The COVID-19 healthcare crisis is causing a lot of changes to the way that workers’ compensation in North Carolina are handled Some of the many changes the North Carolina Industrial Commission is making include the following:
Mediations conducted before June 1, 2020
Chief Justice Beasley ordered on April 2, 2020 that all mediations of workers’ compensation cases in North Carolina will be conducted remotely. Alternatively, the mediations will be scheduled for a date on or after the first of June 2020. All parties must consent to a remote mediation – or the mediation will be rescheduled to the later date.
Hearing policies through May 31, 2020.
Chief Justice Beasley also announced the following changes to the workers’ compensation process – in order to protect the health and public safety of North Carolina residents:
- Full Commission Hearings. Oral arguments for full commission hearings will be conducted through a conference call. The parties will be given a toll-free number and an access code in order to phone into the conference. A court reporter will still continue to record the court proceeding.
- Non-medical motion hearings held before a deputy commissioner. Any Deputy Commissioner hearings which would have been heard by May 31, 2020 will be rescheduled except for medical motions (under General Statute 97-25(f) or unless the parties are notified about other conditions
- Medical motions before a deputy commissioner. These hearing are generally required to be heard within 30 days from the motion or appeal filing date. Instead, these hearings won’t be postponed. Instead, they will be hard remotely. The parties may be excused from attending the remote hearing by the Deputy Commissioner if the parties and the Deputy Commissioner agree that:
- Lay witnesses aren’t needed
- The parties stipulate to the facts and the exhibits
In the case of hearings without lay witnesses, the parties should obtain the relevant expert medical testimony that is needed to resolve the issues.
- Executive secretary hearings. These informal telephonic hearings, conducted by the “Executive Secretary’s Office will be by conference call.”
COVID-19 Policy Update Regarding Electronic Signatures
The North Carolina Industrial Commission will now accept agreements that are:
- Signed by one or more parties through DocuSign
- Singed by one or more to the parties through a vendor similar to DocuSign that “provides a graphic image of a signature placed on a document using secure software that verifies the identity of the user.”
Requests by the NCIC to workers who work remotely
The NCIC is requesting that the lawyers (for the employees and employers) who are working remotely either advise their legal assistants when NCIC orders have been sent or provide the Executive Secretary’s Office with the emails of both the lawyer and the legal assistant
Secured Leave Policy during the COVID-10 crisis
The NCIC will consider motions by lawyers who have to reschedule vacations, non-emergency medical procedures, and other plans – for which secure leave was already filed.
DocuSign and agreements
To encourage social distancing, the NCIC is allowing employees to sign agreements through DocuSign, a legal industry standard. These agreements include:
- Compromise Settlement Agreements
- Form 26As and other Form agreements,
- Consent Agreements
There is one important caveat/condition. The employee must sign through DocuSign. The lawyer for the employee cannot “sign via DocuSign on behalf of an employee.”
COVID-19 Response: Industrial Commission Filing Deadline Policy
The NCIC hasn’t agreed to any “automatic, blanket extension of filing deadlines for the following reasons:
- Parties can take advantage of the NCIC’s Electronic Document Filing Portal (“EDFP”) to electronically file a variety of legal documents such as forms, briefs, and proposed orders.
- “The Industrial Commission continues to allow pro se plaintiffs and pro se non-insured employers to file all documents by facsimile, U.S. Mail, private courier service, or hand delivery”
- “Any party wishing to obtain an extension of a filing deadline for a reason related to COVID-19, or otherwise for good cause, may file a motion for an extension of time as allowed by applicable rules and statutes.”
COVID-19 Response: Telehealth Coverage and Billing
A few Q and As provided by the NCIC about telehealth visits include the following:
- Are Telehealth Visits Allowed by the Industrial Commission in Workers’ Compensation Cases? Nothing in the NCIC rules or the Workers Compensation Act disallows telehealth services
- Can Evaluation & Management Telehealth Visits be Billed under the Industrial Commission’s Workers’ Compensation Fee Schedule? Yes. The same Evaluation and Management codes should be used that are used for in-person visits “except that “02” should be used as the “Place of Service” code.” “For any services with CPT codes that do not have a specific fee schedule amount, the charges would be paid per agreement between the carrier and medical provider.”
- What if a Carrier or Third-Party Administrator Refuses to Authorize a Telehealth Visit? If there is a dispute, the injured employee may file a medical motion with the NCIC to seek an order authorizing the telehealth visit and authorizing payment for the telehealth visit.
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Response: Industrial Commission Mediation Policy
“Effective immediately and continuing until further notice, the Industrial Commission will liberally grant the following types of motions:
- Motions for an extension of time to complete a mediation to allow all mediation participants to safely appear in person at the mediation; and
- Motions to allow one or more parties to participate in a mediation via telephone or video conference.”
IC Staff Working Remotely; Email Communication Encouraged
The NCIC is encouraging its staff to work remotely as much as possible. The NCIC is encouraging parties to contact the NCIC by email instead of by phone because many staff employees are working remotely where they can easily access their email and because, with email, employees can respond when they are ready. Also, many voicemail messages to office phones don’t get forwarded to personal phones.
The NCIC provides a list of email addresses for staff members.
North Virginia workers’ compensation attorney Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injured workers and workers with occupational illnesses for more than 25 years. He is keeping current with the new requirements for handling cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cases are still be being heard. So, if you can’t work due to workplace conditions or a workplace accident, please phone Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-694-1671. or use my online contact form to speak with an experienced work injury lawyer.