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Best Practices and Teleconference Hearing Information for Representatives and Parties

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal supports the province-wide effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. In-person hearings are not possible during this time, which is why teleconference hearings have been offered as an alternative option to allow appeals and applications to proceed in a timely manner. With the cooperation of all the hearing participants, the teleconference hearing process will provide a good alternative to the oral in-person hearing. The procedures described in this Best Practices document are intended to ensure that appeals before the Tribunal will keep moving forward, so that the parties can have access to justice given the current public health crisis. The information and best practices described herein are subject to change, and will be updated as necessary, in response to the shifting demands of the COVID-19 situation. 

This Best Practices and Information document provides guidance to the parties for the use of teleconferencing for: 

(a) Pre-hearing conference proceedings before the Tribunal;
(b) Applications before the Tribunal; and
(c) Hearings before the Tribunal. 

This document is meant to supplement the Tribunal’s existing Practice Directions regarding hearing procedures. It is meant to be flexible, and will apply to all new matters, but should be applied as well to hearings which have begun pre-pandemic.  There is a recognized need for flexibility with hearing processes, and the Tribunal will work with the parties to adapt the hearing process to the specific circumstances of each case. The Panel or Vice-Chair assigned to your case will ultimately decide how the hearing or pre-hearing conference will be conducted, after hearing from the parties. 

 

Before the Hearing 

1. Information Needed to Participate in a Teleconference Hearing

The Tribunal’s Scheduling Department will send a notice of the hearing to the parties as soon as practicable in advance of the hearing. Arrangements for the call will be made through the Ontario Network.

The notice of teleconference will include: 

2. Assistance from the Tribunal

Any hearing participant may contact the assigned Hearing Coordinator for assistance in advance of the teleconference, if there are questions about how to operate the teleconference. The Hearing Coordinators provide their individual contact numbers to the parties in the course of setting up the conference call arrangements and they will remind the parties to keep the numbers in case they have questions prior to the hearing.

A hearing participant may also contact the Call Centre at 416-314-8800 or 1-888-618-8846, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday, to be connected to the assigned Hearing Coordinator.

3. Representatives and Participants should be Prepared for the Teleconference

For a teleconference hearing, parties and representatives should make sure that they have the tools available to participate in the teleconference, such as a working phone. 

Ensure that you (the representative) and your client (or you, the worker/employer) have access to telephones that are working and charged. Use a land line phone where possible. If using a cell phone, consider using headphones with a built-in microphone to reduce echo and provide the clearest sound quality. If using a cell phone, put it on silent mode so that notification sounds do not disrupt the hearing, and keep a telephone charger nearby. Avoid using a speakerphone (which decreases sound quality) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). 

Ensure that you have access to the case file materials (either in paper format or electronically). 

You should conduct the teleconference in a quiet private space. Your client and any other witnesses should also be located in a quiet and private space during the teleconference. The Tribunal requests that any observers be identified at the start of the hearing. While observers are permitted, all witnesses must provide their testimony unassisted. 

4. Representatives should Prepare their Client

Prepare your client well in advance of the Tribunal hearing as you ordinarily would do; however, this will likely be via a private telephone or videoconference meeting.

Explain the teleconference process to your client. Ensure that your client will have a working phone available.  

Approximately 5 minutes before the start of the hearing, parties should be available for the call at the telephone numbers they have provided to the Scheduling Department. 

A Bell operator will call the parties at these numbers and connect the parties to the conference call. The Vice Chair/Panel Members will dial in to join the conference call.  

 

During the Hearing 

1. Natural Justice    

The teleconference hearing will proceed in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and all parties will have an opportunity to have their case heard. The Panel will instruct the parties on the order of proceedings once the hearing has started. Generally speaking, the usual format will be followed: opening remarks from the Vice-Chair/Panel Chair; opening statements from the representatives; questioning of the witnesses; and closing submissions from the representatives. The Vice-Chair/Panel will reserve its decision and release it in writing after the hearing.   

2.  Effective communications during the hearing

Try to speak one person at a time.  When more than one person speaks at the same time, it can become difficult to hear what is said. This will become easier with practice.
Say your name whenever you start speaking.
Turn off devices not in use, such as phones, and minimize background noises (turn off radio, television, etc.). You may be asked to mute your phone when you are not speaking, to assist with audibility of the teleconference.

3.  Case Materials for the Hearing

The Vice-Chair or Panel will have access to the Case Record materials for the appeal, either in paper format or as an electronic file. Ensure that when you refer to a document in the Case Record, you can provide the Panel with the page reference.

4.  Recording the Hearing

The Tribunal will be recording the hearing proceedings as in the usual course. No other recording of the hearing process by representatives or parties should occur.  

5.  Objections

If there is an objection or a question about the proceedings, the representative may raise it at any time, respectfully, just as one would in the normal course of an in-person oral hearing.  

 

Witnesses

Location of Witnesses
If you will be calling more than one witness, the witnesses should only be in the room providing testimony one person at a time. As in the usual course, the parties (the worker and/or the employer) are the exception and they are not excluded from the teleconference line during the testimony of the other witnesses. 

If you intend to call more than one witness and the witnesses are in different locations, each witness will be contacted separately, and should not listen to the testimony of other witnesses (the parties – the worker and/or the employer are the exception and are not excluded).

 

Observers 

It is acceptable for a party to have an observer but any observer(s) should be identified.  If there is an observer, the Vice-Chair will remind the representative and the parties that the witness’s testimony must be provided unassisted. 

Please see the Tribunal’s Practice Direction:  Who May Attend a Hearing.

 

New Documents

At this time, Vice-Chairs and Panels do not have the ability to receive new documents on the day of the hearing, in the teleconference process. If a party is of the view that a new document is important for the case, and they wish to introduce it, this will become a Post-Hearing matter. The Vice-Chair/Panel will address the matter in a Post-Hearing memorandum and the representative/party will receive further instructions from Tribunal staff, after the hearing, regarding how to provide the new document. Parties and representatives will wish to consider the importance of introducing a new document on the day of the hearing, since the Post-Hearing process will add a further stage in the proceedings.

 

Breaks 

If a representative or a party needs a break during the proceedings, feel free to request a break. The teleconference line will be disconnected during the break, and parties will call back into the teleconference line at the end of the break. The Panel will ensure that the parties have the teleconference dial in information required to access the teleconference hearing at the end of the break.  

 

If you Become Disconnected during the Hearing

Do not panic if your teleconference experiences technical difficulties or becomes disconnected. If any participant loses the connection (for whatever reason) during the hearing, you should call back in to the teleconference dial-in information that is provided by the Panel at the start of the hearing; and that was also provided by the Tribunal’s Scheduling Department. 

Every attempt will be made to ensure that the hearing is reconnected.    

We anticipate that there may be unavoidable interruptions or technical difficulties, and we appreciate the patience and understanding of all participants.

 

For Tribunal hearings that are being conducted by conference call, the Scheduling Department will make arrangements for the conference calls through the Ontario Network.  

Approximately 5 minutes before the start of the hearing, parties should be available for the call at the telephone numbers they have provided to the Scheduling Department. 

A Bell operator will call the parties at these numbers and connect the parties to the conference call.  The Vice Chair/Panel Members will dial in to join the conference call.  

Quick Teleconference Commands:
*6 – Mute
*7 – Unmute

Things to remember:
1. Have a phone charger nearby
2. Ensure your phone notifications are set to silent
3. It may be helpful to use headphones with a built-in microphone (better sound quality)

Published Date:  May 19, 2020