Reciprocity

SDCERS administers the pension plans for three plan sponsors - the City of San Diego ("City"), the San Diego Unified Port District ("Port"), and the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority ("Airport"). Your ability to establish reciprocity depends on which Plan Sponsor you intend to work for, so please review this information carefully.

If you are currently working at a California government agency that participates in reciprocity, and you are considering employment with the Port or Airport, you can apply to establish reciprocity.

IMPORTANT: If you are currently working at a California government agency that participates in reciprocity, and you are considering employment with the City of San Diego, please note that only sworn police officers may join the City of San Diego’s pension plan. The City’s pension plan was closed on July 20, 2012, following the passage of City Proposition B, to all new hires except sworn police officers.

If you are not a sworn police officer or a former City employee initially hired before July 20, 2012, you CANNOT establish reciprocity with the City of San Diego because there is no pension plan available for non-sworn officers to join.

Note that following the passage of Proposition B, the Court ordered the City to compensate affected union employees for violating certain labor laws. SDCERS is not a party to this lawsuit, and is not a decision maker regarding Proposition B. Once a decision is reached, SDCERS will be informed of any required course of action and perform any services needed to administer the plan. The outcome is currently unknown, and the information here is the most recent available to help you in making any decisions regarding reciprocity and future employment.

What is Reciprocity?

Reciprocity is an agreement among certain California public retirement systems, including SDCERS, which allows members to change jobs between “reciprocal” retirement systems in California and combine service credit in each system to meet vesting and eligibility requirements.

SDCERS has reciprocity with CalPERS as well as other independent and county retirement systems in California. If you meet the requirements, you may establish reciprocity when leaving SDCERS for a reciprocal agency, or when entering SDCERS if coming from a reciprocal agency.

SDCERS does not govern Reciprocity for other systems

It is important to understand that SDCERS does not govern reciprocity for other retirement systems, and legislation can change the rules regarding reciprocity. Therefore, questions relating to the rights, benefits, and obligations under any other public retirement system should be addressed directly to that system.

How to Establish Reciprocity

If you currently work for the City, Port, or Airport and are considering employment with a public agency that has reciprocity with SDCERS (outgoing reciprocity), or if you are thinking of coming to SDCERS from a reciprocal agency (incoming reciprocity), there are specific criteria you must meet to establish reciprocity with SDCERS.

  • Ensure the other system participates in California’s reciprocity agreement.
  • Your termination date and next employment start date must be within 180 days.
  • Ensure that you do not overlap employment or service credit with SDCERS and a reciprocal agency.
    • SDCERS will not allow reciprocity if you have not terminated employment with a SDCERS plan sponsor prior to your start date with the new employer or viceversa.
    • Do not use vacation leave, causing an overlap of employment and start your next job.
  • You must submit a request to and be granted reciprocity by the agencies.

Outgoing Reciprocity

To establish outgoing reciprocity:
  • You must terminate employment with the City, Port, or Airport.
    • The only type of City of San Diego leave that qualifies as termination is a Civil Service approved “unpaid leave of absence of “Name on List.”
  • You must leave your retirement contributions with SDCERS.
  • You must begin employment (on payroll, not a job offer) with the reciprocal agency within 180 days of terminating membership with SDCERS.
  • Your change of employment must eventually lead to membership in the reciprocal system.
  • You must submit a Reciprocity Request on the SDCERS Member Portal.

Incoming Reciprocity

To establish incoming reciprocity:
  • You must begin working for an SDCERS plan sponsor (in any position with the Port or  Airport, or with the City only if you are a sworn police officer and join the San Diego Police Department or enter the police recruit academy) within 180 days of terminating employment with the prior reciprocal agency.
  • Your change of employment must eventually lead to membership with SDCERS.
  • You must leave your contributions on deposit with the retirement system you are leaving.
Note that while SDCERS may allow reciprocity based on when you enter employment with a reciprocal system’s plan sponsor, some systems may require that you become a member of the reciprocal system within 180 days. Be sure to check with the reciprocal system for their requirements.

If you want to establish incoming reciprocity, you should contact the system you are leaving. That agency has final approval or disapproval on reciprocity.

Once SDCERS receives your Reciprocity Request, staff will contact the reciprocal agency you have listed to request the information needed to establish reciprocity. Once all data is processed, you will receive a letter from SDCERS stating whether or not reciprocity has been established.

What are the Benefits of Reciprocity?

Establishing reciprocity allows you to preserve certain components of your retirement benefit when you move from one reciprocal system to another. There are several advantages that come with reciprocity.

Entry age - SDCERS determines your retirement contribution rate (how much you contribute toward your retirement from each bi-weekly paycheck) based on your age when you became an SDCERS Member. If you leave SDCERS membership for a reciprocal system, and that system also bases your retirement contribution rate on your age at entry, that system will determine its contribution rate using your age at the time you first entered SDCERS membership. This could benefit you, because typically contribution rates are lower for younger Members.

Highest final average compensation is used to calculate all benefits - When you receive your retirement benefits from reciprocal systems, each system will use the highest final average compensation in any reciprocal system you were a member of to calculate your retirement benefit, as long as you retire on the same date from all systems. Systems will use either a 12- or 36-month consecutive highest final compensation, depending on what is allowed under each plan (calculation might be different for each system).

Meeting vesting and retirement eligibility requirements - Service credit earned under each reciprocal system may be used to meet each system’s vesting and retirement eligibility requirements. See the example below:
 
  • You earn 7 years of service credit from SDCERS while working for the City of San Diego. You leave your job with the City of San Diego for a job with the County of Los Angeles and establish reciprocity. SDCERS requires that you have 10 years of service credit to be eligible for a service retirement at a certain age. You only have 7 years of service credit. However, upon working another 13 years for the County of Los Angeles, that time will count toward the 10-year minimum or “vesting” requirement of SDCERS, and you will be vested in both systems, as you have also met the County of Los Angeles’ 5-year vesting requirement. Calculation of benefits for each system is not based upon the total 20 years of service credit, nor is there any transfer of funds or service credit between reciprocal systems. Instead, each retirement allowance is paid separately by each agency; SDCERS will pay you a retirement benefit based on 7 years of service credit and the County of Los Angeles’ retirement system will pay you a retirement benefit based on the 13 years you worked for the County of Los Angeles. Both benefits would be based on your highest final average compensation in either system.

Other Important Rules to Remember

Retirement Date Must Be Same For All Reciprocal Systems - One requirement of reciprocity is that you retire from all reciprocal systems on the same day. You must also apply for retirement from each system separately, completing each system’s unique application process. Failure to do so could result in breaking reciprocity, recalculating your contribution rate throughout your career and owing increased contributions.

Disability Retirement - If you receive a disability retirement from a reciprocal system, you will receive a reciprocal disability benefit from SDCERS instead of a service retirement benefit. The reciprocal disability benefit will most likely be much less than a service retirement benefit. Be sure to contact SDCERS immediately if you have left SDCERS, established reciprocity, and are now applying for a disability retirement with your reciprocal agency.

Consequences of Breaking Reciprocity - If you have established incoming or outgoing reciprocity with SDCERS, you may be eligible for reciprocal benefits. However, if you withdraw your contributions with SDCERS or the reciprocal agency, or fail to retire from the reciprocal agencies concurrently, you have “broken” reciprocity. The consequences are:
 
  • Your compensation earned from the reciprocal agency cannot be used to calculate retirement benefits from SDCERS. This can change your calculation of retirement benefits from SDCERS.
  • SDCERS cannot use the service credit you received from the reciprocal agency to determine eligibility for benefits from SDCERS. This can change or eliminate your eligibility to receive retirement benefits from SDCERS.
  • If you received a contribution rate reduction due to reciprocity, your contribution rate will be adjusted because of the lack of reciprocity, and underpaid contributions will be collected from you.
  • You will not be eligible for reciprocal benefits.
SDCERS allows you to receive a refund of your contributions even if you have established reciprocity at a reciprocal agency. However, if you withdraw your contributions, you are no longer eligible for a retirement benefit from SDCERS and will break reciprocity with the reciprocal agency.

Additionally, you may have personal circumstances where you choose to retire from the two agencies separately and not utilize reciprocity. This information is to assist you in understanding your choices and the results.

Submit a reciprocity request via the Member Portal

To submit a reciprocity request, log on to your secure Member Portal. Once you have accessed your personal Member Portal account, click on "Reciprocity" from the left menu, select the Reciprocal Agency Name and Reciprocity Direction from the drop down menus, and click the Submit button. You will receive a letter via U.S. Mail stating whether your reciprocity has been approved or denied.

 

The information in this publication is intended to provide Members with a current and accurate summary of retirement benefits. However, it is not a legal document or a substitute for the law. The language used in this publication is not intended to create a contract between SDCERS, the City, the Port, the Airport and any Member. The governing plan document adopted by the Member’s employer governs the operations of SDCERS. Accordingly, if any information in this publication conflicts with the employer’s plan document, the law or the Board Rules, the plan document, law or Board Rules must prevail.