Benefits Overview

The following is a general overview of what an employer needs to know about MCERA benefits. If your employee has any questions regarding their retirement benefits, please refer them to MCERA for assistance. This website also has detailed information, booklets and handbooks that provide guidance on retirement benefits and life events that can occur during your employees’ careers, such as, disability, death, and divorce.

Service Retirement Eligibility

Service retirement eligibility is based on retirement tier, which specifies the minimum age and service credit requirements. Reciprocal and purchased service is included when determining retirement eligibility.

In addition to tier requirements, Safety members in Classic tiers are eligible to retire after earning 20 years of service credit regardless of age, and General members in Classic tiers are eligible to retire after earning 30 years of service credit regardless of age. Members in all tiers are eligible to retire at age 70 with any amount of service credit.

Retirement Application Process

Employees should contact MCERA to receive a customized service retirement application when they are within six months of their anticipated retirement date. MCERA staff will audit the account to ensure that reported service credit and earnings are accurate, calculate a retirement benefit estimate, and send the employee a customized retirement application packet. Application requests are confidential unless the employee specifies otherwise. Please note that MCERA may contact employers periodically to verify information, and these requests may be unrelated to the employee’s request for an application. Employees may submit completed retirement applications within 60 days of their anticipated retirement date, but no later than the day before retirement.

How Benefits are Calculated

Retirement benefits are based on a formula that pays a lifetime monthly benefit. The benefit is calculated by multiplying three factors:

  • Age factor, determined by age at retirement
  • Total earned and purchased service credit
  • Highest average compensation

Increasing any of these factors increases the amount of retirement benefit. The age factor percentages and highest average compensation parameters vary based on retirement tier.

Age at Retirement

The employee’s age at retirement, measured to the completed quarter year, is converted to a factor used to calculate the retirement benefit. The factor determines what percentage of highest average compensation will be used in the calculation. The age factor increases incrementally every quarter-year until the maximum age for the tier's formula is reached.

Service Credit

Service credit is earned for every hour worked during MCERA membership, including hours for which the employee is on paid vacation, holiday or sick leave. Service credit may also include service earned through a service purchase or converted sick leave accruals (if applicable). Retirement service credit does not include overtime hours, part time service less than 75% of full time (unless purchased), or time missed due to leave without pay.

Sick Leave Conversion at Retirement

Sick leave is the only type of leave accrual that may be counted toward service credit. Most MCERA members are eligible to increase their monthly retirement benefit with the conversion of a portion of their sick leave balance at retirement.

To be eligible to convert unused sick leave to service credit, the employee must terminate active employment and begin retirement the day after their termination date. The amount of sick leave that can be converted depends on the employer and/or bargaining agreement. During the processing of retirement benefits, MCERA will contact the employer to confirm the amount of sick leave the employee is eligible to convert to service credit.

  • County of Marin and Marin Superior Court: Eligible to convert 75% of accrued sick leave
  • Novato Fire: Eligible to convert 100% of accrued sick leave
  • Southern Marin Fire: Eligible to convert 40% of accrued sick leave
  • City of San Rafael: Sick leave conversion policies vary by bargaining unit. Most San Rafael employees hired on or before June 30, 2009 are eligible to convert 100% of their sick leave to service credit.
  • LAFCO, Marin City Community Services, Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Tamalpais Community Services do not currently have sick leave conversion policies.

Sick leave does not count toward retirement or medical eligibility. Converted sick leave service credit is added into the total service credit when the retirement benefit is calculated, but it cannot be used to meet any eligibility requirements. For example, accumulated sick leave hours cannot be used to reach the 5-year vesting requirement. To be vested, an employee must have actually worked and paid contributions for 5 years of service credit.

Highest Average Compensation

Highest average compensation is computed on the highest consecutive one- or three-year period of compensation, as determined by the employee’s tier. The highest average compensation for retirement may differ from the amount the employee was actually paid because certain pay types may not be included as compensation for retirement purposes.

  • Classic Members - Compensation Earnable: Compensation earnable is base pay plus other approved payable items, allowances and cash-outs such as uniform allowance or shift differential. Compensation earnable does not include pay for overtime, standby, on call, administrative response pay or cash paid in lieu of benefits (such as paid unused fringe).
  • PEPRA Members - Pensionable Compensation: Pensionable compensation is the normal monthly rate of pay, or base pay, paid to similarly situated members of the same group or class of employment for services rendered on a full time basis during normal working hours. Pay items excluded from pensionable compensation are leave cash outs, standby pay, overtime, payments for services outside of normal working hours, bonuses and allowances. Other pay items not listed may also be excluded.

Compensation limits may also apply.

Retirement Benefit Estimator

Employees can easily and quickly get an estimate of their retirement benefits using MCERA's Retirement Benefit Estimator. Some employees with multiple periods of MCERA membership, periods part time service, or leave without pay may need an estimate from MCERA staff.

Disability Retirement

Active MCERA members who have an illness or injury that permanently incapacitates them from performing the essential functions of their job may be eligible to apply for disability retirement. Based on medical documentation, the Retirement Board will determine whether the employee is permanently disabled from performing the essential functions of their position.

If Your Employee is Permanently Incapacitated

All employees are encouraged to meet with MCERA’s Disability Coordinator prior to filing a Disability Retirement Application. The Disability Coordinator will be able to answer most questions in a one-on-one appointment. The Disability Retirement Handbook and Disability Retirement Process Brochure provide an overview of the process and the benefits.

Employees eligible for a regular service retirement benefit may apply for and begin receiving it pending the determination of their application for disability retirement. Adjustments will be made to their retirement benefit retroactive to their effective date of disability, if applicable, if they are granted a disability retirement by the Retirement Board.

Types of Disability Retirement

Service Connected Disability

A service connected disability means there is a real and measurable connection between employment and the employee’s permanent incapacity. For a service connected disability the monthly benefit is 50% of highest average compensation, or the amount of the employee’s service retirement benefit, whichever is greater.

Non-Service Connected Disability

A non-service connected disability means that the employee’s incapacity is a result of injury or disease that is not related to their job. The employee must have at least five years of service credit (including reciprocal service) to be eligible for a non-service connected disability retirement. The benefit for non-service connected disability is based upon a formula not to exceed one-third of highest average compensation, or the amount of the employee’s service retirement benefit, whichever is greater.

Employer Responsibilities in the Disability Retirement Application Process

Provide Timely Information to MCERA

In addition to information received from Human Resources and Workers’ Compensation, MCERA needs information from you about the employee’s current ability to perform his or her job duties and the accommodations, if any, that have been made or offered. Accordingly, MCERA will send written questions, and/or call the appropriate supervisor/manager. Please ensure that your supervisors/managers provide the requested information promptly because MCERA cannot process the application without this input.

Workers’ Compensation

Whether or not an employee has received Workers’ Compensation benefits has no direct bearing on whether a service connected disability will be granted. While MCERA will obtain Workers’ Compensation documents, MCERA’s disability retirement benefits are not connected to Workers’ Compensation and the eligibility for our benefits is based on different standards. The Retirement Board makes a separate determination of permanent disability and service-connection, both of which may differ from the Workers’ Compensation system. If MCERA requests information through a form or by asking a question, this information is required, even if similar information was already provided in the Workers’ Compensation claim.

Employee Death

If your employee dies prior to leaving employment, please contact MCERA. There may be death benefits available to a surviving spouse or registered domestic partner and/or minor children. The benefits vary based on whether the death was work related or not, and other factors.

Social Security

Social Security has two special provisions that may affect MCERA members: the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), and the Government Pension Offset (GPO). These provisions apply to people who receive a pension earned in a job where they did not pay Social Security taxes, and also worked in other jobs long enough to qualify for a Social Security benefit. The MCERA benefit is not impacted, but in most cases the Social Security benefit is reduced. Fact sheets are available on the Publications page of this website.