DISTRICTS ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- EMPLOYEES ‑- RETIREMENT ‑- REIMBURSEMENT FOR UNUSED SICK LEAVE
In order to receive reimbursement for unused sick leave, pursuant to RCW 28A.58.097, at the time of separation from school district employment due to retirement, an employee must have separated from such employment and have been granted a retirement allowance under the laws governing the Teachers' Retirement System or the Public Employees' Retirement System, whichever applies; however, it is not necessary that the employee have actually filed for retirement prior to the date of his or her separation so long as the application is thereafter filed within a reasonable period of time and without the occurrence of any intervening covered employment.
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January 18, 1982
Honorable E. R. Whitmore, Jr.
Chelan County Prosecuting Attorney
P.O. Box 2596
Wenatchee, Washington 98801 Cite as: AGLO 1982 No. 1
By letter previously acknowledged you requested our opinion regarding the entitlement of a certain former school district employee to receive remuneration for unused sick leave pursuant to RCW 28A.58.097. We will set forth the relevant facts of the particular case within the body of our analysis below. For the reasons set forth therein, it is our opinion that payment, in accordance with the subject statute, should be made.
RCW 28A.58.097, which you have cited in your letter, codifies § 5, chapter 182, Laws of 1980 and relates to remuneration for unused sick leave in the case of both certificated and non-certificated employees of the various public school districts in our state. In addition, by reason of an amendment to RCW 41.04.340 which is contained in § 1 of the same 1980 act, an identical statutory entitlement now also exists in the case of [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] eligible state employees.1/ First, the statute provides for an annual cash out (at the end of each calendar year of employment) based on a designated fraction of the total number of sick leave days earned, but not used, during that year. And then, in its second paragraph, it provides that:
"At the time of separation from school district employment due to retirement or death an eligible employee or the employee's estate shall receive remuneration at a rate equal to one day's current monetary compensation of the employee for each four full days accrued leave for illness or injury: . . ."
There are, it will thus be seen, two separate conditions which must be met in order to qualify.2/ First, there must be a separation from school district employment, and second, that separation must be ". . . due to retirement or death . . ."
In our opinion, in the context in which it thus appears in the statute, the phrase "due to retirement" means retirement, either for service or disability, under the laws governing the applicable public retirement system by which the particular employee was covered; i.e., in this instance, the Washington Teachers' Retirement System (TRS). For, in our opinion, even though the word "retirement" is not expressly so defined in chapter 182, supra, itself, we think it clear that this is what the legislature had in mind.
The applicable rule of statutory construction is set forth in Childers v. Childers, 89 Wn.2d 592, 575 P.2d 201 (1978) as follows:
"A word used in a particular statute without definition will be given its ordinary meaning in the light of the context in which it is used even though the same word is specifically defined to have a different meaning in other, unrelated enactments." (Emphasis supplied)
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
Here, the context in which "retirement" is used is one involving public employees who, by virtue of their employment, are members of a statutorily established retirement system under which the term "retirement" denotes both a separation from service (by one who is eligible for a retirement allowance) and the actual receipt of retirement benefits. Specifically, in the case of state employees or those noncertificated school district employees who belong to the Public Employees' Retirement System, RCW 41.40.010(22) says:
"'Retirement' means withdrawal from active service with a retirement allowance as provided by this chapter."
Likewise, although the TRS statutes (chapter 41.32 RCW) do not contain the same definition of "retirement," there is, in RCW 41.32.010(32), a definition of "retiree" as meaning,
". . . any member in receipt of a retirement allowance or other benefit provided by this chapter resulting from service rendered to an employer by such member."
We turn, next, to the facts of the particular case giving rise to your question. On June 30, 1980, shortly after the effective date (June 12, 1981) of § 5, chapter 182, Laws of 1980 (RCW 28A.58.097), supra, the individual involved resigned his position as Superintendent of Entiat School District No. 127 in Chelan County. At that time he was, by reason of age and years of service, eligible for a retirement allowance under RCW 41.32.480 and related statutes pertaining to TRS. He did not, however, immediately apply for retirement‑-apparently being undecided about whether to do so or, instead, to seek further employment with some other school district in the fall. Then, however, on July 29, 1980‑-without having obtained such other employment‑-he applied for (and was subsequently granted) the TRS service retirement allowance for which he was eligible. And, in accordance with administrative practice‑-the applicant not having returned to covered service following his initial separation‑-the effective date of his retirement was fixed as July 1, 1980.3/
Quaere: Under the foregoing factual circumstances, should the individual thus described be deemed to have separated from service as a school district employee due to retirement?
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
We believe that a court, if presented with these facts, would answer that question in the affirmative‑-and so do we. Clearly, of course, there was a separation. The only remaining question is one of timing. The statute, as above quoted, refers to "at the time of separation from . . . employment due to retirement or death . . ." While, for the reasons above indicated, we construe "retirement" to include the actual receipt of retirement benefits, this does not mean that those benefits must actually begin to be paid at the same time as the separation from employment. Rather, the statutory language "due to retirement or death" (as we read it) refers to a clause for separation‑-not an "event" which must be contemporaneous.
Here, the person in question left the service of the school district by which he had been employed, took no other covered employment, and then within a reasonable period of time applied for a retirement allowance which, when granted, was made effective as of the first day of the month following the separation.
We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/Including community college district employees but not those of the state and regional universities and The Evergreen State College employed as teaching and research faculty.
2/Or state employment in the case of RCW 41.04.340.
3/Cf., RCW 41.40.193.