On the Hot Seat; What In-Person Hearings Look Like for Injured Workers’ During COVID19
Beginning on June 8, 2020, the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission reinstituted In-Person hearings at all hearing sites. For many who recall attending hearings in the past, all the cases scheduled on a docket would arrive for a 9:30 a.m. start time. The Commissioner would take the bench, call the docket and then the cases would be called one at a time until the docket was concluded. Following CDC guidelines, and taking into consideration the health and well-being of injured workers, Employers, Attorneys, Commissioners, and Staff, that process has now changed. Currently, cases are being scheduled at 20-minute intervals throughout the day, in order to limit risks of exposure, allowing only one case into the hearing room at a time.
When attending an in-person hearing, several safety measures have been put into place.1 First, you will not be permitted to enter the hearing site more than 5 minutes prior to your scheduled hearing. Second, all parties are required to wear a face mask while in the hearing site, to include when presenting your case or testifying. Upon being admitted into the building, security personal will ask you to clean your hands with the provided hand sanitizer. You will then be asked a series of questions regarding symptoms or potential exposure to COVID-19. Upon completing the questionnaire, you will be admitted into the hearing room.
Upon entering the hearing room, you will notice that the furniture has been rearranged to comply with social distancing recommendations. All exhibits will be submitted electronically to the Commission in advance of the hearings. Many of the hearing rooms are arranged with the Commissioner seated at the bench, as normal, a chair located in the center of the room for the Injured Worker, and tables on each side of the room for the attorneys. As an Injured Worker, this arrangement may seem a little uncomfortable as you will be seated in the center of the room or, as one of my clients referred to it, in the proverbial “Hot Seat.” It is important to remember that this is purely to comply with recommended distancing guidelines and nothing else about the presentation of the case has changed. The Injured Worker will be sworn in and the case will proceed in the same fashion as in the past. Some may also find comfort in knowing that your case will be the only case in the room at the time, as opposed to the past when you may be testifying in front of an audience of other Injured Workers and attorneys awaiting their cases to be called. At the conclusion of your case, the Commission will ask you to promptly leave the building to allow the next case to get started on time. Again, the Commissioner will issue a written decision in 1-2 weeks following the hearing.
Despite the fact that in-person hearings have resumed, the Commission is still designating one Commissioner, per day, to conduct video hearings. If you are not comfortable with attending an in-person hearing, you have the option to request a video hearing instead. In order to do so, you would simply need to contact your attorney and let them know your preference so they can make the appropriate request and attempt to get all parties to agree, which isn’t possible in all cases. Despite the changes to the scheduling and format of the Commission, the substance presented at these hearings is no different than in the past. While it has certainly been a challenging year, the above changes have been implemented to minimize any delay experienced by injured workers. Additionally, these processes have been implemented to ensure everyone is able to have their matters decided in a format that they are comfortable with, while also maintaining a sense of safety.