PA Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Finally Announces Reopening
Nearly two full years after COVID-19 briefly shut down the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system, and then created a dramatic shift in how litigation was done, the PA Bureau of Workers’ Compensation has announced measures to return to some level of our prior (the old “normal”) operation.
It has been since March, 2020, that most of us in the workers’ compensation bar have physically been inside of a workers’ comp hearing room. Nearly every hearing and mediation since that time has taken place in a virtual format.
The Workers’ Compensation Office of Adjudication (WCOA) has officially announced that mask mandates have been lifted and live (in person) hearings and mediations may again commence. While the virtual hearings which have become the new “normal” will continue in some respects, it appears that live testimony will once again be taking place. You may recall that the PA workers’ comp courts were permitted to be “open” as of August 16, 2021, though very few Workers’ Compensation Judges (WCJs) actually held live hearings. At Brilliant & Neiman LLC, we have not been involved in a live hearing since March, 2020.
The official announcement by WCOA is:
“As of Monday, February 28, 2022, the mask mandate for all Commonwealth employees and contracted vendors was lifted. Although encouraged, masks are now not required to be worn by employees, contractors or visitors while doing business at Commonwealth offices.
In response to the lifting of the mask mandate, the Workers’ Compensation Office of Adjudication (WCOA) will take the following initiatives:
- WCJ’s may now exercise their discretion to schedule mediations virtually or in-person;
- WCJ’s are encouraged to continue to schedule non-testimonial hearings (pre-trials, status listings, supersedeas hearings, uncontested matters etc.) virtually through TEAMS. Recognizing that there may be circumstances requiring an in-person hearing for non-testimonial matters, counsel are instructed to follow current protocols to request a change: file an appropriate WCAIS request with the adjudicating WCJ listing the reasons for the request as well as the position of opposing counsel/party. The type of request to be filed is listed in the updated Judge Questionnaires, the link to which is available on your WCAIS dashboard.
- For hearings at which testimony is expected, the individual WCJ will exercise adjudicatory discretion to schedule the hearing in-person or virtually. Should counsel or a party disagree and wish to change the listing from virtual to in-person, or vice versa, they may file an appropriate request listing the reasons for the request as well as the position of opposing counsel. The type of request to be filed is listed in the updated Judge Questionnaires, the link to which is available on your WCAIS dashboard.
These matters should now be discussed by counsel/parties prior to and at the first listing of the dispute before the adjudicating WCJ. We appreciate your patience as we gradually transition into more regularly scheduled in-person events.”