On March 6, 2020, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, declared the COVID-19 pandemic a State of Emergency Disaster. As of March 17, 2020, Governor Wolf ordered a 14 day closure of all state offices including the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. All hearings scheduled from March 17, 2020 through March 31, 2020 have been cancelled and will be rescheduled. All Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board hearings are cancelled for the duration of the State’s COVID-19 Emergency Disaster Declaration. All appeals listed before the Appeal Board will be decided on briefs only, unless a Party specifically requests that it be relisted for oral argument on a future date.
As of March 30, 2020, the Office of Adjudication has begun conducting hearings telephonically. This will continue until the Disaster Declaration formally ends. For hearings scheduled now through April 10, 2020, Court staff will provide conference numbers via Microsoft Outlook Invitation. For all hearings scheduled after April 10, 2020, new hearing notices will be generated. Mandatory and Voluntary Mediations will also be conducted telephonically via an audio only conference call. There is no video capability for either hearings or mediations, and the technology will not offer a Party the ability to communicate with the mediating Judge privately as is customary in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation mediations.
The Division will continue to hear Petitions to Approve Compromise and Release Agreements. Claimants will be able to participate from their home. Additionally, Section 449(c) of the WCA has been temporarily suspended; therefore, the Claimant’s signature on the C&R does not have to be witnessed or notarized.
State employees will be working remotely to ensure vital functions continue to be processed. All Court communications should be made through WCAIS requests or the Judge communications function. Neither Judges, nor their staff, can be contacted at the Courthouse. Due to mail delays, all Statements of Wages; Agreements; and Notifications of Modification/Suspension must be uploaded to WCAIS. The Courts have also requested that all exhibits be uploaded onto WCAIS in advance of any scheduled hearing. All Parties should expect delays in receipt of records from the BWC whether by subpoena or regular request.
There is no formal policy addressing penalties for COVID-19 related delays by the Employer and its Carrier (such as check issuance); however, they are being discussed. The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Organization has approved new codes for designating COVID-19 related claims, and these claims have already started to be reported within the Division. If you have any questions or concerns, please click here to contact Samantha Hahn, a Shareholder in the Firm’s Workers’ Compensation Department.