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Handling Pension Plans for National Guard Members and Reservists


Increasing numbers of National Guard and Reserve personnel have been sent to far-flung places around the globe in recent years.

Reasons to Employ Reservists and Guard Members

“Hire Vets First” is a campaign to increase awareness of the advantages of hiring veterans. Here are 10 reasons to support military employees, from the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve:
1. Leadership. Military-employees are trained to be leaders and managers.
2. Professionalism. Your team can gain a winning edge with military-employees, who know the importance of integrity and respect.
3. Responsibility. Military-employees know how to be accountable for valuable human and material resources.
4. Mission-Critical Skills. The trade-related and technical training that military employees undergo often relates directly to civilian jobs.
5. Physical Conditioning. In battle or in the workplace, military-employees know the value of being in top physical condition and drug free.
6. “Can-Do” Attitude. Military employees have a positive attitude to get the job done.
7. Calm Under Fire. You can count on military employees to be steady, cool and collected.
8. First-Class Image. You don’t have to remind military-employees to get a haircut or dress for success.
9.On Time. In the military or the business world, every second counts. Military-employees are punctual.
10. Global Perspective. From Europe to the Far East, military-employees are tuned into the forces and events that shape the global market.

“USERRA is intended to minimize the disadvantages to an individual that occur when that person needs to be absent from his or her civilian employment to serve in this country’s uniformed services. … The law is intended to encourage non-career uniformed service so that America can enjoy the protection of those services, staffed by qualified people, while maintaining a balance with the needs of private and public employers who also depend on these same individuals.”

– The U.S. Department of Labor

If your staff includes reservists and National Guard members who must interrupt their employment to fulfill their military service, you probably know that the law requires you to reinstate them once they returned from service (with certain specific exceptions). But you may not be aware of your obligations regarding pension benefits.

For pension purposes, the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) generally requires employers to treat returning service members as if they had been continuously employed — provided they meet the other qualifications.

In other words, time spent away from the job while in military service does not constitute a break in employment. Here are some additional facts you should know:

  • The law applies regardless of the type of pension plan in effect (such as a defined benefit or defined contribution plan).
  • USERRA pertains to vesting (determining when the employee qualifies for a pension) and benefit computation (determining the amount of the employee’s monthly pension check). Also, an employee who would have become eligible to participate in a pension plan during his or her time in the service should be placed in the plan retroactive to the date of initial eligibility.
  • Employers are required to make non-elective contributions as usual, although they may wait until employees return to their jobs. The time limit for an employer to make non-elective contributions is three times the length of service, not to exceed five years.
  • Consult with your tax adviser on how to include this information on the employee’s W-2 form.
  • In the event an employer’s contribution depends on the employee making an elective contribution, the employer is entitled to wait until this is done.
  • If contributions are required for an employee to earn a benefit, employers must allow employees to make up the contributions if they wish to do so.
  • If an employee returns after more than a year, and makes catch-up contributions, the employee can determine when to apply the contributions — the current year or a prior year of absence. The employee has the same amount of time to catch up as the employer (three times the period of service, not to exceed five years). When issuing a W-2, list the contributions by year, as the employee designates.
  • An employee who has a loan from a pension plan can have the loan payments suspended until he or she returns. At that time, the payments continue on the same schedule as before. The interest accrued during the absence must be capped at no more than six percent.

An amendment to USERRA requires employers to inform their reservists or Guard member employees of their rights, benefits and obligations under the law.

The requirement to provide this information can be met by placing a copy of the notice on a staff bulletin board, where information is normally posted. This notice can be downloaded by clicking here.

reprinted with permission from Thomson Reuters 03.2021

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