The Massachusetts Public Employee Retirement Law provides for a special retirement benefit for certain correctional officers. Specifically, G.L. c. 32 § 28M allows those correctional employees who are in Group 4 and whose primary job duties include the care and custody of prisoners, and any transportation officer working within the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) may retire once the employee has at least 20 years of correctional service. Correction officers who retire under this provision are awarded at least 50% of the employee’s average rate of regular compensation for the 1 year period immediately preceding the effective date of the employee’s retirement.
There is a similar statute which grants qualified employees of Massachusetts Sheriff’s Offices similar benefits. G.L. c. 32 § 28N applies to “any correctional or jail officer” employed by a county sheriff’s office.
To retire under these statutes, the correctional employee must have a minimum of 20 years of credible service as a state or county correction officer. It has been determined that G.L. c. 32M and G.L. c. 32 § 28N are special provisions allowing certain public employees to retire early and, therefore, they should be strictly construed and applied.
Time spent “off the payroll” for unpaid leaves of absences and/or maternity leaves does not count towards the 20 years of credible service requirement. Correction officers who purchase time for other than correctional service, such as “military time” cannot use the purchased time to satisfy the 20 year requirement. Likewise, a correction officer who was terminated and off the payroll for 2 years while his termination was being adjudicated was not allowed to count that 2 year time period toward the 20 year requirement, even when it was eventually determined that he was wrongfully terminated. In order to qualify, the employee must have actually performed “credible service” for the entire 20 year period and even periods for which the employee was out of work due to an injury sustained in the workplace will not count.
A Massachusetts Superior Court Judge has ruled that service as a county correction officer could not be added to creditable service as a state correction officer to satisfy the twenty-year requirement in either G.L. c. 32M and G.L. c. 32 § 28N. In making this ruling, the Superior Court deferred to the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board’s reasoning that the necessary 20 years of service must be performed in either the county or state correctional systems, but not a combination of both. This ruling was based on the clear statutory language of both statutes, which do not allow for the combination of service periods.
In summary, because these statutes provide an “enhanced benefit” to qualified correctional officers, they will be narrowly construed and strictly applied by the State Retirement Board, the Division of Administrative Law Appeals, CRAB, and a reviewing Superior Court.