Oregon Workers’ Compensation Board now administering hearings and mediations via “Zoom” platform

Since April, under Governor Brown’s “Stay home, Save lives” Executive Orders, the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) hearings divisions have not administered any in-person hearings or mediations. Quite obviously, this development and ongoing complication has presented many hurdles for all parties seeking to obtain expeditious resolutions to litigated claims and issues.

As you may have experienced, many, if not most, hearings were postponed over the last six months, especially when the credibility of live witness testimony was relevant to the litigated issue(s). All hearings have been handled either telephonically, or in writing “on the record’ (i.e., without testimony).

Last week, the WCB announced that it is officially rolling out a new videoconferencing platform, via Zoom for Government, so that hearings and mediations can be administered via videoconference. While the “default” docketing will be for hearings to still be administered telephonically, proceeding to hearing via videoconference may be granted on the motion of an interested party. It remains to be seen how liberally administrative law judges (ALJs) will grant that motion, although I anticipate ALJs utilizing their wide discretion to do so, unless an opposing party provides a compelling argument in aid of objection.

As of this week, the WCB is taking requests for Zoom events occurring no sooner than next Monday, September 21. So, if you have a hearing or mediation, scheduled for next week or later, that you think would benefit to be handled via videoconference, you may now initiate that motion. Prior to a Zoom event, the WCB will provide all witnesses and attending parties an electronic attendance link. During Zoom hearings, witnesses will wait in a virtual waiting room until allowed into the videoconference for testimony. During Zoom mediations, parties will be separated by virtual “break-out” rooms which the mediator can then enter and exit. The WCB currently plans to administer no in-person events until at least January 2021.

If you have any questions about how best to utilize the newly-offered technology in one of your Oregon workers’ compensation cases, or if you have any other Oregon workers’ compensation questions, concerns, or topics of discussion, please contact me at aevenson@sbhlegal.com or 503-595-6109.