Generally, an employee's obligation to participate in SERS - as well as the class of service to which an employee belongs - is set forth in Pennsylvania's State Employees' Retirement Code. In some cases, an employee's obligation to participate may be in an employer's authorizing statute.
As a general rule, most employees of Pennsylvania state government are required to become SERS members. As such, employers automatically enroll new employees, begin withholding employee contributions, and start paying employer contributions toward the employee's eventual pension on the first day of their employment.
There are three noteworthy exceptions to this general rule. The first is related to those who work part time. The second is related to those whose membership is optional. The third is related to certain employees in the field of education.
If you work part time and are paid by the hour or by the day, you cannot join SERS until you have worked for either 750 hours or 100 days in a calendar year. Once you reach that threshold, you must join SERS. Typically, your employer will automatically enroll you and begin withholding employee contributions when you reach the threshold.
Once you are enrolled, it doesn't matter how many hours or days you work per year. After you have reached the threshold once, then all of your future state service counts toward your pension. For the purposes of the pension formula, you are credited with one year of service when you work 1,650 hours or more in a calendar year. If you work less than 1,650 hours, you are credited with a fraction of a year equal to the number of hours you worked divided by 1,650.
There are some exceptions for contract faculty, judges, legislators, and others, whose credit is determined as a fraction of the contract or term. If you think this may apply to you, please call 1.800.633.5461.
The Retirement Code allows some employees to decide if they want to join SERS or not. These include:
Members of the General Assembly
Heads or Deputy Heads of Administrative Departments
Members of Departmental Boards or Commissions
Secretary to the Governor
Certain Employees in the Educational Field
If you started commonwealth employment on or before July 1, 2016 and you work in one of these positions, you can choose to join SERS at any time during your employment. If you begin work after July 1, 2016, you have 30 days to elect membership. There are two important things to keep in mind as you make your decision.
First, once you join SERS, you must remain a member for as long as you work for any SERS-participating employer.
Second, your years of credit and contributions will begin on the day you first join SERS - no matter how far into your career that is. If you would like your years of credit to go back to the beginning of your employment, you will have to pay the employee contributions that you would have been paid all along the way, plus interest.
If you have the option to join SERS and would like to discuss the details, please call 1.800.633.5461.
If you work for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the State System of Higher Education or its member universities, Penn State, or certain community colleges, you can choose to either join SERS or to join the Public School Employees' Retirement System, or, possibly, to join another retirement plan offered by your employer.
To learn more, contact your HR office or call 1.800.633.5461.