Just days after a few workers' compensation courts and commissions suggested that it would be business as usual during the coronavirus outbreak, some have reversed course, and hearings, meetings and conferences around the country have been canceled.
Some comp courts have suspended hearings altogether while others are holding only telephone or virtual proceedings online for at least the next two weeks. And most workers' compensation conferences scheduled for the coming months have been canceled as federal health officials urge people to avoid crowds.
The Risk Management Society announced Monday that, for the first time in its 70-year history, the 10,000-attendee annual conference and exhibition has been canceled. The meeting was set for May 3-6 in Denver.
The National Council on Compensation Insurance on Monday evening also announced that its well-attended Annual Issues Symposium in Orlando will now be held online only. The event will be held at 1 p.m. Eastern May 12. The NCCI's annual members' meeting, also held online, will begin at 4 p.m. Registration information will be announced soon, the council said in a notice.
Stakeholders who had registered for the in-person conference will receive a full refund of registration fees, the council said.
The International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commission said it, too, has canceled its Forum 2020 in Clearwater, Florida, April 27-30. The association is now exploring the option of holding the conference online and will provide more information by the end of March.
The massive Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation conference, scheduled for June 1-2, is still on track, according to the Department of Labor.
Meanwhile, comp courts and commissions in at least a dozen states have now suspended hearings, arbitrations and other operations. Here's a look at states that have posted notice of the changes, starting with the most populous states.
Illinois: The Workers' Compensation Commission has suspended all arbitration proceedings until March 31, Chairman Michael Brennan announced.
The agency will make space available for emergency hearings or other “extremely time-sensitive matters” as needed at the hearing sites in Chicago, Collinsville, Rockford, Peoria and Springfield. The commission is not set up to provide video/online hearings but is studying that option, a spokesman said Monday.
Texas: Division of Workers' Compensation officials said last week that it was simply monitoring the virus, but by Sunday, the agency announced a host of social-distancing safety measures:
- Benefit review conferences will now be held by phone, and DWC staff will contact parties to provide details. The division did not indicate how long the arrangement may be in place.
- Contested case hearings have been postponed until March 30, when they will be held by phone. Parties should send exhibits via encrypted email or by fax at least three business days prior to the scheduled hearing.
- Injured workers who need to reschedule a designated doctor exam should contact the physician. The doctor should inform the DWC if the change is related to the coronavirus epidemic. Testing to certify designated doctors has been closed in some areas of the state. More information is available from the testing company.
- First reports of injury should specify if a claim is related to COVID-19, the flu-like disease caused by the coronavirus. Boxes at the DWC's Austin office, which allow insurance carriers to pick up printed communications, will remain open but a glass barrier and hand sanitizer will be utilized, the agency said.
- Texas Department of Insurance staff will continue working from home where possible, the department said.
On Monday, the DWC posted a list of meetings and events that have been canceled and a coronavirus informational webpage.
New York: The Workers' Compensation Board, which has been providing virtual hearings in some locations for more than two years, will hold all hearings remotely until further notice.
Following an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, eight hearing sites around the state have been closed, but parties can attend virtual hearings using a computer or smartphone, the board said. For a small number of hearings that are not yet set up for virtual access, such as discrimination cases, the board will contact the participants with more information.
Details on how to attend virtual hearings can be found at the board's website. Injured workers can also participate by phone by calling 844-337-6301. More information will be posted soon, the board said in a bulletin.
Ohio: The Industrial Commission has suspended all hearings through today but will start telephone-based proceedings on Wednesday, the commission announced.
The agency will aim for two hearings per hour and six hours per day. A commission spokesman said Monday that hearing officers will call parties directly, prior to the start of each hearing.
The commission's customer service email address is AskIC@ic.ohio.gov and the phone number is 614-466-6136.
Florida: All workers' comp judges' district offices will remain open, but judges should use their discretion in managing dockets. Mediations will be held via telephone through March 27, the Division of Administrative Hearings announced Monday.
Georgia: The Workers' Compensation Board has postponed all hearings and in-person mediations through March 27. Parties wishing to proceed with telephone-based mediations may do so, the commission said.
On questions about hearings, parties can call the assigned judge's office or 770-531-5625. For questions about mediations, parties can call 404-656-2939.
Iowa: All hearings through June 16 will be held via internet-based video with the comp commission's CourtCall system, the commission said in release posted Friday.
Louisiana: All court appearances and in-person mediations through March 27 have been postponed but will be rescheduled on an expedited basis after that date, the Office of Workers' Compensation said. State law does not permit court matters to be handled by phone. The office encourages parties to make all filings through fax.
Maryland: All claims hearings through April 3 have been postponed and commission offices are closed to the public.
North Carolina: Deputy commissioner hearings that were scheduled for March and April have been postponed until the next available docket. Medical motion hearings, required by law to be held within 30 days, will be held as scheduled unless the deputy commissioner excuses the parties from participation.
Full commission hearings will be conducted by conference call. The commission will provide the parties with a phone number and access code. All oral arguments will be recorded by a court reporter.
Oklahoma: All Workers' Compensation Commission offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa will be closed through today and all dockets for this week have been postponed. Commission employees may have been exposed to the virus, according to a news report.
A workers' compensation attorney, who had visited the commission offices last week, reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus. His wife was one of the first in the state to test positive for the COVID-19 disease, a newspaper reported.
Virginia: The commission has adopted a “liberal continuance policy” for hearings. Commissioners will consider postponement requests on case-by-case basis.
This article has been reprinted with permission from WorkCompCentral