Here you will find answers to frequently asked questions by employers about the impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) on Wisconsin Retirement System benefits. Topics include paid leave, rehired annuitants, terminations, and more.
Questions? Please send your questions or feedback to the ETF Employer Services WRS Unit at ETFSMBEmployerWRS@etf.wi.gov.
Q: We must close due to pandemic right now, but will still be paying employees. The employees are not expected to and will not be using their own leave time. Do we have to report this pay to the WRS? (3/25/2020)
A: The pay must be reported to the WRS because it will be considered a type of paid leave of absence. The corresponding hours should be reported according to the WRS Administration Manual (ET-1127), chapter 5, subsection 506 for paid leaves based on the amount of pay the employees are receiving during this time.
A: The same rules for determining the termination or retirement date is used regardless of the cause of termination or retirement. Per Wis. Admin Code 10.08(3), the term date should be the earliest of the dates determined under all the listed applicable subdivisions. Employers are responsible for reviewing Wis. Admin Code 10.08(3) to determine the correct date to report to ETF.
Rehired Annuitant Laws
Q: What effect does the return to work for rehired annuitants’ provision in Wisconsin Act 185 have on the hiring of rehired annuitants? (5/13/2020)
A: Wisconsin Act 185 allows for a WRS annuitant who is hired for a critical position during the public health emergency starting on March 12, 2020* to return to work and elect to not suspend his or her annuity for the duration of the public health emergency. Additionally, the bill reduces the break-in-service requirement from 75 days to 15 days for a WRS annuitant who is hired for a critical position during the public health emergency. The public health emergency declared by the Governor under Executive Order #72 expired Monday May 11 (60 days after it was declared).
Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 40.26(6), the provisions in Act 185 for annuitants returning to work is only applicable for the duration of the public health emergency, which is from March 12, 2020* to May 11, 2020. That means that the break in service of 15 days and the election to not have their annuity suspended, ends May 11. The annuitant rules return to normal after May 11. Any annuitant that continues to work at an employer must be re-evaluated for WRS eligibility and a new Rehired Annuitant (ET-2319) form must be completed. If the annuitant was hired during the public health emergency, they were able to take advantage of the 15-day break in service and if they continue to work, they do not have to have a separate 75-day break in service. The employer needs to determine what the expectations are from May 11 – onward. If the annuitant is expected to meet WRS eligibility requirements, then their annuity will be suspended.
If an employer hires an annuitant in a critical position between March 12, 2020 to May 11, 2020, who meets the provision outlined in Wisconsin Act 185, the employer and annuitant must fill out the Rehired Annuitant During Public Health Emergency (ET-2319P) form.
Please keep the following in mind when you are filling out the form:
- The annuitant is hired for a critical position.
- The hire/rehire date on the form should be on or after 3/12/2020.
- The WRS termination date should be at least 15 days from the hire/rehire date. There must be a least a 15-day break in service.
- The duration of employment should be between 3/12/2020 to 5/11/2020.
Secretary Palm DHS has provided the following guidance on critical workers determinations:
- Agencies and local health departments may refer to the guidance from the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, titled Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in COVID-19 Response.
- Individual agencies and local governments are in the best position to determine whether an individual is critical to their pandemic response efforts.
- Questions regarding the state service status of particular individuals should be directed to ETF for consultation.
*Disclaimer – The information provided herein/above is subject to change if the Governor’s Office, Legislature, or other Cabinet Agency extends or modifies the public health emergency provided under Executive Order #72. ETF does not have the authority to modify the provisions of Executive Order #72 or 2019 Wisconsin Act 185, which define the public health emergency and critical position rehired annuitant provisions, respectively.
Wisconsin Retirement System Accounts
Q: Is the Wisconsin Retirement System letting employees take a hardship request or a loan out from their retirement during this pandemic? (4/8/2020)
A: Recent federal legislation doesn’t impact hardship distributions for the Wisconsin Retirement System because the WRS does not allow hardship distributions or loans. The only WRS distribution options are detailed in Chapter 40 of the Wisconsin State Statutes, which functions as the WRS plan document. Distributions are limited to benefits such as separation benefits for those under minimum retirement age, and retirement benefits for those who have reached minimum retirement age and are vested.
Q: I am filling out unemployment benefit documents and am wondering if the Wisconsin Retirement System is a pension plan? (4/8/2020)
A: Yes. The Wisconsin Retirement System is a qualified retirement system under Section 401(a) of the Internal Revenue Code. The WRS is a pension plan with both defined benefit and defined contribution components. This information is found in the WRS Administration Manual (ET-1127) Preface.
Q: We are looking into the DWD Workshare Program as a possible solution for some of our workforce. How would this be reported to the WRS? (4/24/2020)
A: If an employer joins the DWD Work Share Program, you would only be reporting the earnings, hours, and contributions of what the employee actually worked for WRS purposes. Per 108.062(12), the employer is paying the same employer contribution rate as they normally would for the earnings actually worked. You would report to the WRS actual worked earnings, hours, employer contributions, and employee contributions (deducted from employee as normal).
The other amount of earnings paid through unemployment benefits of the program is not WRS reportable.
Q: We have one department staffed with one full-time employee and three part-time employees. One of our part-timers is only 94 hours away from the 1,200 hour limit and it’s likely it will only be a matter of time before they reach the limit. Do we have to enroll them in the WRS for the rest of their employment due to having to work extra hours during this time period? (3/25/2020)
A: ETF does not have the authority to alter what is written in state statute. Employers are responsible for evaluating and determining each employee’s eligibility for WRS participation. Employees who meet the hours and duration requirements for WRS eligibility must be enrolled in the WRS.
Q: Can you tell me whether an employee who is temporarily furloughed due to COVID-19 and receiving unemployment benefits still maintains their status in the WRS (meaning they are still receiving creditable service) assuming they meet the minimum hours requirement for the year? (3/25/2020)
A. If the employee who is furloughed is still considered an employee who is on an unpaid leave, then the employee remains enrolled in the WRS. No hours and earnings would be reported since this is essentially an unpaid leave. However, if the employer is terminating the employee, then the employee will no longer be enrolled in the WRS.
12-Month Rolling Look-Back
Q: Are there guidelines that I must follow during this time regarding the rolling look-back period? (3/25/2020)
A: There are no changes to the 12-month look-back period. It should be monitored as normal, just like if someone who is still an employee of the school district, non-WRS eligible, and goes on a leave. If they are unpaid and there are no hours for those months in the 12 consecutive months during the look-back there will not be any hours in the total. If the employee is on a paid leave, then the corresponding hours the employer reports is counted towards the 12-month rolling look-back period for WRS eligibility.
WRS Reporting and the Families First Coronavirus Act
Q: If an employee uses 80 hours of Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) or Expanded FMLA (EFMLA), how should this reported for WRS? (3/25/2020)
A: The Families First Coronavirus Act may have changed the requirements for FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) and adding paid sick leave for employers. For WRS purposes it is treated like any other paid/unpaid leave. The employer would follow the reporting according to the leave. If the employee is on an unpaid leave for an indefinite time, the employer could process a leave-of-absence transaction. If the employee is on a paid leave, the employer should follow the WRS Administration Manual (ET-1127), chapter 5, subsection 506. It provides details on how to report hours if they are not paid their full salary while on leave.
If the employees are using paid leave, regardless of type, hours and associated pay are WRS-reportable when used.
Q: We are reviewing the guidelines for Families First Coronavirus Response Act and have questions on how this affects retirement. If we have staff who utilize this EFMLA for child care reasons, would the same rules under FMLA be in effect? Would we reduce their hours by one third, as well as their pay? (4/8/2020)
A: There is a difference between the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division administers and enforces the new law’s paid leave requirements. Employers should follow DOL’s guidelines for specific pay requirements. Information provided by DOL can be found in the FFCRA Poster, DOL’s guidance, and on DOL’s website.
The qualifying reasons for expanded family and medical leave are not the same as those for FMLA. The FFCRA modified the FMLA eligibility to allow for employees who would not normally be covered under FMLA (e.g. 30 days of employment) and is allowable for care of your child(ren) due to school or child care facility closures due to COVID-19 reasons.
The employer should continue to report an employee’s actual hours and earnings to ETF following the WRS Administration Manual (ET-1127), chapter 5, subsection 506. A reduction in hours is not required under FFCRA or FMLA. Work schedules continue to be determined by the employer and the position’s FTE, and any reduction in employee work hours that could potentially be covered by EFMLA should be reviewed and designated by the employer in accordance with the federal guidelines.