Parting Words – How to End Your Employment to Accept PERA/MSRS Duty Disability Benefits

Words matter. Especially, when it comes to your workers’ compensation case. Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, P.A. represent hundreds of Police Officers, State Troopers, Deputy Sheriffs, Firefighters, Corrections Officers, EMTs, and other first responders who “medical out” – meaning, they leave their former careers behind, in order to accept PERA or MSRS in-the-line-of-duty disability benefits.

Many of our clients are at a loss for words when they reach the end of their careers in public service. When separating to accept PERA or MSRS Duty Disability benefits, it is important to choose your words wisely, because your words may impact your ability to claim wage-loss benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Separating to Accept PERA/MSRS Duty Disability Benefits

When you are approved for PERA Duty Disability benefits, he/she must separate from employment within 45 days. If you fail to separate from employment within 45 days, then you will forfeit your entitlement to PERA Duty Disability benefits, and you will be unable to reapply for one year. The consequences of failing to separate in a timely manner are potentially devastating.

There is no similar requirement when you are approved for MSRS Duty Disability benefits, but we strongly encourage members of the MSRS state retirement plan to separate their employment shortly after being approved for MSRS Duty Disability benefits due to other potentially negative consequences of continuing their employment.

The words you use can impact your benefits

There are many ways to end your employment. You can quit, retire, separate, or resign. Or, you can be terminated (with or without cause). The words you use to separate from your employment may have a significant impact on the benefits available to you.

Union Benefits

Many union contracts provide different benefits based on how the employment relationship ends. You should consult with your union steward for more information about the impact of the words you choose to end the employment relationship, so that they can advise you on how to maximize the benefits available to you pursuant to your union contract.

Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Your workers’ compensation benefits may also be impacted by the words you use to end the employment relationship. At Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, P.A., we most often advise our clients to “separate” their employment “to accept PERA / MSRS Duty Disability benefits.”

Why employees should “separate”

In most situations, we advise our clients to “separate” from employment to limit the employer/insurer’s ability to argue that the employee retired or voluntarily withdrew from the labor market, for personal reasons unrelated to the employee’s work-related injury.

Furthermore, separating “to accept PERA/MSRS Duty Disability benefits” provides additional protection against the employer/insurer’s potential argument that the employee separated for reasons unrelated to his/her work-related injury.

There is also case law that says that if an employee separates from employment to accept a government disability benefit, like PERA/MSRS Duty Disability benefits, then the employer/insurer cannot use that as a basis to deny various workers’ compensation benefits including the services of a Qualified Rehabilitation Consultant (QRC).

Why (in most situations) employees should NOT “retire,” “quit,” or “resign”

Using the word “retire” could give the employer/insurer a basis for denying future wage-loss benefits. The “retirement defense” allows an employer/insurer to avoid liability for future wage-loss benefits, because if an employee retires from the labor market, then there are no wage-loss benefits to be paid.

Using the word “quit” or “resign” could similarly give the employer/insurer a basis for denying future wage-loss benefits. The employer/insurer is not responsible for paying wage-loss benefits if the employee refuses an offer of suitable gainful employment. If an employee quits or resigns, then the employer/insurer could argue that the employee refused an offer of suitable gainful employment, cutting off the employee’s entitlement to future wage-loss benefits.

Sending a Separation Letter

We also advise our clients to send a signed separation letter to their supervisor and human resources manager via certified mail (signature required) or email. The purpose of separating this way is to document the separation in a way that is clear, unambiguous, and time-stamped, to avoid a dispute about whether and when the employee separated from employment.

Final Thoughts: Retirement Parties, and Retirement Emails

After a decades-long career as a law enforcement officer, firefighter, corrections officer, or EMT, you may want to have a retirement party or send a farewell email, marking the end of your career. However, proceed with caution. Be careful not to use the word “retirement” in these situations.

Instead, consider hosting a party or sending an email “celebrating a career in public service,” and “looking forward to what is next.” Being careful about the words you use in these situations may seem overly cautious but, trust me, you do not want a well-meaning Facebook post of a picture of your “retirement” cake to cost you thousands of dollars in wage-loss benefits.

Contact Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, P.A. at 1-877-746-5680 for a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation to discuss your claim.