The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the law that contains overtime pay provisions for employees across the United States, entitling all US workers to overtime pay unless they are exempted because they are paid on fixed, preset salaries; are engaged in executive, administrative, or professional duties; and are paid at least $23,660 per year. Today, a historic change to this act has occurred – under the new rule, the overtime pay threshold will be increased to $47,476, effective December 1, 2016.
Understandably, many members of the community have reached out to us with questions about how this rule will affect post-doctoral researchers, who are critical players in the biomedical research enterprise. During the FLSA revision public comment period, many universities and professional organizations provided feedback to the Department of Labor. Likewise, NIH communicated with the Department of Labor to echo the importance of supporting and acknowledging the significant contributions of postdoctoral researchers to NIH-supported research. In recent years we made increases to NRSA stipends as a result of analysis and recommendations stemming from the Advisory Committee to the Director biomedical workforce working group. Stakeholders ranging from academic faculty to scientific professional societies have recommended further increases post-doctoral compensation, and early-career researchers have likewise been vocal about the types of challenges postdocs face in the current research ecosystem. We acknowledge that more is needed to support the scientific leaders of tomorrow.
As described in a Huffington Post Op-Ed by NIH Director Francis Collins and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, NIH is fully supportive of the increased salary threshold for postdocs. In response to the proposed FLSA revisions, NIH will increase postdoctoral NRSA stipends to levels at or above the new threshold. Institutions that employ postdocs through non-NRSA support can choose how to follow the new rule. They may choose to carefully track their postdocs’ hours and pay overtime. Or, keeping with the fact that biomedical research – as in many professional and scientific careers – does not fit into neatly defined hourly shifts, institutions can choose to raise salaries to the new FLSA salary threshold or above it, if they do not yet pay postdocs at or above that level.
We’ll be working closely with leaders in the scientific community to aid in a smooth transition. Given the current challenging funding situation, we recognize that increased salaries will impact other financial and staffing operations at grantee institutions. Stay tuned for more information and guidance for institutions and postdoctoral researchers through the NIH Guide, and the Extramural Nexus and Open Mike blog, in the months ahead.