ERA FAQ


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Background

The employer reporting system managed by the Department of Retirement Systems can no longer keep pace with increasingly complex business requirements crucial to the administration of the state's public pension system. Enhancements to the employer user experience have not been possible due to the aging architecture currently supporting the employer reporting system. To provide a reliable system, reduce ongoing costs and improve the employer experience, DRS started a multiyear project in May 2016 to modernize the system and provide an easy-to-use responsive application.

To begin modernization efforts, DRS has partnered with Bizagi, Inc., a business process management system (BPMS) provider, to help us develop and build a modern Employer Reporting Application (ERA).

ERA basics, employer impacts, ERA functionality, security and access, and technical questions

  1. What enhancements will ERA provide?
  2. What is the timeline for ERA?
  3. If the ERA rollout schedule conflicts with an employer’s availability (for example School Districts are very busy August through September), will DRS reschedule the employer’s adoption of ERA?
  4. What's included in each phase?
  5. What if the timeline causes a conflict for me?
  6. What are Early Adopters and Advisors, and how are they selected?
  7. Is there time for my organization to become an Early Adopter or Advisor?
  8. When are the demonstrations for ERA Early Adopters and Advisors?
  9. Can I attend the demonstrations even though my organization isn't an Early Adopter or Advisor?
  10. How do I prepare for the changes in reporting ERA will bring?
  11. Will there be training?
  12. How do I sign up for training?
  13. Where can I learn more about ERA?
  14. Who do I contact if I have questions?
  15. In ERA, will corrections process immediately?
  16. Who has the ability to update my main contact in ERA?
  17. If a member has prior service credit with a different employer, will the current employer be able to see that information?
  18. Why did DRS make the decision to have ERA reject all the records being reported for a member, and not just a specific piece of data or the invalid record?
  19. What do main contacts do?
  20. Who has the ability to update my main contact in ERA?
  21. Can I identify more than one person as the main contact?
  22. Will DRS pre-populate employer data when the employer adopts ERA?
  23. How will DRS handle new data elements when pre-populating an employer’s data into ERA?
  24. Will I be able to enroll DCP participants in ERA?
  25. If the status code reported in the status code field is fewer than four characters, should I program my system to use filler characters?
  26. Where will I find Edit Messages in ERA?
  27. Are the “Max Compensation Exceeds Date” and “Max Compensation Exceed Indicator” fields related to DCP contributions?
  28. Can SFT employers use any of the three reporting methods in ERA (SFT, Manual File Upload or Interactive) to report retroactive adjusted pay by the month it was earned?
  29. If I use the Interactive process to enroll a member, and then also report that data via SFT, will it create a duplicate?
  30. How many methods will I have to report regular retirement information, and what are they?
  31. If I use SFT only, can I continue to do so after adopting ERA?
  32. Am I required to submit an email address for a member?
  33. Why is DRS collecting member email addresses?
  34. Can I use the Member Lookup process just like MRV?
  35. Can I use the Determine Member Eligibility process for members who are working in multiple positions?
  36. If I use the extended status code “A1” to report overtime more than 2 times the regular rate of pay, should I separate the regular and overtime compensation and hours into two defined benefit records?
  37. What does the term “Interactive” mean in ERA?
  38. Can I send files in the new updated MRL format before adopting ERA?
  39. Will reports be available in ERA to assist employer audit processes (an example is the Human Resource Management System [HRMS], where employers have activity logs to see who made changes and what those changes are)?
  40. What reports will be available to me in ERA?
  41. Will members’ personal information in ERA, or notifications or emails sent from ERA, be subject to release under the Public Records Act (PRA)?
  42. How can I keep a payroll system provider up-to-speed on new ERA requirements?
  43. How does an employer use the new A1 overtime code to report earnings?
  44. Can I have more than one main contact in ERA?
  45. What is a SAW account?

ERA basics

What enhancements will ERA provide?

Public employers will see substantial enhancements, including:

  • An employer portal that presents all data in one easy-to-navigate location
  • The ability to edit and validate employment data before submission, increasing accuracy and reducing the time employers spend making corrections
  • Enhanced on-demand tools for self-auditing, allowing employers to report the right positions in the right plans the first time. This will also increase accuracy and reduce the need for costly corrections
What is the timeline for ERA?

Testing has identified performance issues that must be resolved before DRS will launch ERA. We have added additional resources to the effort and are working hard with our vendor to improve performance. But even with these efforts, it is now clear we will not be able to launch with the ERA Early Adopters in October as planned. DRS will continue working with the vendor and will announce new rollout dates as soon as we are confident the new system is ready to meet your needs. If you have questions or concerns about the rollout, please contact us at DRSERAOutreach@DRS.wa.gov or call Debbie Callar at 360-664-7167.

For more information about Early Adopters, please see “What are Early Adopters and Advisors, and how are they selected?” in the Employer impacts section below. Another resource, the ERA Phase & Process Detail graphic, highlights the work that is underway (in orange) and what has been completed as of July 2017 (green check marks).

If the ERA rollout schedule conflicts with an employer’s availability (for example School Districts are very busy August through September), will DRS reschedule the employer’s adoption of ERA?

We are doing our best to consider all employers’ high-demand months when developing the rollout plan for ERA, trying to find a slot that works for each of our approximately 1,400 employers.

What's included in each phase?

We're building ERA in four phases:

Phase
Description
Phase 1

Member Management includes the ability to look up a member, determine a member's eligibility and enroll a member. (Member Management will also include the ability to update a member, but this last portion will be built in Phase 3.)

Looking up a member in the new system will be similar to how Member Reporting Verification (MRV) works today, but with more information for employees who have a history in a Washington state retirement system.

Phase 2

Phase 2 will include earning activity submissions and plan choice information for employees. You will be able to submit earning activity data via an interactive screen in the portal, an upload or a Secure File Transfer (SFT). One of the new features in ERA will be the ability for you to edit and validate data before submission. You will be able to identify errors promptly and correct them before submitting the file.

The new plan choice functionality will support the work you do for plan choice education. ERA will include functionality to automatically email helpful reminders for important due dates to the employees who use ERA.

Phase 3

In Phase 3 we will build the ability for you to update member data, make electronic payments and even enroll your organization in other DRS systems.

The new functionality to update member data will allow you to update profile information along with other member-related data. Making electronic payments will work similarly to the way ePay works now.

Phase 4
Employer Portal

The Employer Portal is being built while the other three phases are underway, and will give you access to the new functionality included in ERA. There are several features included for new employers, such as checking your organization's eligibility for a new system, checking your organization status—and for PERS employers—a calculator to estimate the costs associated with purchasing prior service credit for your employees.

If you're logged into the portal, you will have more access and information than in the current DRS eServices. You will be able to view, manage and track the users in your organization to keep the information up to date. You will also be able to view and manage your organization's profile information. This will allow you to easily maintain your data and make quick updates.

Employer impacts

What if the timeline causes a conflict for me?

Employers who want to talk further about the transition schedule can contact Rachel Nesse, ERA Outreach Project Manager at Racheln@drs.wa.gov.

What are Early Adopters and Advisors, and how are they selected?

DRS is working with Early Adopters and Advisors to help us preview ERA during development, consult with us, provide feedback on training and be the first employers to use the new tool.

Early Adopters will:

  • review progress at the end of each build phase
  • provide consultation with the project team as needed during the build
  • receive the first training on the new tool, providing us with feedback to improve the experience
  • use the new tool first, identifying issues quickly so we can resolve any significant defects before the rollout to approximately 1,400 employers

Early Adopters will make a monthly time commitment to the project and be able to update their systems to adopt ERA by the end of the build. Both large and small employers who report from a variety of methods, and who use different payroll vendors and tools, will be involved.

ERA Advisors are employers and employer groups that would like to provide project guidance, but cannot commit to the timeframe required to be an Early Adopter, or are not a reporting employer. This group includes software providers.

Is there time for my organization to become an Early Adopter or Advisor?

No. At this point, DRS has a great representative group of Early Adopters and Advisors. If new needs are identified, we will reach out to employers.

When are the demonstrations for ERA Early Adopters and Advisors?

Demonstrations will be at the end of each phase.

Can I attend the demonstrations even though my organization isn't an Early Adopter or Advisor?

Yes. Early Adopters and Advisors have priority for attending demonstrations due to their time commitment to the ERA project. But if you have an interest in attending, please contact Outreach Project Manager Rachel Nesse at racheln@drs.wa.gov, or 360-664-7090.

How do I prepare for the changes in reporting ERA will bring?

Read and review ERA Employer Technical Requirements and Reporting Procedures. We are keeping this document up to date and DRS will send an Employer Notice anytime there are changes or clarifications. If you have any questions after your review, contact us.

Will there be training?

Yes. We will develop training during the build, test the training with our ERA Early Adopters and then deliver it to you as part of the full employer rollout.

How do I sign up for training?

DRS will plan the rollout with help from ERA Early Adopters and Advisors. We recognize that you will have preferences about when you train and when you convert to ERA.

Where can I learn more about ERA?

The ERA webpage on the DRS employer website has more information about the project, its progress and the most up-to-date articles.

Who do I contact if I have questions?

If you have any questions, please call:

Rachel Nesse, ERA Outreach Project Manager, at 360-664-7090, or racheln@drs.wa.gov, or Debbie Callar, ERA Employer Training Lead, at 360-664-7167, or debbiec@drs.wa.gov

ERA functionality

In ERA, will corrections process immediately?

That depends. Based on what we know today, DRS expects the following constraints:

  • Files smaller than 1 megabyte will process in real time, with results available the same day.
  • Files larger than 1 megabyte will process after business hours, with results available the next business day.

Corrections submitted in Interactive ERA will process immediately, and will reflect in members’ accounts the same day. You can also submit multiple corrections for a single member in the same day. For example: you can submit corrected earnings and then follow up with a separation date right away.

If a member has prior service credit with a different employer, will the current employer be able to see that information?

Yes. Employers will be able to see everything they see now in MRV (Member Reporting Verification) within eServices. A current employer will be able to see basic information from a member’s other employer, including service credit totals. But the employer will not be able to see earnings from other employers.

Why did DRS make the decision to have ERA reject all the records being reported for a member, and not just a specific piece of data or the invalid record?

DRS made this decision to improve data accuracy and to simplify the process for some types of corrections. By rejecting all the records, it will be easier for the employer and DRS to reconcile the employer’s account, matching the rejected data with the money. And the employer will see all relevant edit messages simultaneously rather than getting them one at a time as corrections are submitted.

In today’s system, employers don’t always recognize that if DRS rejects at the record level, not all the records are rejected. For instance: DRS might reject the Defined Benefit (DB) record for a Plan 3 member but not the Defined Contribution (DC) record. If the employer reports both the DB and DC records in the correction, the associated contribution dollars will post twice. But with ERA, DRS will reject all associated records for a particular member, avoiding unnecessary and inaccurate receivables for the employer.

Security and access

What do main contacts do?

Your main contact(s) will be responsible for granting others access to ERA, as needed.

Who has the ability to update my main contact in ERA?

Only DRS’s Employer Support Services team can create and update the main contact role in ERA. The main contact role replaces what we call the TRN/MAIN today.

Can I identify more than one person as the main contact?

Yes. Employers can identify more than one person as the main contact to ensure back up or continuity.

Technical questions

Will DRS pre-populate employer data when the employer adopts ERA?

Yes. For employers who report through the new ERA Interactive, we will pre-populate ERA with the data we already have from the employer’s last regular report.

How will DRS handle new data elements when pre-populating an employer’s data into ERA?

New data elements will be left blank. Employers can submit new data (via SFT, Manual File Upload or Interactive) once they have adopted ERA.

Will I be able to enroll DCP participants in ERA?

No. You will continue to use existing processes for new DCP participants.

If the status code reported in the status code field is fewer than four characters, should I program my system to use filler characters?

No. You should not program your system to use zeros or any other filler character in the status code field (for example, don't report an “A” code as “A000 or “000A”). ERA will accept codes between 1-4 characters long. Filler characters will result in rejection of the record for containing an invalid status code.

Where will I find Edit Messages in ERA?

You will continue to find your Edit Messages report in “My Documents.” In ERA, you will be able to export this report to Excel.

Is there a file size limit for using the simulation process during the manual file upload?

No. At this time, DRS expects employers can use the simulation process with any file regardless of size. We are still building ERA, so file size constraints are not final. Based on what we know today, DRS expects the following constraints:

  • files smaller than 1 megabyte will process in real time, with results available the same day
  • files larger than 1 megabyte will process after business hours, with results available the next business day
Are the “Max Compensation Exceeds Date” and “Max Compensation Exceed Indicator” fields related to DCP contributions?

No. The “Max Compensation Exceeds Date” and “Max Compensation Exceed Indicator” fields are not related to tracking DCP or other 401a plan contributions. IRC Section 401 (a)(17) restricts the amount of salary used to determine a benefit. The law does not limit the amount of salary earned or paid in a year, only the amount DRS can use.

In ERA, the new fields will be “read only” for employers, and updated by DRS. The two new fields can be used by an employer to track an employee who approaches or reaches the maximum compensation limit.

Can SFT employers use any of the three reporting methods in ERA (SFT, Manual File Upload or Interactive) to report retroactive adjusted pay by the month it was earned?

Yes. SFT employers can use various methods to report retroactive earnings, as they did in the past. In ERA, SFT employers can pick and choose between the following options:

  • include the retroactive earnings on the regular file
  • submit a separate correction file
  • submit the earnings in Interactive as a correction

Employers who submit regular reporting via Interactive will use Interactive for all reporting. DRS will continue to be available to assist with unique circumstances (for example, if the employer must make several adjustments due to a contract settlement).

If I use the Interactive process to enroll a member, and then also report that data via SFT, will it create a duplicate?

That depends. If you complete the enrollment process in Interactive, and then also report the new member via SFT, it will create a duplicate; however, if you stop the Interactive process without completing enrollment, and then report the person as a new member via SFT, a duplicate will not be created. This is because you won’t have actually reported anything via Interactive. You will be able to easily tell whether you have completed the enrollment process when you use the Interactive method.

How many methods will I have to report my regular retirement information, and what are they?

You will have three methods to choose from to report your regular retirement file:

  • Secure File Transfer (SFT): The file is sent via SFT. Your file will be saved to your SFT folder and then DRS will ensure the file is transferred to us. The ERA Portal will monitor SFT folders every 5 minutes and will create a new case for each file as it is discovered.
  • Manual File Upload: You will log into the ERA Portal and upload a file with all the records for this particular period. The ERA Portal will read the file values, validate them and update them into the DRS system.
  • Interactive: You will manually submit each member’s earning activity, adding members and records individually. Interactive will replace WBET within eServices.

You can submit correction files via the same method as your regular file, or you can use Interactive.

If I use SFT only, can I continue to do so after adopting ERA?

Yes.

Am I required to submit an email address for a member?

No. You are not required to submit an email address for any member. Submitting an email address is optional.

However, if you use the Multiple Record Layout (MRL) to submit files via SFT or Manual File Upload, the MRL must be updated to include the optional email address field. The file will reject if the format does not allow space for the email address field. If you opt not to submit email addresses for members, the field can be left blank. For more information about the updated MRL, please see the ERA Tech Requirements and Reporting Procedures.

Why is DRS collecting member email addresses?

DRS will use member email addresses to support employers in educating members about retirement, as well as notifying members of actions they need to take. For example, ERA will automatically email new PERS members a reminder if they have not made a Plan 2/3 choice before the deadline.

Can I use the Member Lookup process just like MRV?

Yes. The Member Lookup process will replace MRV. You will be able to look up a member’s system and plan history, and view additional information depending on your relationship to the member (former, current or prospective employment).

Can I use the Determine Member Eligibility process for members who are working in multiple positions?

Yes. The Determine Member Eligibility Process will cover almost all known eligibility scenarios (one such example would be a SERS 2/3 member with emergency Substitute Teacher credentials [TRS 0]). Your responses to a series of questions about a member’s eligibility will trigger additional questions to narrow down a determination. The scenarios will include members working in multiple positions, substitute teaching, retiree return to work and many others. And as always, DRS team members will be available if you want additional support in making an eligibility determination.

If I use the extended status code “A1” to report overtime more than 2 times the regular rate of pay, should I separate the regular and overtime compensation and hours into two defined benefit records?

Yes. If you choose to use the extended status code “A1,” that compensation and hours would be reported on a separate record from the regular compensation being reported with the “A” code. At this time, use of the “A1” code is optional.

What does the term “Interactive” mean in ERA?

Interactive is the reporting method that will allow you to “interact” with ERA to report retirement data. Interactive will be one of the three ways to report retirement data to DRS (Secure File Transfer [SFT], Manual File Upload or Interactive). Interactive is similar to, and will replace, WBET.

Can I send files in the new updated MRL format before adopting ERA?

No. You won’t be able to switch to the new format until ERA is adopted. There are several steps DRS must complete to migrate an employer into ERA, and if a new file format is received before we are ready, the entire file will be rejected.

Will reports be available in ERA to assist employer audit processes (an example is the Human Resource Management System [HRMS], where employers have activity logs to see who made changes and what those changes are)?

No. Employers will not be able to run activity reports to track their employee’s activities; however, DRS is keeping a list of requests from employers. As we move forward, items from this list will be evaluated and may be incorporated into ERA in the future.

What reports will be available to me in ERA?

DRS will make the following reports available:

  • Current Account Activity: Your current account receivable balances and invoices (current in eServices)
  • Plan Choice Report: A list of members who have exceeded their plan choice window
  • January Transfer Report: A list of members who have the right to transfer from Plan 2 to Plan 3 every January
Will members’ personal information in ERA, or notifications or emails sent from ERA, be subject to release under the Public Records Act (PRA)?

Yes. All DRS correspondence is subject to disclosure as required by the PRA. So an email automatically generated by the ERA Portal will be treated the same as other correspondence with DRS.

If a Public Records Request asks for any correspondence generated by ERA, or information stored in ERA, any content that is exempt from disclosure under the PRA will be redacted before release of the record. For example, residential addresses, personal telephone numbers and personal email addresses are exempt from disclosure. Learn more in RCW 42.56.250.

How can I keep a payroll system provider up-to-speed on new ERA requirements?

You should encourage payroll system providers and other technical staff to review the ERA Technical Requirements and Reporting Procedures and other information on the ERA webpage.

How do I use the new A1 overtime code to report earnings?

See page 24 in the ERA Technical Requirements for examples.

Can I have more than one main contact in ERA?

Yes. Only DRS can assign and set up the first main contact as part of an employer’s transition to ERA. After that, the main contact can notify DRS if they need additional people assigned to the role. The main contact(s) will then be responsible for setting up all other contacts and roles within their organization.

What is a SAW account?

Secure Access Washington (SAW) is a single sign-on application gateway used by state agencies to keep applications like ERA secure. SAW can include or grant access to secure information. DRS is using a SAW-Enabled Agency Portal (SEAP) to integrate ERA with SAW. SEAP will allow users to access ERA securely through SAW without leaving the DRS website.

Users with access to more than one agency application can use the same login information (the same SAW account) to securely access each application.