Like with any benefit, there are certain eligibility requirements to be able to participate in LAGERS, and from time to time I’ll get a question from either an employee or employer wondering if a person qualifies for the benefit. This week, I thought we’d do a quick rundown of who is and is not eligible to participate in LAGERS.
For starters, for a person to become a LAGERS member, they must be employed by an employer who has elected to provide LAGERS retirement benefits. If your employer does not yet participate in the LAGERS system, then you cannot individually elect to participate. However, many of the prospective employers I have worked with over the years don’t look into LAGERS until one or more of their employees have expressed concern over their future retirement security, and so if your employer is receptive to employee suggestions, it may be worth the conversation with your administration or board. Keep in mind that inquiries into LAGERS must be initiated by your employer’s governing body or administration, so while individuals interested in bringing information to their employers are more than welcome to call and speak with a LAGERS representative about the program, only an official representative from your employer can actually request the initial cost study.
If your employer already participates in LAGERS, then the next step to eligibility is to be classified as a full-time employee. Pay attention, though, because ‘full-time’ for LAGERS purposes may not be the same as the full time definition for other benefits at your employer. In LAGERS, each employer defines ‘full-time’ as meeting one of three annual benchmarks: 1500, 1250, or 1000 hours of work per year. When an employer joins LAGERS, they choose one of these three benchmarks, and it can never be changed going forward. If, for example, your employer elected the 1500 hour benchmark, your job would need to require that you work at least 1500 hours annually in order for your position to qualify. Again, be mindful that it is very important both as an employee and an employer to pay attention to your benchmark, because the requirement for LAGERS may be significantly less than the requirement for other full time benefits. For example, if you consistently work 29 hours a week and your employer has elected the 1500 hour benchmark, you are eligible for LAGERS even if for other benefits like health insurance, you may be required to work 35 hours per week. As far as LAGERS goes, there is not much wiggle room when it comes to this definition. If you work the hours, you must be covered, and if you don’t, you are not eligible for LAGERS.
Another issue that frequently arises when determining eligibility is whether the employee becomes eligible once they’ve actually worked 1500 hours or if they immediately become eligible when they start a full time position. Any employee that works in a position that normally requires 1500, 1250, or 1000 (depending on your employer’s election) hours of work on an annual basis should be immediately enrolled in the system. For example, if an employee is hired into a position that requires 30 hours per week, but they are hired in November, they should still be immediately enrolled even though they are not going to work 1500 hours in that calendar year.
As an employer, if you ever have questions about whether an employee should or shouldn’t be enrolled, feel free to give your LAGERS Accounts Analyst a call. If you are an employee who believes you are working the hours to qualify for LAGERS, but have not been enrolled, make sure to take a moment to speak with your HR department about your eligibility and if a correction does need to be made, your employer can call our office.
One final piece to the eligibility pie is making sure that you work in a LAGERS-covered department. Just because your employer has elected to provide LAGERS benefits, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they automatically cover their police and/or fire employees. All full-time non-uniformed employees are required to be covered as general employees for LAGERS purposes, (keep in mind this includes all non-uniformed employees in a police or fire department), and then each employer chooses whether to include their uniformed police and/or fire department employees. If, for example, you are a commissioned police officer and you work for a LAGERS participating employer, your employer must have elected to provide benefits to the police department in order for you to be eligible. If they have only chosen to cover their general employees, you would not be eligible for LAGERS benefits.
Making sure that an employee is enrolled in the correct department is important for several reasons. For one, police and fire employees have different retirement ages. If your employer enrolls you in the wrong department, your retirement age can be affected. From an employer standpoint, police and fire departments also have different contribution rates, so making sure employees are enrolled in the correct department is vital to properly funding your benefits.
If your employer only covers their general department and decides to later hire full time police or fire employees who they wish to provide LAGERS benefits to, make sure that you call our office so we can walk you through the process of adding those departments. Remember that simply enrolling them as general employees can cause problems down the road, especially when employees are ready to retire!
Your LAGERS benefits are one of the greatest resources both for your employer and for you as individual employees. Making sure that you are correctly receiving the benefits that you are entitled to is important! As always if you ever have any questions or concerns about your eligibility, please feel free to give our office a call!