid having anyone teach for free, as are union contracts where applicable.

The situation is that someone is contemplating going to grad school with support, meaning a tuition deferment and a stipend, in the form of a fellowship or research assistantship instead of a teaching assistantship. He would like to know whether it would be legal for him to do some teaching during an occasional semester, as though his support were in the form of a teaching assistantship.

Are there labor laws in the U.S. that would prevent him from doing this?


The distinction between "research assistant" and "teaching assistant" is widespread but not universal (they may simply be called "graduate assistants"), and has no legal status except in terms of university-internal rules which might e.g. require a TA to pass a speaking test, which an RA would not. In either case, you are working, and are being compensated, and there aren't special laws pertaining to working by standing in front of a classroom, grading papers, or calibrating cyclotrons.

  • "you are working, and are being compensated" -- but in this scenario, the student is not being compensated for all their work. They would be teaching in addition to their existing research duties, but not be paid any more than if they didn't teach. So marginally they are working for free. It sounds like you are saying that labor law does not examine such marginal effects but only the aggregate transaction of a given employment relationship. ... – nanoman Sep 11 '20 at 16:08
  • ... So things that would be illegal when someone works for two separate employers (e.g., A pays more than minimum wage and B pays less) become legal if the two employers merge (aggregate pay meets minimum wage). This, in turn, means it matters precisely when "two" employers are considered "one" (two divisions of a conglomerate? two agencies of the same government?). – nanoman Sep 11 '20 at 16:08

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