Understanding the "Return to Service" Law

Legislative changes during the past several years have clarified how service pensions are calculated for volunteer firefighters who resume active service after retirement or after a break in service. A volunteer firefighter who returns to the same volunteer fire department from which he or she separated from service may now earn additional credit for service, if the break in service was at least 60 days long and if the bylaws of the relief association permit it.

The legislative changes made during the past several years provide greater flexibility for relief associations to deal with return-to-service issues and provide greater clarity to those who must calculate service pensions for members returning from breaks in service. The new law applies to all breaks in service, including approved leaves of absence, except breaks in service made available by federal or state law (e.g., military or FMLA leave).

The law provides any member with an approved leave of absence of one year or less an automatic exemption to the minimum period of resumption service requirement in the relief association’s bylaws. The minimum period of resumption service requirement is a requirement, separate from the vesting requirement, which a member must meet upon a resumption of service. 

For relief associations that pay lump-sum or monthly service pensions, the bylaws may prohibit a member from receiving benefit increases that occurred during the break in service if the member fails to meet the resumption of service requirement before ceasing firefighting duties again. The law also allows the relief association, through its bylaws, to exempt members with a break in service (e.g., an unapproved leave) not exceeding one year from the resumption service requirement, provided that the member has not been paid a benefit.

The new law provides several options so that each relief association has the flexibility to decide for itself within the limits of the law how to handle return to service issues. Additional information about the new law, including examples of how benefits are paid under different scenarios, is available in our Statement of Position on this topic.

Information can also be found in an article for the Minnesota Fire Chief magazine.

Published last in the March 2013 Pension Newsletter