In the last 30 days, the CDC changed its mask guidance and pronounced that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks. On June 2, 2021, the Ohio Department of Health’s COVID-19 order will expire, which means individuals and business will no longer be required to have social distancing and mask protocols. Numerous businesses already have relaxed and/or completely lifted their mask mandates despite the fact that the State’s COVID order remains in effect for several more days.
Governor Mike DeWine has not indicated that either he or the Department of Health will issue new COVID mandates when the health order expires. One may assume businesses and government agencies will resume pre-COVID work environments. If this is true, then what will this mean for the Industrial Commission and the resumption of in-person hearings?
Since April 19, the Commission has conducted hearings through the web conferencing platform WebEx. While WebEx provides for videoconferencing, the Commission’s website specifically provides that hearing officers will conduct hearings using the audio option only. As we previously reported on March 23, 2021, the Commission intended the use of WebEx as a pandemic solution only. In a March 22, 2021 special telephone meeting, Commissioner Jody Taylor specifically expressed her opinion that she hoped in-person hearings will resume by the summer of 2021. Commissioner Gillmor full supported Commissioner Taylor’s position; however Commission Hughes expressed no opinion on in-person hearings.
At the end of June, 2021, Commissioner Taylor’s term will end and Governor DeWine will appoint a new commissioner. Whether the Commission will resume in-person hearings by the summer as Commissioner Taylor has hoped is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, the building trend of businesses, as well as Governor DeWine’s public posture on COVID restrictions, suggest the end of remote hearings is near the end. Of course, we will update this story when new developments occur.