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K-State Today

November 22, 2016



K-State adjusting to Fair Labor Standards Act ruling for postdoctoral scholars

By Peter K. Dorhout

Dear Colleagues,

Human Capital Services recently posted a Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, glossary and a list of frequently asked questions. One K-State group that is affected by the recent U.S. Department of Labor rule change is postdoctoral researchers. I want to let you know what we are doing to ensure that these vital members of our research enterprise are well served and that we are providing proper guidance to the colleges, departments and investigators who employ them.

Compensation is one issue we clearly need to address. Starting on Dec. 1, employers are required to provide overtime pay at time and a half for work more than 40 hours per week to some groups of employees who earn less than $47,476 a year. As the HCS FAQ document indicates, postdocs are included in that group of employees per federal law.

This change in federal requirements, as promulgated by the Department of Labor, was announced earlier this summer. At the same time, I charged a working group to help define the postdoc position and provide some guidance about how postdocs would be recognized on campus. Effective Jan. 1, 2017, postdocs will have a common job code regardless of their position title, and all new hires will meet the FLSA minimum stipend.

With input from the working group, Provost Mason and I have coordinated with the Dean's Council to ensure that all colleges are prepared to comply with the new requirements. In many situations, postdoc salaries will be increased so they are above the specified FLSA threshold. For some others, salaries will remain below the threshold through FY17, making those individuals eligible for overtime pay. I know this isn't an easy step to take given current budget constraints, but I am thankful for your efforts to ensure that K-State is in compliance with this new regulation. Our office has prepared an FAQ document to help principal investigators factor this new rule into their budgets, and we will pass along information about possible funding agency grant supplements as it becomes available.  

Effective immediately, all postdocs who appear on grant applications will be budgeted at or above the non-exempt FLSA minimum stipend. It should be noted that the Department of Labor rule provides that the FLSA minimum salary level for exempt status will increase every three years, beginning in 2020. Project PIs should plan their budgets accordingly with an increase in postdoc salaries of 7.8 percent by 2020.

As the Department of Labor FLSA changes were being released, a survey performed by the National Postdoc Survey Research Team helped us see how our postdocs rate their experience at K-State. From February to September 2016, the National Postdoc Association collected responses from postdoctoral researchers at universities, colleges and research institutes across the country. A total of 7,674 researchers from more than 300 institutions completed the survey; 53 percent of the respondents were female, and 49 percent were U.S. citizens. More than one-third of K-State postdocs participated in the survey, and preliminary findings indicate the following about those responses. 

Demographics

  • 41 percent were female.
  • 42 percent were U.S. citizens.
  • 80 percent were married or partnered.
  • 48 percent have children. 
  • Most have obtained their doctorates in the last four years (22 percent in 2015, 27 percent in 2014, and 18 percent from 2012–2013).

Annual earnings

  • 6 percent earn $40,001–$42,500. 
  • 14 percent earn $42,501–$45,000. 
  • 2 percent earn $45,001–$47,000. 
  • 12 percent earn $47,501–$50,000. 
  • 40 percent reported earning less than $40,001.

Satisfaction and mentoring

  • 59 percent are satisfied with the professional development offerings at K-State. 
  • 62 percent are either very satisfied or satisfied with the mentoring they receive.

Career plans

  • 58 percent plan to remain in academia in a primarily research-based setting. 
  • 14 percent plan to remain in academia in a primarily teaching-based setting. 
  • 11 percent view industry research as a primary long-term career plan.

I appreciate that a large number of K-State postdocs took time to fill out the survey, and I'm pleased to see that most of our postdocs are satisfied with the mentoring and professional development offerings at our institution.

Thank you to our community of postdoctoral researchers for working with us to increase the quality of their experience. Thanks, too, to the Graduate School and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs for ensuring that professional development opportunities are available and for celebrating our postdocs during National Postdoc Appreciation Week in September. I hope you'll join me in encouraging all K-State postdocs to visit the Postdoctoral Association section of our Faculty Resources website and to read our weekly RSCAD Momentum newsletter to find out more about the resources we offer.

Go 'Cats!

Peter K. Dorhout