What do legal and legislative challenges mean for postdoc salaries?

By Helena Lucente

In May, the U.S. Department of Labor announced revisions to the overtime rule provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act making an employee earning less than $47,476 on Dec. 1 eligible for overtime pay. This rule change includes postdoctoral scholars, potentially putting a financial burden on labs, departments and universities. Despite the recommendations of several esteemed organizations, advocacy organizations and the National Institutes of Health, legislative and legal hurdles remain before the provisions can be fully implemented.

The U.S. Senate and House have each introduced legislation to delay the overtime rule change. The House passed the Regulatory Relief for Small Businesses, Schools, and Nonprofits Act, which would delay the rule by six months. A companion bill, S. 3462, has been introduced in the Senate. The House and Senate are also considering the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act, which directs the DOL to conduct further analyses on the economic effects of the rule change. Should either of these bills pass both houses, they are likely to be vetoed by President Obama.

Business groups and states opposed to the rule change are hoping to tie up the new regulation in litigation. The litigants claim that the DOL violated federal laws that ensure a fair and open process to implementing such far-reaching regulations. However, legal experts have said these claims are unlikely to hold up in court due to the extended process the DOL took in writing the rule change. Nevertheless, the states suing the DOL have filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would block the DOL from implementing the rule on Dec. 1.

Implementation of the new rule will fall to universities where many employees were previously exempt from earning overtime. University associations, like the Association of American Universities, the American Association of Medical Colleges and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, supported the increase in the overtime pay threshold but recommended these changes be phased in over several years due to the number of employees they must accommodate. However, these same university organizations are not party to the litigation to block the overtime rule and are likely focusing on implementation of the rule change, rather than blocking it.

Revisions to the FLSA overtime rule provision will likely increase the salary of postdocs. There is widespread support in the scientific community for increasing postdoc pay and improving postdoc training. Rescuing Biomedical Research remains committed to this cause and is not in favor of the legal and legislative challenges that may dilute or delay implementation of the rule. Be sure to follow the RBR blog for the latest news on the overtime rule change.

Helena Lucente wants to bridge the gap between science and society through improving science advocacy, policy, education and communication. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in Oncological Sciences and M.S. in Clinical Investigation at the University of Utah. She can be reached on Twitter at @HelenaLucente1 and via email at Helena.Lucente@hci.utah.edu.

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