On Jan. 11, 2022, the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) announced that all hearings would be conducted virtually as of Jan. 12, 2022. That means that all trials, lien trials, expedited hearings and Special Adjudication Unit (SAU) trials will be heard telephonically. Mandatory settlement conferences, priority conferences, status conferences, SAU conferences and lien conferences will continue to be held on the individually assigned judges’ conference lines.
The decision to pause in-person hearings was made because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The pause will continue through the end of the month and is to be re-evaluated then. DWC hearing notices will not change, but parties are given notice that as of Jan. 12, 2022, if a trial, expedited hearing, lien trial or SAU trial is set at a district office, all parties should call the judges’ assigned conference line and not appear in person.
The conference lines are found on the DWC webpage. All division offices will remain open. If parties have questions on a specific case, they are instructed to contact the DWC call center at (909) 383-4522.
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Effective Jan. 1, 2022, new regulations were adopted regarding electronic hearings, and, per CCR 10815, a party may object to an electronic hearing by filing a written objection showing good cause. During the prior period when in-person testimony was suspended, the WCAB issued a significant panel decision in Gao v. Chevron Corp. (2021) 86 CCC 44 stating that it would be "inappropriate to institute a blanket rule that it is per se unreasonable to continue a case to allow for in-person testimony," but that "the default position should be that trials proceed remotely, in the absence of some clear reason why the facts of a specific case require a continuance."
So, a party still may request that a trial be conducted in person but must present good cause for it –– a clear reason for an in-person hearing must be given. Even if good cause is established, however, it's unlikely that the DWC will allow in-person testimony during the current pause of in-person hearings. Instead, it probably will continue the matter until it believes in-person hearings can be conducted safely.
For a detailed discussion of the impact of COVID-19 on appearances before the board, review the section on Court Appearances from Michael Sullivan & Associates' Navigating COVID-19: A Legal Guide For California Employers.