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Version 2. F1000Res. 2016 Nov 17 [revised 2017 Sep 28];5:2690. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.10086.2. eCollection 2016.

Monitoring the compliance of the academic enterprise with the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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The Future of Research, Inc., 848 Brockton Avenue, Abington, MA, USA.
Manylabs, 1086 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA, USA.


Background: On December 1, 2016, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was due to be updated by the U.S. Department of Labor. Key changes included an increase in the salary threshold for exemption from overtime for working more than 40 hours per week, and indexing the salary level so that it is updated automatically every 3 years. This was predicted to have a profound effect on academe as postdoctoral researchers were mostly paid at a salary below the new threshold. On November 22, 2016, an injunction was granted nationwide, delaying implementation of the updates, which were finally struck down entirely on August 31, 2017. Here we review the key changes to the FLSA, how they came about, and how the postdoctoral population was affected. Methods: We describe recent data collection efforts to uncover what institutions with postdocs were doing to comply with the FLSA. Results: Our data showed that 57% of institutions checked (containing 41% of the estimated postdoctoral workforce in science, engineering and health) had not decided or had no public decision available one month prior to implementation, and only 35.5% of institutions were planning to raise salaries to the new minimum. After the injunction, a number of institutions and the NIH continued with their plans to raise salaries. Overall, despite the removal of a federal mandate, approximately 60% of postdocs are at institutions whose policy is to raise salaries. Conclusions: Our data show uncertainty in postdoctoral salaries in the U.S. prior to implementation of the FLSA ruling. In addition, while some institutions did suspend plans to raise postdoctoral salaries after the injunction, many continued with the raise. The implementation of postdoctoral salary raises may be inconsistent, however, as the legal minimum is still $23,660.


FLSA ruling; academic labor; biomedical research; institutional policy; postdoctoral salary; research enterprise; research funding; science policy

Conflict of interest statement

Competing interests: No competing interests were declared.

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