Understanding Your Rights

Massachusetts retirement law provides for two different types of disability retirement: accidental and ordinary.

Members who are considering disability retirement should refer to PERAC's Guide to Disability Retirement for Public Employees Regardless of the Date of Membership to enhance their understanding of their rights, benefits, the presumptions (Heart Law, Lung Law, and Cancer Law) applied to certain public safety personnel, and the entire disability process.

Accidental Disability: Eligibility

  • Who is eligible to apply for an accidental disability retirement?

Generally, if a member's permanent incapacitation prevents him or her from performing the essential duties of his or her position because of a personal injury sustained or a hazard undergone while in the performance of his or her duties at a definite time and place and without serious and willful misconduct on his or her part, he or she will be eligible to apply.

Notice of Injury Requirement

  • Should I notify my retirement board if I am injured on the job?

It is extremely important that you file a notice of injury if you have an accident on the job, or are exposed to a health hazard. This notice should be filed with your retirement board in addition to any notice which may be filed with your employer. The notice to the retirement board should be filed within 90 days of the occurrence of the injury or exposure. This establishes the time, place, and occurrence of the accident for future reference. If you later become disabled and more than two years have passed since the accident or hazard, it is imperative that you have an official record in order to seek accidental disability benefits. This notice of injury serves as the official record.

Receipt of Workers’ Compensation Benefits
Proof of receipt of Workers' Compensation benefits may fulfill the notice requirement for those members covered by Workers' Compensation. For those members not covered by Workers' Compensation, official departmental records may be utilized for members of Groups 2, 3, and 4.

Ordinary Disability: Eligibility

  • Who is eligible to receive an ordinary disability retirement allowance?

Any member–in–service is eligible, providing that they meet the service requirements listed below, who is permanently incapacitated from performing the essential duties of his or her position, and the incapacitation is not work-related.

  • What are the service requirements for ordinary disability retirement?

The service requirements for ordinary disability retirement differ among veterans, non-veterans and depend upon whether a system has accepted a specific local option.

Service requirements vary. Applicants who file for ordinary disability retirement on or after January 12, l988, from the State Retirement System, the Teachers' Retirement System and any other system that has accepted the provisions of G. L. c. 32 § 6(1), must have been granted at least ten years of creditable service. Most systems have accepted this provision. In the handful of systems which have not accepted the provision, a member must have at least 15 years of creditable service in order to apply for ordinary disability retirement.

Members who are veterans must have been granted at least ten years of creditable service.

  • What is the benefit payable when a person is awarded an ordinary disability retirement?

For non-veterans, the benefit payable is the same as would be payable for a regular or "superannuation" retirement, utilizing a formula using age, creditable service and the average of a person's five highest years of regular compensation. For people in Group 1 under the age of 60, the age factor will be "bumped up" to 60, providing a larger benefit. For those in Groups 2 or 4 who are under the age of 55, a similar bump up will occur, this time to age 55.

For veterans, the benefit payable is the annuity plus a yearly amount of pension equal to one-half the average annual rate of regular compensation for the twelve month period immediately preceding the effective date of their retirement allowance.

  • Is there any benefit to a non-veteran over the age of 55 or 60 (depending upon their group classification) applying for ordinary disability retirement benefits?

This guide is only concerned with the Massachusetts public pension system. A non-veteran over the age of 55 (Groups 2 and 4) and age 60 (Group 1) would receive the exact same financial benefit as a superannuation retirement when they apply for ordinary disability retirement over the age of 55 or 60, as the case may be. They would also be subject to certain earnings limitations and subject to periodic reexamination. That being said, there may be benefits to choosing an ordinary disability retirement over a superannuation retirement. If a person retires under disability, there is always the opportunity for them to return to service pursuant to G.L. c. 32, § 8. Also, being out on a disability retirement may be beneficial for certain programs. The decision of which benefit to apply for is a personal matter, and each individual must weigh the pros and cons of their particular circumstances.

Date published: July 1, 2015

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