Injunction granted to block FLSA overtime rule update

This evening, a federal judge granted a preliminary, nationwide injunction to prevent the implementation of an update to the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime rule. This rule change would have increased the pay of postdoctoral scholars.

After a lengthy review process, the Department of Labor released its final version of the FLSA overtime rule in May. The rule stated that anyone earning less than ~$47,476 per year as of Dec. 1 was eligible for overtime pay. The DOL specifically said that postdocs were included in this update, and National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez penned an op-ed supporting the pay increase for postdocs. Rescuing Biomedical Research issued a statement supporting the rule change and encouraged universities to raise postdoc pay above the $47,476 threshold rather than track postdoc hours.

The ruling is likely a fatal blow to the regulation. A Dec. 1 implementation date with Obama in the White House would mean that seven weeks would pass between the rule change and the next president being inaugurated. Complying with the new overtime rule in this time frame would mean that, if a new administration wanted to reverse the rule change, they would be in the politically tenuous position of taking money away from workers’ earnings. Nevertheless, the rule was reportedly on a list of regulations the Trump administration wanted to repeal, and Congress was trying to make repeal as easy as possible. Today’s ruling will make it even easier for the Trump administration to eliminate this rule change.

That said, the effect of the injunction on postdoc pay is not clear. Future of Research has been tracking institutions’ public policies about how they were planning to respond to the FLSA rule change with regard to postdoc pay. Almost 70 percent of the postdoc population was slated to receive salary increases rather than have their hours tracked. While the injunction means universities will not be legally compelled to increase postdoc salaries or pay overtime, walking back notices of pay raises may not sit well with a community that nearly everyone agrees is underpaid.

The overtime rule change was likely to put to rest the research community’s call to increase postdoc pay, at least for a few years. Instead, the injunction creates a fair amount of uncertainty with regard to postdoc compensation and uniformity in salaries across institutions.