PERA stands for the Public Employees Retirement Association, an organization that operates only in the State of Minnesota. Generally speaking, PERA provides and manages the benefits for certain public employees—for example, retired government workers, police officers and firefighters—who worked for local governments throughout the State. Currently, PERA serves over 150,000 public employees and pays benefits to more than 40,000 retirees, survivors, and disabled members. This article explains PERA’s role in providing disability benefits and workers’ compensation.
The first step towards eligibility is to be a PERA member. Under Minnesota law, most non-elected public employee positions—like police officers, firefighters, correctional officers and employees working for state counties, cities, townships, and public school districts—are automatically enrolled. However, some public employees have the option to participate as a member of PERA. Typically, optional membership is offered for certain elected officials, volunteer ambulance personnel, city managers, and physicians employed by local governments.
When applying for disability benefits, PERA members may receive one of two types of disability: “duty” disability or regular disability benefits. Duty Disability benefits are available for police officers, firefighters, and correctional officers for injuries that occurred during or arose out of the performance of duties specific to protecting the property or the safety of others. Under statute, these duties have to be inherently dangerous. Which duties are “inherently dangerous” are not always clear. In addition, the injury must prevent the performance of future duties for at least a year. If you are eligible for Duty Disability, PERA calculates your benefit by averaging 60% of your monthly salary benefit during the highest five consecutive years of earnings, also referred to as your high-five salary. That rate is increased by 3% for each year of service beyond 20 years.
Alternatively, regular disability benefits are available for PERA members who have a physical or psychological condition expected to impact the performance of normal duties for at least a year. The disability can be a non-work related injury or an injury that occurred during the performance of work duties. Unlike Duty Disability, the injury does not need to have occurred while protecting the property or safety of others or in an inherently dangerous situation. If you are eligible for regular disability, PERA calculates your benefits based on 45% of your average monthly salary benefit during the highest five consecutive years of earnings.
For work-related injuries, PERA members can also apply for workers’ compensation even when receiving disability benefits at the same time. Workers’ compensation may be available for any injury occurring at work or because of work activities, including those that develop gradually. If your employer and their insurer accept the claim, work comp can cover reasonable and necessary medical treatments, wage loss benefits including disability benefits, and rehabilitation services.
PERA is a complex scheme with complicated eligibility requirements. The process for obtaining benefits and coordinating those benefits with workers’ compensation is difficult and the financial reward is substantial. With a PERA application, all your disability benefits are on the line. Even if a benefit is granted, receiving regular disability instead of Duty Disability could result in the loss of 15% of your monthly salary.
If you believe you are entitled to disability benefits through PERA, we strongly recommend you contact Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a free, no-obligation consultation. The most important aspect of your claim is the initial application to PERA. Ensuring that your application is timely and accurate is the best way to receive your benefits quickly. If, however, you have already applied and your application has been denied or you believe you are receiving less than you are entitled to, Meuser Law can still help. Meuser Law’s team of experienced Minnesota PERA and workers' compensation attorneys provide assistance through every stage of disability employment applications – from the original application to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. We can help you receive the benefits you deserve.