Help my mom not get screwed out of her pension
July 10, 2014 10:58 AM   Subscribe

My mom worked for a county agency for over ten years. Now that she'd like to retire, she's noticed that random months of her pension's retirement credits are missing from the agency's records (for months she did in fact work) - these credits total almost a year of retirement. The agency claims that the records from that long ago have been destroyed, and they can't help her show that she actually did work these months. What government agency could help her solve this problem so she doesn't get screwed out of her retirement? Is there anyone who keeps monthly records of employees' work hours?

The details:
-She worked for an agency in King County in Washington State for 10 years
-She paid into the retirement system the entire time
-A friend of hers, who worked the same years with the same schedule, received full retirement for the months that she's missing (but he was shorted on other random months)
-The Service Credit History shows 1 retirement credit for most of the months she worked, but 8 months show 0 credits and 3 months were .5 credit (there is no pattern in the months that didn't receive credit - they are sprinkled throughout the time she worked there)
-She did not take any unpaid time off (and in fact this agency doesn't allow employees to take unpaid time off)

Things she's tried:
-Calling the agency repeatedly and asked different people for help finding the records of her employment
-Calling the Social Security office - they only have how much she made per year, and since it's not broken down by month it doesn't help prove she worked those months
-Went and met with a representative from the state's Department of Retirement Systems - he was't helpful

1. Are there other government agencies that could help her solve this problem?*
2. Is there any entity (besides the employer) that keeps records of employees monthly pay or work hours?
3. Anything else she can try?

*She won't get a lawyer (for reasons that are too long to get into) - if it comes to that she'll probably just forgo a year of retirement. :(
posted by leitmotif to Work & Money (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does it need to be monthly? Can it be extrapolated from her yearly W-2 forms?

Alternatively, one could contact the social security office, as they may have some information on what was reported for those years that could be used for extrapolation (assuming that the agency she worked for was not exempt from Social Security payment and reportage)?

Would the state department of labor have data from which her service could be extrapolated or calculated?

If she is paid through a system that retains online records (ADP and the like) can she go back and request from them paystubs for the entire 10 years that would allow her to demonstrate continued contributions alongside bank deposit statements to match?

She's and or her friend are not willing to get a lawyer involved, what about a local news investigative reporter?
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 11:04 AM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are we talking the most recent 10 year period? Would she have emails from the entire time to prove that she worked during the months with the zeros? As long as she is archiving and not deleting completely, there may be enough of a paper trail in the agency's IT system to prove her case.
posted by something something at 11:08 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

If her yearly W-2 income is what it's expected to be, wouldn't there have to be documentation of pay fluctuations in order to make the yearly income work out without the missing months? I would think in the absence of that documentation, you'd have a pretty strong case.
posted by KathrynT at 11:12 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

The IRS will have tax forms that have not just salary, but also witholding amounts. That can be validated by bank records for regular paychecks. Or just bank records to prove that the paychecks were received.

The bank should hold on to this information for at least seven years, if not longer. You usually need to pay to get a copy of this information.
posted by politikitty at 11:13 AM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sorry, I should have included dates. This was in the 1980s, so there are no email records and no online records. Unfortunately she didn't keep her pay stubs.

From what the agency says, they would require some type of monthly record to prove that she deserves retirement for those months. Thanks for all the ideas so far!
posted by leitmotif at 11:14 AM on July 10, 2014

Is it possible she had direct deposit to a bank? Maybe (big maybe) the bank might have records of the paychecks.
posted by amtho at 11:18 AM on July 10, 2014

Is she a union worker? If so she should be straight on to her union rep.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:20 AM on July 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't suppose she has any union representation. Even so, the state employees union mght be interested in this question, and presumably could (if they were so minded) tell you applicable state law and procedures as they'd apply to state, if not county, employees.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:22 AM on July 10, 2014

The King County Agency on Aging might be able to advise her or refer her to someone who's familiar with the county pension system.

You could also check with her state representative or senator.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:23 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

IAAL, IANYL. I think it would be helpful for you to consult a lawyer about your mom's options. There is no requirement for you or your mom to hire the lawyer, but their advice could be quite helpful.
posted by Atrahasis at 11:30 AM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

1980s ... I'd start with the IRS then. And the state employees union as mentioned by Clyde Mnestra above.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 11:33 AM on July 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Publicity may help. This sounds like something that a national magazine may write about within a "planning your retirement" type of article. Having reporters asking questions may get a different response than she is getting. There may be some kind of fraud that is being covered up, so that's another angle for reporters.
posted by Sophont at 11:38 AM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would also suggest contacting her local elected representative. Her congressional rep's office will have people who deal specifically with constituent services and sometimes this is the exact thing they deal with: finding the right agency for people to work out their problems.
posted by jessamyn at 11:42 AM on July 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

Oh my goodness yes. I live in King County in washington and my elected representative has been so unbelievably helpful in circumstances like this one.
posted by KathrynT at 11:43 AM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Any chance that her salary was paid into a bank and you could get something from the bank to indicate that she was the regular recipient of a regular amount of income through the period?
posted by biffa at 11:56 AM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, who managed the retirement system at the time? This will usually be a different entity than the agency she worked for. They might have records of contributions. Since it's a defined benefit system, the contributions and credit system determining eligibility and benefit amount should be separate streams of information.
posted by politikitty at 12:02 PM on July 10, 2014

You mention only the one friend who got credit for the months your mother is missing, but is missing credits for other months. Your mother should get some other employees to request their record of retirement credits, which should be freely available to them as part of their personnel file. Try especially other employees close to retirement. If you can find five or six people, including that friend, who all are missing random months, you've got a pretty good case that they did sloppy bookkeeping. A lawyer's threat of some kind of litigation, maybe a class action, should bring some results.

Also, seconding getting an elected representative involved.
posted by beagle at 1:16 PM on July 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

You also might want to contact the state department of labor: pension is part of an employee's compensation, and trying to cheat someone out of it is probably a violation of state employment law.
posted by suelac at 1:57 PM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's a long shot under these circumstances but has she tried doing a Public Records Request? You say the agency claims the records were destroyed (and, honestly, that's likely) but if the agency has to prepare a response to a request for records maybe the request will come across someone else's desk, or maybe the agency will have to look harder for them.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:35 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

This also sometimes works: call the county again, ask for the most senior person and say "Listen, I'm only calling you back to give you an opportunity to correct this mistake because the state attorney general's office said I should give you one more chance."
posted by vitabellosi at 3:17 PM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Leitmotif, I'm not in Washington state, but it looks like all of the pension systems their for public sector employees are consolidated under the Washington Department of Retirement Systems (DRS). This is a common model for pension systems and DRS will report to the Governor. You mentioned your mom met with a rep from DRS but they weren't helpful. I would advise going back to DRS, as they are ultimately the body that has to decide there has been a mistake and to fix it; ideally they'll do the legwork for you, and if not, you'll want to understand what kind of proof or documentation they'll need.

Here is how you can get their attention on this matter. I would write a letter to the commissioner of DRS and cc: the Governor, your mom's representative (in the Washington State House of Representatives), and your mom's state senator (in the Washington State Senate). When I say cc, I mean really send them each a letter. The Governor will have a staff of people who just deal with constituent correspondence who will read the letter and follow up with someone at DRS, who in turn will make sure your mom meets with someone who is more helpful. In the unlikely case that doesn't work, I would then go back to your mom's Rep. in the House and talk to him/her, asking them to call the DRS commissioner. A call to DRS from a legislator will not be an everyday event and will be taken pretty seriously. If that doesn't do it, I would then talk to your mom's Senator, then the Gov's office (where you'll be routed to one of the staffers I mentioned). Keep notes on the phone calls/correspondence so that each time you have to escalate you can accurately describe all of the steps that you've taken to date that haven't solved the problem. Good luck - I'm confident you can get this resolved, it sounds like garden variety incompetence.
posted by BlueTongueLizard at 5:01 PM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

>-Calling the Social Security office - they only have how much she made per year, and since it's not broken down by month it doesn't help prove she worked those months

I would assume that the social security records [even if they show yearly income] wouldn't go going up and down in a way which shows you are missing months of work a year.

This totally sounds like State Representative time
posted by bottlebrushtree at 7:56 PM on July 10, 2014

If it is a county agency they should have been accountable to the county somehow and the County Auditor may have reports covering this period.
posted by Yorrick at 11:59 PM on July 10, 2014

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