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November 10, 2016

University prepares to implement OT changes

About 1,400 Pitt employees are becoming eligible for overtime pay under federal labor law changes that raise the threshold for mandatory overtime pay from the current $23,660 per year to $47,476. Letters were sent to affected employees last week.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an estimated 4.2 million workers nationwide will become entitled to overtime protection under changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that take effect Dec. 1.

Employees covered by FLSA minimum wage and overtime requirements (categorized as “non-exempt”) are entitled to time and a half overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek.

Some exempt Pitt employees whose pay is close to the $47,476 threshold are being bumped up in salary so that they can remain exempt, though no University-wide numbers were available.

Human Resources did indicate that about 600 fulltime postdoctoral associates and scholars, research associates and research faculty will see their salaries adjusted to the $47,476 threshold; thus, they will not be eligible for overtime. Part-time postdoctoral scholars, research associates and research faculty will be reclassified as non-exempt, meaning they are eligible for overtime pay. The affected postdocs and researchers were to receive information from their schools.

Because Pitt’s workweek begins on Sunday, the changes will be put into effect here Nov. 27.

The Office of Human Resources has been working with units University-wide to prepare for the changes, analyzing Pitt’s workforce, offering training for supervisors, and posting information and FAQs at, said Stephen Ferber, assistant vice chancellor, Human Resources.

“The whole focus is to make sure people are paid for hours worked,” he said, adding that employees who are no longer classified as exempt will need to adjust to tracking their work hours.

Those who travel or who handle emails outside of office hours or work into the evening to attend late meetings will be among those who will be affected most by the changes.

“This is designed to be a good thing for employees — to ensure they’re paid fairly,” Ferber said of the new rule.

Still, departments will need to make business decisions on whether to permit overtime or to offer flexible scheduling. “They have to figure out how to get the work done,” he said.

HR is recommending that departments develop overtime processes and procedures — creating guidelines for overtime or requiring approvals in advance, Ferber said.

“A lot of this is already happening,” he said. Many units already offer flextime. “Overtime may have to exist in certain places at certain times.”

The University put a $1 million “placeholder” into its FY17 operating budget in anticipation of the FLSA changes.

Administrators have made their best estimates, but only time will tell how the changes will affect budgets, Ferber said.


Under existing regulations, overtime laws don’t apply to teachers so, according to the Department of Labor, employees in higher education institutions whose main duty is to teach are not affected by the new rules.

Conversely, across higher education, many student affairs, athletics and admissions employees — who travel and/or work long or irregular work hours — are among the workers who are seeing changes.

Kenyon Bonner, vice provost and dean of students, told the University Times that about 75 of 170 employees in Student Affairs are affected by the rule change.

About half of them will move up to the new pay threshold due to their salary and the nature of their work, Bonner said.

He declined to discuss specific positions, but said some staff work nontraditional hours and are called upon to respond to crises 24-7. The other half are roughly divided into three categories: those who will see no effect because they don’t work overtime; those who will shift their work hours (a practice already in place that will be formalized, Bonner said); and those who work overtime on occasion — for instance, during orientation or other peak times — who will be paid time-and-a-half when they do.

Bonner said it’s not uncommon for Student Life staffers who work with student organizations to shift their workday to a later start on days when they will be attending evening meetings or events, or to work a shorter day during the week when they will be attending a weekend event.

“We’re basically formalizing a flexible schedule for people who are not moving to the threshold,” he said.

He said he expects some culture shift as exempt staff “who are not used to thinking about their hours in a finite box — when and how long they work” — need to begin managing their time in consultation with their supervisor. Workers won’t be able to simply decide on their own that they’ll work 10 hours of overtime in one week, for example, but will need a supervisor’s approval first, he said.

Although adding staff is an option, Bonner said he’s not seeing it as a necessity right now.

“After a year or even a semester, we will know better whether we need to make adjustments to keep up the quality of services delivered,” he said.

In Student Affairs, “sometimes our work is unpredictable … responding to the unexpected,” he acknowledged. “That will require us to look at this. If positions aren’t in the right bucket, we’ll move them into the right bucket.”

Similarly, Wendy Meyers, executive associate athletic director and chief financial officer of Athletics, said a combination of solutions is planned. She had no estimate of how many athletics employees will be affected.

Kate Ledger, spokesperson for the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, declined to comment. She said that Chief Enrollment Officer Marc Harding is continuing to work through details with the Office of the Provost, Human Resources and University legal counsel.

In the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Michele Colvard, executive director for staff personnel and senior assistant dean, said about 100 staffers, including research staff, some administrative staff and advisers, are affected.

While a handful of employees whose pay was near the threshold are receiving pay increases in order to remain exempt, for the most part the Dietrich school’s immediate plan is to watch employees’ hours.

“We’re taking a wait-and see-approach,” Colvard said, adding that the school will track the submitted hours and reassess every month or two to determine whether adjustments to the plan are needed.

She said the school is assessing the possibility of more flexible work arrangements or later start times for employees who work late occasionally and for those with student-oriented work that shifts toward evening.

She said administrators have been talking with Dietrich school employees about the changes — from the practical: how to complete time cards — to the cultural: adjusting expectations regarding response times, given that responding to emails outside of the office must be considered work time. “It’s going to change the expectation of communication times,” she said.

Colvard commended HR staff for their proactive assistance in preparing for the changes. She said Q&A sessions for employees were held and that training sessions for supervisors on the submission of time cards and how to handle various scenarios are continuing.

—Kimberly K. Barlow           

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 6

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