Raising postdoc overtime

Published June 29 2016

The Department of Labor has issued new rules about overtime pay. Effective Dec. 1, the following changes will apply:

The overtime pay eligibility threshold will rise to $913 per week from $455 per week, or $47,476 per year.

The eligibility threshold will update automatically every three years, based on wage growth over time.

Overtime protections for salaried workers who are entitled to overtime will be strengthened.

In addition to these changes, the Labor Department has addressed an issue of immense importance to our membership: Postdoctoral fellows will be eligible for overtime pay.

These rule changes are not unexpected. In the fall, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology submitted comments to the Labor Department on this topic. We recommended that postdocs not be excluded from the changes but also called on the Labor Department to delay implementation beyond the Oct.1 start date so that researchers, who already wrestle with tight budgets, would have time to adjust to the requirements. The ASBMB asked for a three-year delay in implementation of the rules.

In response to the rule change, National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins and Labor Department Secretary Thomas Perez published an op-ed acknowledging that the time has come for the scientific community to increase postdoctoral pay. They wrote, “Our nation should embrace the fact that increasing the salary threshold for postdocs represents an opportunity to encourage more of our brightest young minds to consider choosing careers in science. Biomedical science has never been more exciting or promising than now, and we need to do all we can to support the next generation of scientists.”

Collins and Perez cited the ASBMB’s 2015 paper on sustaining the biomedical research enterprise in their piece and acknowledged the role that the NIH must play in ensuring a smooth transition to adherence to the new rules. Collins indicated that the NIH will increase the levels of postdoctoral National Research Service Awards, the mechanism by which many postdocs are funded.

Benjamin Corb Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB.