By Sarah Favinger and Kaitlyn Dunphy, Esq.
It is no secret that the country is currently experiencing educator shortages. As part of the response to this shortage, the state passed recent legislation that allows certain retirees to return to work while retired and collecting a full pension.
Please note that the information below does not apply to disability retirees. Disability retirees must adhere to a different set of rules and cannot work in any capacity related to the job they retired from.
Teachers and other certificated professionals
Teachers and other certificated professionals have an opportunity to return to work if the district demonstrates to the commissioner of education that there is a critical need to employ a retiree. As of this past fall, 93 school districts have applied for this permission according to the New Jersey Department of Education. If approved, a district can offer the retiree employment for the 2022-23 school year (and previously, for the 2021-22 school year), with extensions beyond the 2022-23 school year with additional approval from the commissioner.
A separate law made special provisions for certified nurses. Certified nurses can continue to collect their pensions while returning to work if they had a bona fide retirement, and their re-employment is limited to a one-year contract, with a possible extension of an additional year.
For coaching positions, an individual who retired at the normal retirement age, which varies by pension tier, and is retired for at least 30 days after their retirement becomes due and payable, may return to work for a former employer as a coach. These retirees cannot earn more than $15,000 per year for the employer.
Although the new laws made exceptions to the rules for returning to work in retirement, they do not negate the need to have a separation of employment prior to even arranging returning to work at a New Jersey school district. All public school district retirees must sever the employment relationship with their previous employer, with no prior arrangements to return in any capacity, including substitute teaching, volunteering, or working as an independent contractor or through a subcontracting service.
There must be a waiting period between retirement and reemployment. Those waiting periods, which begin from the date the retirement becomes due and payable, are represented in the chart on this page. Due and payable means either more than 30 days after the retirement date or more than 30 days after the retirement has been approved by the board of trustees, whichever is later, as long as no changes were made in the beneficiary or option after the retirement date.
|Return to work for…
|Former school district
|Another public school district or other public entity
|Private sector/Out-of-state service
* For 10-month employees who retire on July 1 or August 1, the 180 and 30-day counts begin September 1
If a retiree makes any arrangements to return to public employment in any capacity (paid or unpaid) before there is a bona fide separation of service, the pension will be invalidated. The Division of Pensions will require the retiree to return their retirement earnings to the state as well as the cost of health insurance paid by the state.
Typically, if a retiree with a valid pension is hired in a pension-eligible position, they may be required to “un-retire” by reenrolling in the pension system.
However, if the educator is returning to work under the new legislation recognizing the critical need for educators, they will not be required to reenroll and can continue to receive their pensions. Otherwise, reenrollment includes cancellation of the retirement and repayment of all pension benefits and health benefits received, potentially back to the retirement date.
Mandatory reenrollment in a Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) position occurs when a member works at least 32 hours per week; those who earn less than $15,000 per year are not required to reenroll. Mandatory reenrollment in Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) occurs when a member works at least 32 hours per week, regardless of income.
Retirees who return to work are required to complete a form for the Division of Pensions; the employer must submit this form to the Division within 15 calendar days of the hire date. If there are questions regarding returning to employment, the retiree should reach out to the Division of Pensions and Benefits.
Sarah Favinger is an associate director in the NJEA Research and Economic Services Division. Kaitlyn Dunphy is an associate director of NJEA Legal Services and Member Rights in the NJEA Executive Office. To speak to an NJEA Pension Consultant, call 609-599-4561,