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COVID-19 (the new coronavirus) and SERS-Related Activities

The School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS) is committed to serving the needs of our members, retirees, and employers while working to protect the safety and health of everyone including the community at large. We are following all state and federal guidelines regarding COVID-19 (the new coronavirus). As these guidelines change, we will update our outreach and staff activities.

As this health crisis evolves, please know we hope you and your family remain healthy, and extend our thoughts and well-wishes to all those who have been affected.

The electronic delivery of benefit payments remains on schedule. However, for those who still receive paper checks, we cannot guarantee timely delivery through the mail, and also please note that in-person banking transactions are largely being limited to drive-through stations or scheduled appointments. Checks are scheduled for mailing on Monday, March 30. Accordingly, we strongly urge you to have your future benefits delivered via direct deposit. Direct deposit ensures timely payment and requires less staff resources to process. Complete the Direct Deposit Form, which is available on our website, and send or fax it to us.

Please note that stock market declines do not affect benefit amounts. Under current Ohio law, once you retire, your pension is guaranteed for life and cannot be reduced. This is one big advantage that defined benefit pension plans like SERS have over defined contribution plans such as 401(k)s, IRAs, and 403(b) retirement plans.

Thank you for your ongoing dedication to serving our schools. We are privileged to serve you. Please monitor our website for continued updates and changes as this situation develops.

SERS News and Updates

July 31, 2020 Update

Outreach Activities

SERS’ Member Support Team (MST) continues to report to the SERS building on a staggered schedule. This means that most phone calls will be answered as they come in; however, it’s still possible that some phone calls will go to voicemail. If your call goes to voicemail, please be sure to leave your contact information and spell your last name so we can have your account information ready when we return your call.

Also, while in-person retirement counseling sessions are still on hold, there are several remote educational opportunities available for people nearing retirement. Visit our web page at www.ohsers.org/have-you-signed-up-for-an-education-opportunity/ for the most up-to-date information.

SERS’ headquarters building at 300 East Broad Street in Columbus, Ohio, is open for all tenants and SERS staff who cannot work from home, and those whose jobs require them to be in the building such as maintenance and printing and mailing. Approximately 30% of SERS’ building space is occupied by tenants.

When entering the building, all visitors, including staff and tenants, are required to wear face masks that cover the nose and mouth. In addition, SERS is following all other requirements issued by the governor including: increasing access to hand sanitizer, maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet; increasing cleaning of common areas of the building throughout the day; and restricting elevator rides to two passengers per elevator car.

We ask that anyone planning to travel to the SERS building call ahead to make sure the business reason for their visit can be accomplished.

Staff Activities

The majority of SERS’ staff continues to work from home. SERS’ staff who can work from home will continue to do so until Franklin County’s COVID-19 infection status is reduced from it’s current Level 3 (red) status. At that point, SERS will revisit a return-to-work schedule for all staff.


May 29, 2020 Update

Outreach Activities

On May 27, 2020, employees who work in SERS’ Member Support Team (MST) began reporting to the SERS building on a staggered schedule. This will improve customer service as we will resume answering phone calls as they come in. It’s still possible that some phone calls will go to voicemail, so please be sure to leave your contact information and spell your last name so we can have your account information ready when we return your call. Because these MST associates work in close proximity to one another, only half of the MST staff will report to the building at a time, and they will rotate attendance for at least the next few weeks.

All of the safety protocols detailed in the May 4 update continue to be enforced at SERS’ headquarters building.

Staff Activities

The majority of SERS’ staff continues to work from home. A full return to the office for all staff has not yet been determined.


May 4, 2020 Update

Outreach Activities

Beginning May 4, 2020, SERS’ headquarters building at 300 E. Broad St. in Columbus, Ohio, will reopen for all tenants and SERS staff who cannot work from home, and those whose jobs require them to be in the building such as maintenance and printing and mailing. Approximately 30% of SERS’ building space is occupied by tenants. SERS’ staff who can work from home will continue to do so until at least May 27, when a gradual return to work for all staff is tentatively scheduled begin.

When entering the building, all visitors, including staff and tenants, are required to wear face masks that cover the nose and mouth. In addition, SERS will follow all other requirements issued by the governor including: increasing access to hand sanitizer, maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet; increasing cleaning of common areas of the building throughout the day; and restricting elevator rides to two passengers per elevator car.

We ask that anyone visiting the SERS building call ahead to make sure the business reason for their visit can be accomplished.

Additionally, SERS’ staff is required to perform a health check before coming to work. Individuals with a temperature over 100.4 degrees are advised not to report to work. A thermometer will be available in the lobby. Employees must also be free of the following symptoms regardless if they have a fever or not: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell.

Before proceeding to the elevator bay, stairs, or counseling area, employees are to sanitize their hands. Also, when employees reach their floor, they must wash or sanitize their hands before starting work.

Staff Activities

Until May 27, 2020, the majority of the SERS staff will continue working remotely. Staff will continue to return voicemails, respond to emails, and process applications in a timely manner.


April 3, 2020 Update

Outreach Activities

Due to the governor’s extension of the stay-at-home order until May 1, 2020, the SERS Board has cancelled the April Board meeting scheduled for April 16 and 17.

 

Staff Activities

Also to remain in compliance with the governor’s stay-at-home order that was extended to May 1, 2020, the SERS staff will continue working remotely until that time. Staff will continue to return voicemails, respond to emails, and process applications in a timely manner.


March 27, 2020 Update

Outreach Activities

Staff is responding to all voicemail messages and emails within 24 hours. Please, use either voicemail or email for your contact, but do NOT use both. As we work remotely, different staff members are monitoring voicemail and email, and only contacting us once will prevent us from contacting you twice. Contacting us by using both voicemail and email may result in a slower response time.

Please note, the best way to communicate with us is electronically. There are two options:

  1. Account Login is your resource to access and manage your account with SERS. Features available on Account Login include the ability to:
    1. Send a secure message, which will be answered by our representatives
    2. Review your account balance and service credit
    3. Create estimates of benefits
    4. Create an application for Service Retirement, Disability Benefits, or Refund
    5. Update personal information, such as address, beneficiary, direct deposit, and tax withholding
  2. Contact our office by sending an email to information@ohsers.org. Keep in mind this email address is not secure, so please do not include additional, personally identifiable information. If you do send additional information, then you acknowledge and consent to our practices of reasonably protecting member information. Emails are prioritized and returned as soon as possible.

 

Reminder: Physical benefit payment checks for April will be mailed on Monday, March 30, 2020. Electronic benefit payments for April will be available on April 1, 2020.


March 23, 2020 Update

Outreach Activities

In accordance with Governor DeWine’s stay-at-home directive, SERS is closing its building to visitors and staff at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 23. Most of our staff will be working from home.

The electronic delivery of benefit payments remains on schedule. However, for those who still receive paper checks, we cannot guarantee timely delivery through the mail, and also please note that in-person banking transactions are largely being limited to drive-through stations or scheduled appointments.

Checks are scheduled for mailing on Monday, March 30. Accordingly, we strongly urge you to have your future benefits delivered via direct deposit. Direct deposit ensures timely payment and requires less staff resources to process. Complete the Direct Deposit Form, which is available on our website, and send or fax it to us.

During this closure, we will continue to:

  • Pay monthly benefits to our benefit recipients
  • Process applications received by mail or electronically through Account Login for service retirement, disability benefits, refunds, and survivor benefits.
  • Provide educational opportunities via online webinars, videos on our website, and other tools
  • Offer one-on-one counseling appointments over the phone

Staff Activities

During the closure, we will be unable to answer calls to our 800 number, but you will be able to leave a voicemail for important situations or questions. Please do not leave a message regarding your April 1 benefit payment – rest assured that delivery of benefit payments remains on schedule.

Staff will review all messages and prioritize return calls as quickly as possible. Phone calls from our staff will come from a PRIVATE number. For your protection, we will not ask you for any form of payment or your Social Security number and will only call if you left a message or have a scheduled a one-on-one counseling appointment. In your voicemail, you can request that our response to you can be via email. This may be the fastest way to receive a response. Please be sure to include your email address in your voicemail message.

However, the best way to communicate with us is electronically.  There are two options:

  1. Account Login is your resource to access and manage your account with SERS. Features available on Account Login include the ability to:
    1. Send a secure message and it will be answered by our representatives
    2. Review your account balance and service credit
    3. Create estimates of benefits
    4. Create an application for Service Retirement, Disability Benefits, or Refund
    5. Update personal information, such as address, beneficiary, direct deposit, and tax withholding
  2. Contact our office by sending an email to information@ohsers.org. Keep in mind this email address is not secure, so please do not include personally identifiable information. If you do send additional information, then you acknowledge and consent to our practices of reasonably protecting member information. Emails will be prioritized and returned as soon as possible.

If you have concerns regarding your personal health related to COVID-19, we ask that you contact your plan’s Nurseline, your physician’s office, or visit a local emergency room.


March 16, 2020 Update

Outreach Activities

SERS is cancelling ALL of its in-person counseling appointments at the Columbus, Ohio, headquarters building effective immediately. SERS’ counseling staff will call everyone who has already scheduled a visit and give them the option of completing the counseling appointment by phone or rescheduling the appointment at a future time.

The Board meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 19 is still being held. Some Board members will be participating in the meeting via teleconference. Only staff with a business reason for being at the Board meeting (presenters, legal oversight, minutes, etc.) will be present to allow for better social distancing. There will not be any time dedicated to the Sustainability discussions at the March meeting.

Staff Activities

All staff who can perform their job duties at home are being advised to do so beginning Tuesday, March 17. An equal number of Member Services staff will rotate between work and home to cover phone calls and manage workflow. We ask for your patience as hold times for phone calls may be longer than usual due to fewer staff being available.

SERS has also implemented a strict 14-day self-quarantine policy for any employee whose household has a family member quarantined or who has traveled domestically using mass transit (airplane, bus, train, or ship).


March 13, 2020 Update

Outreach Activities

To be in compliance with Governor DeWine’s executive orders delivered on March 12, 2020, SERS is cancelling ALL of its spring retirement conferences, remote counseling sessions, and employer meetings. This includes:

Retirement Conferences

  1. The March 14 retirement conference at Cincinnati Princeton High School
  2. The March 21, 2020, retirement conference at Shawnee High School in Lima
  3. The March 28, 2020, retirement conference at Oakwood Middle School in Canton
  4. The April 4, 2020, retirement conference at Orange High School in Pepper Pike
  5. The April 25, 2020, retirement conference at Meadowbrook High School in Cambridge
  6. The May 2, 2020, retirement conference at Learwood Middle School in Avon Lake

All registered attendees for the retirement conferences are being contacted to prevent anyone from traveling to these events. The same information covered at these conferences is also available as a video series on SERS’ YouTube Channel and during online webinars. Webinar signups and schedules are located on the SERS website. For those who can wait, additional conferences are being planned for the fall.

Remote Counseling Sessions

  1. The March 18-20, 2020, remote counseling meeting in Canfield
  2. The March 25-27, 2020, remote counseling meeting in Rossford
  3. The April 8-10, 2020, remote counseling meeting in Middletown
  4. The April 15-17, 2020, remote counseling meeting in North Olmstead
  5. The April 29-31, 2020, remote counseling meeting in Athens

If you were registered for any of these remote counseling meetings, you will still receive your pension estimates by mail. SERS staff can still hold a meeting with you by telephone during your scheduled appointment time to answer your questions and provide guidance on the retirement process. Please call 800-878-5853 to confirm your appointment time or to reschedule an appointment at a future date.

Employer-Sponsored Member Meetings

  1. The March 17, 2020, employer member meeting at Trotwood Madison District Office in Trotwood
  2. The April 17, 2020, employer member meeting at DeVilbiss High School in Toledo

EMPLOYER 101 TRAINING WORKSHOPS

  1. The March 25, 2020, Employer 101 Training, at Hilton Garden Inn in Findlay
  2. The March 26, 2020, Employer 101 Training, at Embassy Suites Cleveland-Beachwood.
  3. The March 31, 2020, Employer 101 Training, at Hilton Garden Inn Dayton-Beavercreek.
  4. The April 1, 2020, Employer 101 Training at Ohio University Inn and Conference Center in Athens
  5. The April 2, 2020, Employer 101 Training at SERS in Columbus.

Employers will be contacted soon with more information about refunding the fees for these workshops.

Staff Activities

Domestic staff travel for business purposes is prohibited until further notice. That means travel within Ohio as well.


March 12, 2020 Update

Outreach Activities

As our nation works together to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we want to share with you some important steps we are taking to do our part.

  1. Out of an abundance of caution, we are canceling the March 14 retirement conference at Cincinnati Princeton High School. We will keep you informed of any additional changes or cancellations as this rapidly changing situation evolves. All registered attendees are being contacted to prevent anyone from traveling to this event. The same information covered at these conferences is also available as a video series on SERS’ YouTube Channel and during online webinars. Webinar signups and schedules are located on the SERS website. For those who can wait, additional conferences are being planned for the fall.
  2. We are asking any members or retirees who have counseling appointments scheduled in our Columbus office to please call us at 800-878-5853 if they are ill. Our counseling staff would be happy to contact you via phone call during your appointment time, or reschedule your appointment for a date and time after you have fully recovered.
  3. We also want to assure you that we are taking extra precautions within our Columbus office. Our cleaning staff has been asked to spend extra time disinfecting commonly used surfaces such as door handles, elevator buttons, bathroom surfaces, etc.
  4. If you are enrolled in SERS’ health care program and have concerns about your personal health related to COVID-19, we ask that you call your plan’s Nurseline, your physician’s office, or visit a local emergency room.
  5. SERS’ health care plans offer the following COVID-19 coverage:
  6. For the next 90 days (until at least early June), SERS has authorized Aetna to offer no-cost COVID-19-related telemedicine and videoconferencing visits provided by in-network physicians for retirees and dependents enrolled in Aetna health plans.
  7. Aetna will also waive the member out-of-pocket costs associated with outpatient diagnostic lab testing for any patients who meet CDC COVID-19 guidelines; this will apply to retiree and disability health care enrollees who have elected Aetna as their health plan.
  8. Aultcare and Primetime have updates on their websites, and will provide no-cost lab testing for the virus; but physician copays are not waived.
  9. If you want more information about how to prepare for and protect against COVID-19, please call 1-833-4ASKODH (1-833-427-5634) or visit the Ohio Department of Health’s website.

Staff Activities

As of this update, all SERS staff are reporting to work as normal. Staff members who are sick are being asked to stay home. No staff members have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. All international business travel has been cancelled and domestic travel is being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

We now require staff who has visited any Level 2 or Level 3 Health Notice areas, as defined by the CDC; traveled on a cruise ship; or been exposed to someone who has tested positive or presumed positive for COVID-19 to remain home for 14 days from the time they either left the affected area, or came into contact with an infected person.

To assist our staff, we are allowing more flexibility to work from home during this time, and expanding sick pay for affected staff if they are unable to work due to the above reasons.

While these changes should not affect normal business operations, we ask for your patience as the wait for phone assistance might be longer than normal.

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