By: Mark Barnes
Yesterday, March 22, 2021, the Industrial Commission of Ohio conducted a special telephone meeting in which the use of Webex was discussed. Tom Connor, Director of Adjudications, stated that the Commission presently hears 3 hearings per hour for seven hours per day. He anticipates the move to Webex will take place in mid-April. Of note, the Commission has conducted telephone hearings during the pandemic nearly exclusively. The only situation in which the Commission has utilized video hearings is where there are hearing impaired individuals. In those circumstances, the Commission utilizes Microsoft Teams because sign language can be used as well as messaging. Upon questioning from the Commissioners, Connor stated the purpose of transitioning to Webex is to overcome the technical difficulties with the current phone bridge. Ironically, Commissioner Gillmor was inadvertently disconnected from the telephone meeting and had to call back in. To be clear, the purpose of replacing the phone bridge with Webex is to address audio concerns. The purpose is not to conduct video hearings.
Commissioner Hughes then moved to approve the transition to Webex, except that hearings involving the hearing impaired may still need to be conducted by Teams if Webex cannot provide a viable video platform for the hearing impaired. In the discussion of motion, Commissioner Tayler wanted the record to reflect that the vote was limited to using audio means for hearings during the pandemic only. Commissioner Taylor was adamant that the Commission should go back to in-person hearings once the governor and Department of Health lift statewide restrictions, which would allow government offices to reopen. Commissioner Taylor also stated she is not supportive of video hearings because of privacy concerns, among other things. She said she is hopeful in-person hearings will resume by summertime. Of note, some of the resistance to video hearings has come from the union representing the hearing officers. Commissioner Taylor stated if the Commission did decide to conduct video hearings, which she opposes, then that is a decision to be made by the Commission, not its hearing officers. Commissioner Gillmor agreed with all of Commissioner Taylor’s comments, strongly suggesting Commissioner Gillmor also favors and anticipates a return to in-person hearings later this year. Commissioner Hughes expressed no opinion on the return to in-person hearings.
Ultimately, the Commissioners approved Commissioner Hughes’ motion. The takeaways from the meeting are as follows:
- The purpose of adopting and utilizing Webex is to address the technical issues with the current phone bridge system.
- Audio hearings are only intended to address hearings during the pandemic
- Video hearings are reserved for the hearing impaired
- More than likely, the Commission will resume in-person hearings sometime after the governor and director of health lift the pandemic related restrictions.
Here is a link to the Commission’s hearing: https://youtu.be/sUfBG7ad2Jg