AFTER SUCCESSFUL PILOT, INJURED WORKERS AND OTHER PARTICIPANTS CAN NOW CHOOSE TO ATTEND HEARINGS REMOTELY, AVOIDING TRAVEL BURDEN
New York State Workers' Compensation Board Chair Clarissa M. Rodriguez today announced the Board has launched a first-in-the-nation initiative that allows injured workers and other participants to attend workers' compensation hearings right from their homes or offices. The Board's virtual hearings provide injured workers a way to move the claim process forward without the need to travel many miles for a hearing that may last only minutes, which is especially beneficial depending on the extent of their injuries.
The New York State Workers' Compensation Board developed virtual hearings in partnership with the Office of Information Technology Services to give all parties involved the option of using a smart phone, tablet or computer to attend hearings. This is the first high definition, all access system for legal hearings in the nation, where multiple users in different locations log in once and then move from one hearing to another.
"This state-of-the-art, secure technology removes obstacles and stress for hard-working New Yorkers who were injured on the job, as well as for business owners and the professionals who participate in the system," Board Chair Rodriquez said. "Virtual hearings allow injured workers to remain in their homes and other participants to attend from their workplaces. Our successful pilot and now statewide launch demonstrate New York's commitment to helping people hurt on the job."
To participate in a virtual hearing, the party of interest needs only a smart phone, tablet or computer with a microphone and video camera, as well as a high-speed internet connection. All participants can see and hear each other on their respective screens. Additionally, workers’ compensation law judges can share claim documents with all involved parties. The system includes security.
The Board is also developing a mobile app, for future release, that parties may download and use to attend hearings.
"Virtual hearings save injured workers the burden of travel, which is particularly helpful for someone with impaired mobility, especially during the harsh winter months," Chair Rodriguez said. "They make it easier for injured workers to receive benefits and for other parties, such as employers and attorneys, to participate in the workers' compensation system."
"The Office of Information Technology Services is pleased to partner with the Workers' Compensation Board to deploy technology that makes it easier to serve injured workers across New York State," said New York State Chief Information Officer Robert H. Samson. "Here in New York, we are harnessing the power of technology to deliver innovation that matters … for all New Yorkers, and virtual hearings are the latest example of this."
Many workers' compensation hearings last less than 10 minutes, but injured workers can still lose time from work and suffer inconvenience traveling to Board offices. Weather-related complications can also make these trips difficult. Virtual hearings are entirely optional though, and parties may now choose them over attending a hearing at a Board office. They can always choose to attend in-person if they prefer.
Virtual hearings were first tested in the Capital District Office in Menands in November 2017, then rolled out across the state. Since the beginning of the pilot, more than 33,000 hearings have included at least one party who appeared remotely, successfully connecting injured workers, law judges and representatives from all over New York and nationally. The Board has trained more than 780 participants on the system, including law judges and other staff, attorneys and legal representatives. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Todd L., an injured worker, said, "Once we got connected, we had great audio and visual and everything ran smoothly right up to the resolution. It was actually very convenient – given that the hearing was in New York and I was in Georgia – versus having to travel back to a central location in Albany." (Privacy laws protect the identities of injured workers.)
Attorney Matt Mead said, "Virtual hearings save me travel time and as a result have saved my clients some fees because I don't have to bill them to get back and forth to the locations. I think it could be really useful to out-of-town witnesses. I deal with some employers who are out of the immediate area and would have to take time away from their businesses to travel. If they could appear virtually, that would be helpful to them."
Virtual hearings are another successful element of the Board’s Business Process Re-engineering, which has been improving the overall health of workers’ compensation in New York since 2013. More information on virtual hearings, including instructional videos and other training materials, is at www.wcb.ny.gov/virtual-hearings.