On Dec. 15, 2020, the WCAB issued its seventh en banc decision regarding COVID-19, “In Re: COVID-19 State of Emergency En Banc –– NO. 7.” This decision suspends CCR 10789(c) which applies to the assignment of judges for walk-through cases. The effect of this is to grant the local district offices the flexibility to manage walk-throughs. This should allow the local district offices, when they are reopened for walk-throughs, to reestablish walk-throughs in a way that their available resources will allow.
In the decision, the WCAB explained that since Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19 on March 4, 2020, the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) temporarily closed the district offices for filing as of March 17, 2020 to protect the health and safety of staff and the community. The DWC reopened the district offices for filing on April 13, 2020 via EAMS, JET file or by mail, but currently does not permit filing of walk-through documents.
CCR 10789(a) allows the following documents to be submitted on a walk-through basis:
- Compromise and Releases;
- Stipulations with Request for Award;
- Petitions for attorney’s fees for representation of the applicant at a deposition;
- Petitions to compel attendance at a medical examination or deposition; and
- Petitions for Costs pursuant to CCR 10545. CCR 10789(c) requires each district office to have a designee of the presiding workers’ compensation judge available to assign walk-through cases from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on court days.
The WCAB’s en banc decision suspends CCR 10789(c) to provide the district offices with the ability to schedule timeframes for walk-through of documents as appropriate for their capacity. The WCAB instructs that presiding judges have full responsibility for assignment of cases to the workers’ compensation judges in each district office. It adds that presiding judges are empowered to prioritize which documents may be assigned on a walk-through basis and to determine whether to permit a document to be assigned as a walk-through.
The WCAB’s district offices have not been open for walk-throughs since March, and the decision itself doesn’t open the district offices for walk-through appearances. However, the WCAB has now formally suspended the rule requiring judges to be available for walk-through appearances. It also provides presiding judges at each district office with discretion in handling walk-through appearances once the district offices are reopened.