Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Important Message About Funding Postdocs

I received this university-wide message today about potentially big changes to how we fund postdocs. Its unclear what will happen, but it is an important message for labs with postdocs.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law governing minimum wages and overtime pay.  It currently requires that most* employees making less than $23,660 record their hours and must be paid for overtime at 1.5 times their usual rate for any hours worked over 40.  The federal government has proposed a revision to the FLSA which would increase this minimum threshold to $50,440.  This proposed change, which will likely take effect before November 2016, will apply to the wages we are federally required to pay postdoctoral scholars.

Most of our postdocs currently receive salaries of $42,000 or more, and are therefore within roughly $8,000 of the proposed new minimum. Most postdocs regularly work more than 40 hours/week, and it would make financial sense to increase these salaries to the new federal minimum rather than pay overtime.  Yet even for postdocs who do not regularly work more than 40 hours, university leaders believe that redefining postdocs as hourly workers would undermine the professional nature of their work.

Changes to the FLSA, if enacted, would have a significant impact upon department budgets, grant budgets, and more. There are still many details to be clarified, and numerous offices across the university are working to determine possible and best courses of action. The final rule will determine the actions we need to take. In the meantime, we want to be prepared for the likely scenario of needing to increase postdoctoral salaries. 

For the present, please do two things:
1.      Alert all necessary members of your department to take these proposed changes into account as needed (for example, budgeting, writing grant proposals, making new offers to postdoctoral scholars, etc.)  Again, changes will likely take effect before November 2016 but the final regulation has not been published yet. No immediate changes to salaries need to be made at this time.
2.      Provide resources for those who have questions:
a.      The documents attached to the email provide some further information.
b.     XXXXX is the primary contact person for specific questions.  She is available for meetings with faculty groups. 
c.       Remind those with questions that this is an open issue which is subject to change and for which the university is still exploring options.

*The law provides certain exceptions, including executives, MDs, teachers, lawyers, and trainees. Postdocs whose primary duty is teaching could be defined as holding a teaching position and receive this exception. The federal definition of “trainee” includes that trainees may not receive wages, so this designation is not an option for most postdocs with the exception of those on NIH NRSA training grants.

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