Postdocs' Change of Status Q&A

This page was last updated on February 14, 2017, and will be continually updated as we receive further inquiries.

Q. Am I affected by the changes?

Following the Quebec government’s decision, there are effectively four groups of postdocs at McGill.

1. Postdocs who are not paid by McGill University (identified as “Group A” in some previous communications)

These individuals are considered postdoctoral fellows (students) and will be unaffected by the changes, as they are not McGill employees. This includes postdocs paid by the MUHC Research Institute, the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, etc.

2. Postdocs who obtain their own personal awards, and are paid 100% out of those awards (identified as “Group B” in some previous communications)

These individuals are considered postdoctoral scholars, and will be unaffected by the changes, as they are not McGill employees. They are not paid by McGill funds – even if their income is processed through McGill’s systems – and they are therefore not McGill employees.

3. Postdocs who receive more than 25% of their funding from McGill funds (identified as part of “Group C” in some previous communications)

These individuals are now postdoctoral researchers, and are considered by the Quebec government to be McGill employees, because they receive McGill funds – regardless of whether they are paid completely or partially by McGill funds. As well, they are unionized and will be represented by AMURE.

4. Postdocs who receive McGill funds, but for whom McGill funds constitute 25% (or less) of their total funding (identified as part of “Group C” in some previous communications)

These individuals are now postdoctoral researchers (NU) and are considered by the Quebec government to be McGill employees, because they receive McGill funds – regardless of whether they are paid completely or partially by McGill funds. However, they are not unionized and will not be paying union dues.

Q. What exactly changes for postdocs in Groups 3 and 4?

On June 9, 2015, the Quebec government’s Tribunal administratif du travail determined that McGill postdocs are employees as defined by the provincial Labour Code – not students, as McGill has long considered them to be. This government decision meant that McGill must apply the same payroll deductions to these postdocs as are applied to all other employees working in Quebec.

As a result:

  • These individuals must pay provincial income tax and other provincial payroll deductions.
  • They will be eligible for Quebec government benefits (e.g. maternity/parental leave through the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan).
  • Federal taxes will now be charged at the applicable employment income rate.
  • Postdocs who are unionized will be represented by the AMURE bargaining unit, and will begin paying union dues.
  • Researchers who employ postdocs will be charged employer fees (e.g. mandatory contributions to the Quebec Pension Plan and Quebec Parental Insurance Plan).
  • Payroll changes will be implemented as of January 1, 2017, and will first appear on the January 26 pay.

We are concerned about the financial hardships that the Tribunal’s ruling will cause – a decrease in take-home pay of approximately 15% for many postdocs, and new costs to researchers (approximately 13% of postdocs’ gross pay, which may rise to 15-20% once a new collective agreement outlines postdocs’ benefits and corresponding employer contributions).

Q. How much will these new deductions cost?

Employer and employee deductions can be calculated with online tools provided by Revenu Québec and the Canada Revenue Agency.

Q. Are some postdocs exempt?

Postdocs in Groups 1 and 2 above are not McGill employees, as they are not paid by McGill funds. Therefore, they are unaffected by the changes.

Q. What about international postdocs?

Eligible international postdocs may claim a refund of their provincial income tax payments when they complete their tax returns. For more information, please see Quebec Tax Exemption information.

Q. Why are these changes necessary?

Following the Tribunal’s determination that postdocs are employees, McGill was legally obligated to apply provincial payroll deductions to their pay – just as all employers must do for their employees.

Q. The Tribunal’s decision was in June 2015 – why has it taken so long to make these changes?

Postdoctoral funding can be extremely complex, with some postdocs receiving funding from several different sources. Some postdocs secure their own funding stream(s), while others are paid through one or more McGill researchers’ grants, through other external grants disbursed via McGill’s payroll system, or through some combination of these. As well, McGill was required to make changes to its payroll systems to reflect these new employee categories. It has taken longer than expected to navigate these complexities, but as we knew that the government’s decision would create a financial burden for some, we wanted to make absolutely certain that deductions are applied only to employees who must pay them under the law.

Q. Why was the Tribunal examining the employment status of McGill’s postdocs?

The Tribunal’s determination was made during its assessment of whether some McGill postdocs are eligible to unionize. Previously they had been exclusively considered students; however, the Tribunal determined that they are employees under the Labour Code. This status confers both legal rights (e.g. the right to receive maternity leave, unionize, etc.) and legal responsibilities (e.g. an obligation to pay provincial income tax and other payroll deductions).

Q. What do postdocs get out of this?

While all employees in Quebec must pay provincial payroll deductions, they also gain access to provincial benefits such as maternity/parental leave and membership in the Quebec Pension Plan.

Q. If postdocs are McGill employees, do they get McGill benefits?

Postdocs in Group 3 – those who receive more than 25% of their funding from McGill funds – are unionized employees. Their benefits will be negotiated during regular negotiation sessions between their union (AMURE) and the University, and will be outlined in their first collective agreement.

Q. What impact will membership in AMURE have on benefits, fees, etc.?

Questions about benefits, fees, etc. will be included in postdocs' first collective agreement. Any inquiries should be directed to AMURE representatives.

Q. Do unionized postdocs have to pay for PGSS fees in the coming semester?

No. PGSS has announced that it will not charge fees to unionized postdocs as of January 1, 2017.

Q. For postdocs who receive McGill funds, why must we apply employee payroll deductions to the entirety of their income -- rather than just their income from McGill funds?

Under the law, individuals must be classified as either employees or students -- they cannot have two statuses for the same job. Regrettably, this means that a postdoc earning $10,000/year from McGill and $40,000/year from an outside source will be taxed on $50,000 of employment earnings if all those funds are administered via McGill's systems. As well, provincial benefits (e.g. payments provided during maternity leave) would be based on a $50,000/year income.

Q. Why so little notice?

We understand that these changes will pose hardships no matter how much notice is received. However, in July, postdocs received notice that "Changes impacting the status of some postdocs at McGill University are expected as early as Fall 2016. Such changes will result in some postdocs being categorized as employees. This may result in employment/salary deductions (including income taxes), affect working conditions (including benefits), and result in the collection of union dues. More information about these changes is forthcoming. A determination will be made regarding your status at McGill in light of this and will be communicated to you during the Fall 2016 Term by Human Resources." Similar messages were added to the postdocs’ portion of the GPS website and to the Letter of Agreement form at this time.
As well, members of the Research Advisory Council were advised on October 18, and invited to disseminate this information to researchers in their various academic areas. Administrators in academic areas were advised on July 25 and September 2.

Q. If personal awards are paid directly from an external body to a postdoc, and don't pass through McGill's systems, will employee deductions be applied?

No. McGill will only apply deductions to external funds that pass through McGill systems -- and only to postdocs who also receive McGill research funds.

Q. On January 12, 2017, postdocs voted not to ratify a proposed collective agreement. What impact will this have on postdocs’ pay, benefits, working conditions, etc.?

This vote did not change the current situation for postdocs, but negotiated items such as an increase in minimum pay, membership in the McGill benefits program, etc., will not be in effect until a new collective agreement is ratified, or until such time as a provincially appointed arbitrator defines the content of a new collective agreement. Until then, the status quo will remain in place as outlined on this page.

Q. What is the status of negotiations between AMURE and McGill?

On February 7, Quebec’s Ministère du Travail, de l'Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale accepted AMURE’s request that an arbitrator be appointed to oversee negotiations. If AMURE and McGill cannot agree upon a choice of arbitrator by February 17, the Ministry will appoint one. An arbitrator is a neutral participant with a mandate to help both parties reach common ground. If an arbitrator determines that common ground cannot be achieved, she/he is also empowered to impose legally binding decisions on any outstanding points of contention. 

Q. What if I have a question that isn’t answered here?

We invite you to reach out to our HR Shared Services team at 514-398-HRHR (4747) or hr [dot] hr [at] mcgill [dot] ca.