20 days to go – what institutions are doing about FLSA

20 days to go – what institutions are doing about FLSA

On Dec 1st, the threshold at which salaried workers receive overtime payment for working more than 40 hours per week will increase from $23,660 to $47,476 per year, under updates to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Institutions have the choice to either increase the minimum salary for postdocs to $47,476, or to classify postdocs as hourly workers. Here is another in our series on what institutions are doing.

We recently wrote a blogpost for Addgene outlining changes we had discovered so far. In the intervening 10 days, and with one month to go, we further summarized information gathered for the FLSA and postdocs resource in this blogpost (and in a paper soon to be published on F1000Research). Now we have data up to November 10th.


Summary of previous data

As a recap, by Oct 21st, we found that after checking with 123 of the 340 institutions listed as employing postdocs, representing ~85% of the postdoctoral workforce, about 40% of the estimated postdoctoral workforce was employed at institutions that will be raising salaries starting December 1 2016. Only 1% were at institutions that are focused on tracking hours and 1% were at institutions allowing hours tracking while promoting (but not mandating) salary raising, and 40% were at institutions that either told us they have not decided, have no information available yet, and/or had not yet responded to a request for information. At this stage, we had only checked 36% of institutions but of those we had checked, 41% were planning to raise salaries, and 53% had no public decision yet available.

With one month to go, on October 31st, we were able to discuss data covering 97.5% of the estimated postdoctoral workforce, or every institution listed in the NSF dataset with > 35 postdocs in 2014. Out of these, 51% of the estimated postdoctoral workforce were at institutions that had stated they were raising salaries, up from 40% 10 days before; 1.5% were at institutions that focused on tracking hours, up from 1%, and 4% were at institutions allowing hours tracking while promoting (but not mandating) salary raising, up from 1%. However, 41% were at institutions that had either told us they have not decided, had no information available, and/or had not yet responded to a request for information, remaining similar to our 40% figure 10 days prior. 56% of institutions were checked by this stage, and of those checked, 35.5% were planning to raise salaries, and 57% had no public decision yet available. Therefore even with the addition of 10 days time, and one month away from Dec 1st, we had found more institutions did not yet have publicly available information on their compliance with FLSA with respect to postdocs.


New data

Two trends have continued in our latest timepoint: the number of postdocs who will see salary raises has increased; but so too has the number of institutions with no information yet available, or no decision yet made, as we grow closer to having checked all institutions.

Two thirds of postdocs will now see a salary raised – this is mostly due to data for Harvard and MIT having become available in the intervening time period:




The percentage of the postdoc population at institutions where hours tracking is the main focus is approaching 2%; the percentage at institutions where tracking will be allowed but attempts are also being made to raise salaries approaches 5% of the population. 23% of postdocs still may not know what is happening in 20 days.


At the institutional level, looking at institutions we have now checked (all with >5 postdocs according to the 2014 NSF dataset we are using):





The percentage of institutions increasing salaries has decreased over our collection efforts to 30%, whereas the percentage of institutions for which we have no information or decision keeps increasing – and not decreasing as the implementation approaches – to over 60%. The percentage of institutions who will be tracking all postdocs has remained steady at 3%, but the percentage pursuing a mix of salary raising or tracking has doubled from 10 days ago to 8%. Interestingly, if we look only at institutions with definite decisions, and combine all the institutions were tracking of hours is allowable, we are at the 75%/25% raising salaries/tracking hours split at institutions that was suggested by a survey in August.

Generally institutions have been quite helpful in our requests, at least in responses we have received. Only one institution, Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, has declined to clarify what will happen to postdocs, although it sounds like tracking of hours will take place. Also one institution, the University of Texas at El Paso, is awaiting the result of a current legal challenge to FLSA, presumably to see if they will have to implement it. Everyone else we have received a response from has been helpful and is working to implement the ruling.


Questions about the FLSA and the Trump Administration

There are many questions about the effect of the U.S. Presidential election on the FLSA update, which are discussed here in this article. Essentially, as the ruling comes into effect on Dec 1st, before the end of the current administration, and barring success of the legal challenge at the moment, institutions must still comply on Dec 1st. Even if the update is overturned, if institutions do not comply in the intervening period, legal action can still be taken as it was federal law at that time.

It is difficult to speculate at this time, but it is likely that now institutions are this far down this path, it would be incredibly difficult (and likely very unwise, given institutional concerns about unionization) to reduce postdoctoral salaries after having raised them. The only difference may be that there would be no overall change at institutions that are looking to track hours. This will then widen the gap in salaries between those institutions and the institutions raising salaries. While there is much uncertainty at this time, it would seem likely that a point of no return has been reached, and postdoctoral salary increases are here to stay generally in the enterprise.


This data collection effort could not have been made without the incredible efforts of Adriana Bankston.


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