The How-To’s of Virtual Hearings

New York State has recently revealed that it will be implementing a virtual hearing procedure for all workers’ compensation hearings. The roll-out of the virtual hearing process began in November and is already in place in select downstate hearing points and is making its way to Binghamton and other upstate hearing locations in the very near future.

The virtual hearing process allows (read: strongly encourages) claimants, attorneys, licensed representatives, and witnesses to appear at all workers’ compensation hearings via their computer, tablet or mobile device. While you can still elect to appear at the hearing in person, you must “check-in” online regardless of whether you appear virtually or in person. To further complicate matters, the check-in number is not the same as the WCB case number. Files eligible for virtual hearings will have “Virtual Hearing Available” printed at the bottom of the formal Notice of Hearing and will provide the nine digit hearing ID number. To log into a case, which again is required regardless of whether you are appearing virtually or not, you must login here. Once you have located your hearing ID number and have connected to the Board’s virtual hearing website, you will be walked through a series of relatively self-explanatory steps where you identify yourself and the cases you are appearing on or attending.

If you make it through the multiple checkpoints without being disconnected, you will be deposited into the “Virtual Waiting Room,” which I imagine is a bit like workers’ compensation purgatory. It is yet to be seen whether cases will be called according to a pre-arranged docket, as they are now, or if they will be called on a first come, first served basis, encouraging parties to sign in as early as possible regardless of the assigned time slot. The Board does caution that morning and afternoon hearings must be signed in separately. Morning hearings, those scheduled for 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, can be added as early as 8:30 a.m. Afternoon hearings, 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., can be added starting at 12:30 p.m. For better or for worse, this eliminates the option of calling an afternoon case in the morning upon the agreement of all parties.

While in the waiting room, you can add additional hearings or mark yourself “unavailable” if you have to run to the restroom or take a call. Use caution when using the “unavailable” button, however. If you remain unavailable for more than 15 minutes, you will be signed out of all your hearings and will have to start the entire process over again.

When your hearing is called, you will receive a 20 second “heads up” notification on your dashboard, allowing you to clear your lunch off your desk or wrap up a phone call. You will then receive a pop up, urging you to “Enter Hearing.” When you enter the hearing, a separate window will open with a live streaming video of the Law Judge and other parties appearing virtually. DO NOT close the tab with your waiting room. If you close the waiting room tab, it will boot you out of the system, bringing you back to square one.

In order to hear what is going on in the hearing, you can either connect via a landline by clicking “Call Me” or you can enable the audio on the streaming video by clicking “Connect to Audio.” The Board recommends the landline option. You can then enable the video function allowing the Judge and other parties to see you. When the hearing is over, the hearing room link will close on its own.

There are minimum system requirements to participate in a virtual hearing. In general, your device/computer must have a camera, have all sleep and standby functions switched off, and be connected to reliable internet. The Board recommends testing your computer or mobile device prior to your first venture into the world of virtual hearings or any time you are using a new computer or device that has not connected to the virtual hearing system before. To test your system or device, simply head here and follow the prompts.

Glitches and protests regarding security concerns and the ethical implications of virtual appearances will be inevitable. For the time being, however, Virtual Hearings are headed to a hearing point near you. Will virtual hearings become a time and gas saving wonder or an epic flop? Only time can tell.

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