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New overtime rule applies to postdocs regardless of teaching duties

Because of a small mistake in a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) fact sheet, our 19 May report about how the new overtime rule applies to postdocs may have given readers an incorrect impression that teaching can affect postdocs’ eligibility. (In case you’ve forgotten, the rule states that employees—with some exceptions—must be paid at least $47,476 a year or else receive time-and-a-half overtime pay for every hour they work above 40 per week.)

Our report quoted the fact sheet as stating that “[p]ostdoctoral researchers in the sciences who engage only in research activities and do not teach are not covered by the teaching exemption,” referring to the fact that the new overtime rule does not apply to teachers. Based on that information, we went on to write that “[p]ostdocs who do teach, however, can be covered by the teaching exemption.” That sentence, DOL spokesman Jason Surbey has informed Science Careers, is based on “incorrect information” in the original fact sheet, he writes in an email. 

DOL has since revised its higher education fact sheet to accurately reflect how the rule will be implemented. It now reads, “Postdoctoral researchers in the sciences are not covered by the teaching exemption.” In other words, the new rule applies to postdocs regardless of whether they spend any time teaching. (As Surbey points out, generally “[National Institutes of Health (NIH)]-funded post-docs do not engage in teaching to any significant degree.”) The update to the fact sheet may seem like a small change, but, Surbey writes, “We think it’s important to make these distinctions clear because of NIH’s commitment to increasing salaries of post-doctoral researchers who play critical roles in research activities.”

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