Post-doctoral fellows

This article provides information on what the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) looks at when deciding whether a post-doctoral fellow (PDF) is an employee. If, after reading this article, you are still unsure of a PDF’s employment status, see How to request a ruling.

An academic PDF is an individual who has recently received his or her Ph.D. and who is engaged in advanced research activities at a university or at a facility or laboratory connected with a university. A clinical fellow is usually an individual who has completed both the required academic and professional training in a particular field (for example, a medical doctor) and who has been given a special grant to allow him or her to engage in specialized training or research. For more information, see Income Tax Folio S1-F2-C3: Scholarships, Research Grants and Other Education Assistance.

Employer responsibilities

All employers are required by law to deduct Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions and employment insurance (EI) premiums from most amounts they pay to their employees. Employers have to remit these amounts to the CRA along with their share of CPP contributions and EI premiums.

For more information on employer responsibilities and obligations, go to our Payroll menu page.

How to decide if a PDF is an employee

The CRA looks at the relationship between the PDF and the payer.

Generally, an employee is hired to carry out specific duties under the direction and control of the party that hired them. A PDF can be paid a salary, stipend, award, or other amount in exchange for their services. No matter what term is used to describe the amount, the nature of the payment is determined by looking at the relationship between the PDF and the payer.

The following indicators can help you decide whether a PDF is an employee. This is not a complete list and not all of the indicators will be present in every situation. You need to consider all the facts about the relationship.

Indicators that a PDF is an employee

The payer:

  • approves and monitors the PDF’s work schedule and leave;
  • assigns specific tasks such as rotations, on-call duties, teaching, resident coaching, and research;
  • decides what research or other tasks the PDF will do (the PDF may have a limited; number of choices), how the research or other tasks will be done, and when and where they will be done;
  • decides the work schedule or agrees to a schedule that is based on the needs of the worker and the payer;
  • can fire the PDF or terminate the PDF’s participation in the project if there is a difference of opinion and the PDF does not conform to the payer’s directions;
  • provides the lab or research facility including lab equipment, instruments, chemicals, and materials;
  • decides the remuneration based on experience or union contract;
  • provides and pays for benefits such as life, health, and medical and dental insurance;
  • receives a significant part of the economic value of an invention; for example, 50% going to the university and the other 50% split among all of the researchers in the team;
  • pays the fees to publish an article in an academic journal.

The PDF:

  • has significant independence, freedom, and autonomy but the payer has the final word on how the research or other tasks are done;
  • provides assessments and recommendations on patient care;
  • has to join a lab’s team of researchers and respect certain rules of conduct or behaviour, such as following a certain work schedule or not prejudicing or discrediting the research done by other team members;
  • participates in the payer’s pension plan;
  • receives paid vacation leave or other work-related paid leave;
  • completes the same or similar tasks as the payer’s employees;
  • produces original data and notations during research that are the property of the payer and stay with the lab;
  • is put on the call schedule to provide after-hours service;
  • pays tuition or a registration fee that is significantly lower than the usual tuition amount paid by students enrolled in a program that the educational institution offers;
  • may quit the job without obligation.

The following indicators can help you decide if a PDF is not an employee. Keep in mind that this is not a complete list and not all of these indicators will be present in every situation. You need to consider all the facts about the relationship.

Indicators that a PDF is not an employee

The payer:

  • does not approve or have the right to approve and monitor leave;
  • does not provide paid vacation leave or other work-related paid leave;
  • does not decide or have the right to decide the work schedule;
  • has no control or right to control how the research or project is conducted or how tasks are completed; gives advice and guidance only;
  • is a mentor rather than a supervisor.

The PDF:

  • plans and develops the project; the PDF or both the payer and PDF decide on the project, research topic, or tasks;
  • sets self-imposed milestones; the payer (professor or principal investigator) may suggest progress report deadlines and schedule regular meetings to meet these milestones;
  • receives minimal pay (to cover living expenses) or receives a very low level of pay considering the nature of the work and the PDF’s qualifications.

Neutral or inconclusive facts

Some facts about the relationship of PDFs might be neutral or inconclusive, which means they could support either that there is or there is not an employer-employee relationship.

The following are examples of facts that can be considered neutral:

  • the PDF has significant independence, freedom, and autonomy because of the nature of the work to be completed;
  • the funding council or agency, as part of the conditions for the grant, predetermines the amount of the remuneration;
  • a third party provides the tools and equipment;
  • the PDF is a student enrolled in an educational program such as a master’s or doctoral degree or is a recent graduate;
  • the PDF is an advanced student;
  • the university has given the PDF student status or treats the worker as a student;
  • the worker had to be a registered student to apply for the position.

If a fact is “neutral,” set it aside and do not consider it further.

How to request a ruling

If a PDF or their payer is unsure of the PDF’s employment status, either party can request a ruling from the CRA to have the status determined. More information on the ruling process is available at How to obtain a ruling for Canada Pension Plan and employment insurance purposes.

For more information

To learn about responsibilities, benefits, and entitlements of employees, PDFs and their employers or payers can go to Employees and self-employed workers – Responsibilities, benefits, and entitlements.   

You can also call 1-800-959-5525.

Legislative references

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