Kern County Employee’s Retirement Association (KCERA) and Your Workers’ Compensation Case: What You Need to Know

Kern County Employees’ Retirement Association (KCERA) is a multi-employer, defined benefit pension plan in Kern County, California, governed by the County Employees’ Retirement Law of 1937 (CERL) and subject to the requirements of the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 (PEPRA).

KCERA is considered a “governmental plan,” as defined in Section 414(d) of the Internal Revenue Code. KCERA administers service retirements, disability retirements and survivorship benefits on behalf of nearly 18,000 active, deferred and retired members and their beneficiaries. The plan provides lifetime retirement benefits to members who meet the minimum age and service credit requirements. After a retired member dies, an eligible beneficiary may be entitled to a lifetime continuance of the benefit.

For injured workers who are employees of Kern County, there are things you need to know about KCERA. KCERA offers disability retirements in two forms. There are both service-connected disability retirements and non-service connected disability retirements.

A service connected disability(SCD) means that an incapacitating injury or illness was caused by employment. There is no minimum age or service credit requirement to be eligible for a SCD. A nonservice-connected disability means an incapacitating injury or illness was not caused by employment. To be eligible for a nonservice-connected disability, the member must have at least five years of retirement service credit. There is no minimum age requirement.

What are the benefits of a service connected disability retirement?

If granted, a service-connected disability benefit would equal 50 percent of the member’s final average compensation. Moreover, the benefit would be exempt from federal and state income taxes. Any portion of the member’s total monthly KCERA benefit that exceeds the 50 percent limit may be subject to taxes.

What are the benefits of a non-service connected benefit?

If granted, a non-service connected disability benefit would be based on the member’s years of retirement service credit, starting at 20 percent of final average compensation and increasing 2 percent for each additional year of service, not to exceed 40 percent. The NSCD benefit would be subject to federal and state income taxes. KCERA indicate further that if you are eligible to retire and your regular service retirement would pay more than an NSCD retirement, applying for a regular service retirement would be more financially advantageous than applying for an NSCD retirement.

What is KCERA’s definition of disability?

KCERA indicates that “if you become permanently incapacitated—mentally or physically—from performing your job, you may be eligible for a disability retirement. Permanent incapacitation means the substantial inability to perform the usual duties of your job for an indefinite period. Members who are permanently incapacitated.”

The laws concerning permanent incapacity are complex. It is strongly recommended that you consult with an attorney with respect to it.

What is the causation requirement for service-connected disability?

The basic definition is that the permanent incapacity is the result of injury or disease arising out of and in the course of the member’s employment. Such employment should contribute substantially to such incapacity.

Retirement law is very complex. There are complex issues with respect to causation. It is strongly recommended that you consult with an attorney with respect to it.

I have a Workers’ Compensation Claim, Should I pursue a KCERA retirement?

Maybe. If you believe that you can no longer do your job, then you must give strong consideration towards pursuing one. First, it is recommended that you contact KCERA. If you are considering a disability or service-connected disability retirement, you should bring that to that attention of the representative so that you can get an accurate work-up.

Second, I recommend that you meet with an attorney with retirement knowledge so that you can analyze the facts of your disability and whether you would be able to satisfy each requirement.

If I can’t do my job, should I quit my job and file for retirement? Should I cash out my retirement?

Absolutely not. You should consult both KCERA and a lawyer before taking any action concerning your employment status or cashing out your retirement. Terminating your employment can serious repercussions. Likewise, cashing out your retirement may bar you from pursuing a case.

Does winning my Workers’ Compensation case mean that I win my retirement case?

No. As stated above, KCERA has different rules with respect to both industrial causation and as to permanent disability. Medical providers in KCERA cases are required to express opinions with respect to retirement law. Under Workers’ Compensation Law, the medical providers only have to express an opinion within reasonable medical probability that the injury arose out of and in the course of employment. Further, the doctors in workers’ compensation cases do not address concept of permanent incapacity as required in retirement law.

A retirement case involves the development of additional medical-legal opinion to satisfy the burdens for disability retirements. This may include the generation of additional evidence in order to satisfy the requirements of KCERA.

Can a Workers’ Compensation Case help in obtaining a Disability Retirement?

Yes. The Workers’ Compensation system allows for an injured worker to obtain evidence that will assist them in providing their retirement case. The Workers’ Compensation system allows for injured workers to obtain diagnostic testing such as MRIs and EMG nerve studies which can prove both an industrial injury and the extent of the injury. Workers’ Compensation allows injured workers to obtain medical records which can also assist in developing a retirement case. Further, the Workers’ Compensation system may provide the injured worker a treating physician who can fill out documents that are required to complete the KCERA disability application. Further, that physician may be called to testify at a KCERA hearing.

With more than 23 years of expertise in defending workers’ rights, the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, A Professional Law Corporation, is here to assist. If you have any questions concerning your rights, please do not hesitate to contact our offices. Please contact us today concerning any workers’ compensation questions or issues.