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Understanding Public Safety/Firefighter Pension Credit

Recent media reports have raised questions about how public safety employees earn URS pension credit. URS does not comment on the specific cases of individual employers or employees. However, the background information below may help address general questions.

Base Income determines pension funding. Per Utah law, a public safety/firefighter employee’s pension benefit is based on pay received for a Regularly Scheduled Work Period, which is a period determined by their employer. Employees are paid for hours worked above the Regularly Scheduled Work Period, but, by law, those hours will not count toward their pension. The amount earned during a Regularly Scheduled Work Period is called Base Income.

Public safety/firefighter employers set the Regularly Scheduled Work Period. Per Utah State Retirement Law, Subsection 49-15-102(a), “The participating employer shall establish the regularly scheduled work period.” A Regularly Scheduled Work Period is generally 80 hours in a two-week pay period. But, by law, a public safety/firefighter employer can declare a longer Regularly Scheduled Work Period by filing paperwork with URS.

Complex factors influence this determination. Many public safety/firefighter employees work irregular hours that can vary through the course of years. Is working more than 80 hours per pay period mandatory? Is it a permanent arrangement? To which specific subset of employees does it apply? URS does not regulate or force employers to declare a Regularly Scheduled Work Period of more than 80 hours. A Regularly Scheduled Work Period can be regarded as an agreement between an employer and employee.

These laws protect the pension fund. Why are pension-eligible wages limited to Base Income for public safety/firefighter employees? These employees generally have shorter careers and longer retirements, meaning less time for pension contributions and more time receiving benefit payments. Therefore, their pensions are more expensive and more impacted by dynamic changes in salary. Counting only Base Income, common among public safety and firefighter pension systems, helps protect the integrity and financial soundness of the pension fund. For example, it prevents an employee from artificially inflating their pension benefit by working excessive hours in the period before retirement to boost their final average salary.

URS is an education resource for our employers. Employers, by law, have a responsibility to understand their duties related to funding their employees’ pension. URS is here to help them understand and comply with these responsibilities. URS Employer Services Department personnel work extensively with our nearly 470 employers. They provide frequent trainings that specifically address issues related to Regularly Scheduled Work Periods. For example, we conduct half-day Comprehensive Employer Training, which takes a deep dive into retirement laws, at multiple locations throughout the state every spring. Our Retirement Basics Plus training, held semi-annually at our office and at six off-site locations, addresses important employer administrative matters. We also conduct limited-scope onsite reviews (sometimes referred to as employer audits) of each employer group every three to five years. URS provides extensive education resources for employers, including online videos, webinars, and newsletters.

URS is transparent with employees. URS provides statements to employees every year that show the salary from each year that will be used to calculate their pension. Employees are encouraged to examine these statements and work with their employer or with URS if they have questions.

URS will make special effort to reach out to public safety/firefighter employers. In light of issues that have recently been raised, URS will soon reach out to all public safety/firefighter employers to ensure they understand procedures regarding Regularly Scheduled Work Periods.

URS is committed to Utah public employees. URS is proud to serve the vital public employees who serve our communities. We’ll continue to work with employers and employees when issues or concerns arise.

Contact us at the numbers below if you have questions or concerns. 
Employers: Employer Services Department: 801-366-7318 | 800-753-7318
Employees: Retirement Benefits Department: 801-366-7770 | 800-695-4877