Employment of Variable Hours Officers

Variable hour officers (VHOs) are employees on the University payroll who are performing officer-level work on an irregular and unpredictable basis. The work hours are undefined and vary from work week to work week depending on the nature of the work or project. A VHO is limited to a maximum of 999 hours in a rolling twelve (12) month period and should average less than twenty 20 hours in a week. If in any given week the VHO exceeds 40 hours, he/she must be paid one-and-a-half times his/her regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.

A VHO is an employee on the University payroll who is performing officer-level work on an irregular, unpredictable basis. This means that from work week to work week an employee does not average the same or similar number of hours such that it is more appropriate to pay the employee for the exact number of hours worked each week.

To ensure compliance with Columbia University policies, and applicable laws governing the administration of benefits and wage and hour laws.

Anyone at the University engaged in hiring or managing VHOs, including hiring managers, Departmental Administrators, Academic Department Administrators, local Human Resources Administrators and central Senior Human Resources Business Partners and administrators


A VHO should average less than twenty (20) hours per week and may not exceed 999 hours of work for Columbia University in a rolling 12-month period.

A VHO is only permitted to hold one position at a time at the University.

If the employee does not meet the definition of a VHO, please contact your Senior Human Resources Business Partner.

All VHO positions must be entered into Talentlink. All VHO hires must complete an employment application in Talentlink. A summary of the process can be found below.

  • Posting: All VHO positions must be created and entered in Talentlink. If the department already has a candidate for the position then the online waiver process in Talentlink should be used.
  • Application: The candidate must submit an electronic application through Talentlink.

At CUIMC Only:

  • Background checks are required for all employees, including VHOs.
  • Drug screening is also required for all employees who fall under the Joint Commission mandate area, including VHOs.
  • If the VHO will be working in a clinical capacity that requires medical credentialing, then the credentialing process must be completed prior to hire date.
Hiring Paperwork

All applicable hiring paperwork must be submitted to the HRPC via the template-based hire process in a timely fashion. A full description of the required hiring documents can be found in the HR Manager Toolkit. Certain departments may require a background check prior to hiring the VHO. Depending on the nature of the position, this check may include a criminal background check, Social Security number verification, education and employment history verification, an employment reference check, consumer credit check and testing for current illegal drug use.

If you have any questions, please consult with your  Senior Human Resources Business Partner for guidance on the overall hiring process.

A VHO is an "at-will" employee, and there is no guarantee of continued employment. If the 999 hour limit is reached in a rolling twelve (12)-month period, the VHO must be terminated or converted into a regular or temporary University position. If the thirty-five (35) hour per work week limit is reached, a Senior Human Resources Business Partner must be consulted, and the employee may be eligible for overtime pay as indicated in the Compensation section below.

If a department wishes to convert a VHO position into a regular or temporary University position, all normal Columbia University policies and procedures apply for hiring new employees.This includes job posting (for all officer positions lasting longer than twelve (12) months), interviewing of applicants, and submission of any applicable monitoring paperwork. Please see the Administrative Employment Categories matrix to determine the appropriate employment category based on the type of work and duration of the employment. The Senior Human Resources Business Partner can provide further assistance to appropriately categorize new positions.

When appropriate, based on the job and grade level and in collaboration with a Senior Human Resources Business Partner a department may move an existing VHO into one of the other employment categories. However, in order to avoid a break in service, the department must initiate the hiring process at least one month before the 999 hour limit is reached by the incumbent.

Any variable hour officer who has worked the maximum number of hours within a twelve (12) month period may not be employed as a VHO anywhere within the University until he/she has dropped below the 999 hour limit.

All variable hour officers must be paid at least the minimum hourly rate for their grade level and based on the number of hours worked at his or her hourly pay rate. Original completed and signed timesheets must be kept on file in the department. A standard timesheet can be found on the Human Resources website. Lump sum payments are not allowed for compensating variable hour officers.

Even though variable hour officers are not permitted to work more than thirty-five (35) hours in a week, if a VHO does perform overtime work (in excess of forty (40) hours) during a work week, they will be paid at the overtime rate of one-and-a-half times their regular hourly rate for all overtime work actually performed. Working unauthorized overtime may lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.

The VHO category is restricted to officer-level work which is unpredictable and variable from week to week and meets the hour limitations described in the Definitions section above. In addition, the following types of individuals cannot be hired as a VHO:

Academic Officers

Any person who will be teaching, working with students as an adviser, doing collaborative research, or performing the duties of a professional librarian cannot be hired as a VHO. Instead, these individuals must be given a faculty appointment or appointed as an officer of research, an Officer of the Libraries or a student officer, and hired using the academic nomination process.

Please contact the office of your Dean/Executive Vice President or the Assistant Provost for Academic Appointments (for Morningside appointments) or the Director of the Office of Faculty Affairs (for CUMC appointments) if you are unsure whether a person should have an academic appointment or how the person should be compensated.