Vested and Retired
Ruling from the Board of Trustees:
Members who have retired and wish to return to employment as a firefighter, either paid or volunteer, may re-join the Fund and immediately begin to earn creditable service.
Considerations for returning to work: Benefits will be suspended until a subsequent retirement is effective. Any early retirement penalty suffered from the first retirement will continue unless the firefighter works for a period of seven years. (Authority: O.C.G.A. 47-7-101 (b))
When the General Assembly passed Section (b) of paragraph 47-7-101, and it was slated for implementation, the interpretation of the code by the then Fund's Board of Trustees and Staff, supported by Counsel, was that a firefighter who had retired and wished to return to service had to work for seven years before creditable service could be earned. It was believed that this rule was in place in order to prevent 'gaming' the early retirement penalty imposed by the Fund. This interpretation has been accepted and passed along by the staff and board members as the proper rule since its original inception, unquestioned by new staff, board members, counsel or participants. In recent years, the staff has sought unsuccessfully to have this rule, as interpreted, changed to eliminate the seven year period, believing it to be too onerous and believing that, administratively, the gaming of the early retirement penalty could be controlled. More recently, while carefully studying the Code, we realized that, indeed, the Code was written to account for the penalty, taking into consideration the 'prior' retirement period and the 'subsequent' retirement period. The author of this piece of Code was both clever and subtle, in that the issue is dealt with in very succinct and elegant terms. And, the real meaning of the Code escaped all but a very close examination of the language for a very long time.
Firefighters who have once retired and have returned to employment either full-time or as a volunteer, but are not receiving creditable service, should notify the pension office immediately for directions to establish a pension creditable start date for the subsequent service period. Firefighters who have once retired and have returned to employment either full-time or as a volunteer, and have re-joined the fund, can rest assured that they may retire again at any time and receive creditable service for the additional time served irrespective of the length of the service. Firefighters who have once retired and have returned to employment either full-time or as a volunteer, and did not join the fund but had their benefits suspended while they were employed and subsequently re-retired, may be eligible to purchase that service and receive a benefit adjustment if personnel, training or attendance records are available to support the claim. We are in the process of identifying and notifying, as best we can from pension fund records, affected participants. If you have been impacted by this ruling and are not contacted by the pension office by March 30, please feel free to call us and discuss your current situation. Additional discussion will appear in an upcoming newsletter article.