The WSIAT has limited in-person hearings to support the province-wide effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Alternative hearing methods are being offered to parties to prevent undue delay in having their matters resolved by the WSIAT. Alternative hearing methods include teleconference, written submissions, or videoconference. The WSIAT has a statutory mandate to adjudicate the matters within its jurisdiction during the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and minimize undue delay.
With the cooperation of all the hearing participants, the teleconference or videoconference hearing process will provide a fair, safe, and timely alternative to the oral in-person hearing. The procedures described in this Best Practices document are intended to ensure that appeals before the WSIAT will keep moving forward, so parties can have access to justice during this current public health crisis. This document will be updated as necessary, in response to the shifting demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This Best Practices document provides guidance on the use of teleconference and videoconference for:
- Pre-hearing conference proceedings before the WSIAT;
- Applications before the WSIAT; and
- Appeals before the WSIAT.
This document is meant to supplement the WSIAT’s existing Practice Directions. The document is meant to be flexible, and will apply to all new matters, as well as to hearings which began before the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time there is a recognized need for flexibility with hearing processes, and the WSIAT will work with the parties to adapt the hearing process to the specific circumstances of each case. The Vice-Chair/Panel assigned to your case will ultimately decide how the hearing or pre-hearing conference will be conducted.
During any WSIAT hearing, parties and their representatives are expected to abide by all public health guidelines, including physical distancing, for the period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WSIAT appreciates that parties and/or representatives may have interruptions in their home environment during a teleconference or videoconference hearing. Please feel free to ask for a break if needed for any reason.
Before the Hearing
1. Information needed to participate in a teleconference or videoconference hearing
Hearings that proceed by teleconference alone will be audio hearings using telephones. The audio for the hearing will be run through the Ontario Public Service Audio Conferencing System.
Hearings that proceed by videoconference will use telephones for the audio aspect of the hearing, run through the Ontario Public Service Audio Conferencing System, and will use Zoom for the visual aspect of the hearing. If for any reason the Zoom platform does not function, the Vice-Chair/Panel will convert the hearing into a teleconference hearing so that the hearing can proceed (subject to the discretion of the Vice-Chair/Panel).
The WSIAT’s Scheduling Department will send a hearing notice to the parties as soon as practicable in advance of the hearing. Arrangements for the teleconference call aspect of the hearing will be made through the Ontario Public Service Audio Conferencing System.
The hearing notice will include such important information as the date and start time of the hearing and how to join and participate in the teleconference or videoconference hearing.
For privacy reasons, it is important that the dial-in and/or sign-in information for the teleconference or videoconference hearing is not shared with any individuals who are not legitimately participating in the hearing.
2. Assistance from the WSIAT
Any hearing participant who has questions about how to participate in a teleconference may contact the assigned Hearing Coordinator for assistance in advance of the hearing. The Hearing Coordinators will provide their individual contact numbers to the parties in the course of setting up the conference call arrangements and will advise parties to contact them if they have any questions.
If a hearing participant has any difficulties contacting the assigned Hearing Coordinator, the hearing participant may also contact the WSIAT Remote Call Centre at 416-436-8378 or 1-888-618-8846, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Parties and representatives will be required to provide telephone numbers and email addresses to the WSIAT in order to participate in a videoconference.
Prior to the hearing, the Tribunal will provide the Zoom meeting ID number and the meeting password for the Zoom aspect of the hearing, to the hearing participants. The hearing participants are expected to sign to Zoom using the Zoom meeting ID number and the meeting password 30 minutes prior to the start of the hearing. IT staff will be available on the day of the hearing to provide assistance with connecting to Zoom and to troubleshoot any issues related to the operation of Zoom.
Parties are encouraged to test their Zoom system before the hearing.
Hearings will usually begin at 9:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. Please set up 30 minutes prior to the scheduled hearing time to ensure that the videoconference and telephone equipment is working, the room is set up appropriately and there are no connectivity issues.
3. Privacy and Security in a Zoom videoconference
To improve privacy and security, appropriate safeguards have been put into place by the WSIAT. When participants enter the Zoom meeting, they will be placed into a Zoom virtual waiting room. Once the hearing starts and all parties are confirmed as being in attendance, the Zoom host (usually the Vice-Chair) will only admit individuals participating in the hearing. The audio portion of the hearing will proceed by teleconference, and not through Zoom, which provides an additional level of security.
To further improve privacy and security, a number of Zoom features will be disabled. These disabled features include: video/audio recording, and the ‘chat’ functionality. The WSIAT has taken certain other security measures for videoconference hearings, for example the data is encrypted and is hosted in Canada.
There is always a small risk that confidential information communicated in an electronic hearing may be compromised. At the beginning of an electronic hearing, the Vice-Chair or Panel will remind parties that while the WSIAT cannot guarantee the privacy or confidentiality of information disclosed during an electronic hearing, the WSIAT has made reasonable efforts to protect the privacy of parties and put in place safeguards to provide additional security.
4. Representatives and participants should be prepared for the teleconference or videoconference hearing
For a teleconference hearing, parties and representatives should make sure that they have the tools available to participate in the teleconference, including a working telephone. Participants using a cell phone should also have chargers on hand.
For a videoconference hearing, parties and representatives should make sure that they have the tools available to participate in the videoconference, including access to high-speed internet service, a laptop charger if necessary, and a computer with a web cam or a smart phone. Participants using laptops should have power cords on hand. For the audio portion of the hearing, parties and representatives should also make sure that they have access to working phones and, if using cell phones, have chargers on hand.
Requirements for participation in a Zoom hearing include:
- High speed internet connection. Parties must have access to a high speed broadband wired or wireless (3G or 4G/LTE) internet connection. Wired connections are recommended.
- Smart phone or computer with functioning webcam. Parties should test the video quality of their webcams prior to the scheduled hearing. Webcams tested by Zoom for high-definition video include: Logitech C930e; Brio; PTZ Pro; Microsoft LifeCam HD3000.
- Functioning phone system. Hearing participants should ensure that they have access to a phone system that can call into the Ontario Public Service Audio Conferencing System. Hearing participants may call in using smart phones while also using Zoom; please connect to audio first and then connect to Zoom. The WSIAT recommends using a headset with a microphone for the duration of the hearing. If parties do not have access to a headset, they can use speakerphone. Hearing participants who use cell phones are asked to ensure that it is adequately charged and a charger is nearby.
Where possible, the WSIAT recommends using a land line telephone for the best sound quality. Hearing participants who use a cell phone are asked to consider using headphones with a built-in microphone to reduce echo and provide the clearest sound quality. Hearing participants who use a cell phone must put it on silent mode so that notification sounds do not disrupt the hearing, and keep a computer and a telephone charger nearby. Hearing participants are asked to avoid using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). During a videoconference hearing, participants should close all unnecessary applications on their computer and reduce the number of devices using their internet connections.
Hearing participants should know how to mute their telephones, as this is helpful for sound quality at the hearing, and participants will be reminded to mute their phones when they are not speaking. Cell phones have a built-in mute function.
For videoconference hearings, hearing participants should be aware that larger technological devices will generally provide a view of a greater number of hearing participants on the screen at one time. Here is a general guideline:
|Device:||Number of Hearing Participants Visible:|
|PC or MacBook||20 to 25|
Parties must ensure that they or their representatives have access to the case materials, either in paper format or electronically. The Zoom screen-sharing function will be available for use by representatives or parties during the course of a videoconference hearing. Representatives or parties who wish to screen-share during the hearing should advise the Vice-Chair/Panel. Only representatives and parties will have the option of using the Zoom screen-sharing function; Vice-Chairs/Panels will not screen-share documents during the course of the hearing. Should the Vice-Chair/Panel have questions about a particular document, the worker’s representative may be asked to screen-share that document with the worker or witness.
Once permission to screen share has been granted by the Vice-Chair/Panel, representatives or parties can share their screens. Please note that the Vice-Chair/Panel may stop a screen share at any time, if necessary. It is advisable that representatives/parties who wish to screen share are familiar with this feature prior to the hearing.
Your environment for the teleconference or videoconference hearing
Hearing participants should conduct the teleconference or videoconference hearing in a quiet and private indoor space. Parties and representatives, and any other witnesses should, if possible, be located in a quiet and private indoor space during a teleconference or videoconference. Ensure that the lighting and audio conditions are suitable. There should be adequate lighting; however, hearing participants should avoid sitting with a light source directly behind them, which blinds the camera and makes them difficult to see. Hearing participants should not change their location during a videoconference hearing, without obtaining permission from the Panel, because it is distracting. The WSIAT asks that hearing participants do not use a digital Zoom background for videoconference hearings because it can distort your image. The WSIAT requests that any observers be identified at the start of the hearing. While observers are permitted, they should be identified at the start of the hearing, and all witnesses must provide their testimony unassisted.
Your conduct during the teleconference or videoconference hearing
Hearing participants should dress for the hearing in appropriate clothing. Neat and casual, or smart casual attire is appropriate. Sunglasses are not allowed, except for medical reasons.
The WSIAT asks that hearing participants not consume food or smoke during the hearing. If a participant wishes to eat or smoke, he or she should ask for a break. Participants may drink water during the hearing. Paper shuffling and other distracting noises should be avoided, and hearing participants should be mindful of the noise created by typing on a keyboard.
Hearing participants are asked not to move away from the screen or turn off the camera during the videoconference hearing, unless directed by the Vice-Chair/Panel. The parties, the representatives and the Vice-Chair/Panel will always be on camera during the hearing; hearing participants should be mindful of their facial expressions and the position of their hands.
5. Requests for accommodation at WSIAT hearings
Both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the WSIAT provides accommodations at hearings. As set out in the WSIAT’s Accessibility Policy for Customer Service, which can be found on the WSIAT’s “Accessibility” webpage, requests for accommodation are considered by the WSIAT on an individual basis and every reasonable effort is made to accommodate requests.
Requests for accommodation in relation to a hearing can be made at any point in the adjudicative process. For matters that are not yet scheduled, parties may contact the staff person assigned to their file or the WSIAT’s Remote Call Centre. For cases in which a hearing date has been scheduled, parties should contact the Manager, Scheduling Administration.
Accommodation requests should be made as early as possible and should include as much specific information as available. The WSIAT is sensitive to the privacy concerns of those persons who seek accommodation. More information can be found in the applicable policy and on the WSIAT’s “Accessibility” webpage.
6. Representatives should prepare their client
Representatives are asked to prepare their client well in advance of the WSIAT hearing as they ordinarily would do; however, this will likely be via a private telephone or videoconference meeting.
Representatives are asked to explain the teleconference or videoconference hearing processes to their clients. Representatives should ensure their clients have a working computer with a web cam and/or a telephone available for a videoconference hearing, and a working telephone for a teleconference hearing.
At least 5 minutes before the start of the hearing, hearing participants should dial-in for the audio aspect of the hearing using the telephone number and participant code provided by the WSIAT.
Parties and representatives should follow the instructions on the WSIAT Hearing Notice in order to connect to the teleconference.
For videoconference hearings, all hearing participants should also go to the Zoom website and join the hearing with the videoconference information provided by the WSIAT. The Zoom host will admit you to the videoconference. This will establish the videoconference visual aspect of the hearing.
In the event that the videoconference hearing cannot proceed using Zoom (due to Internet connection issues, etc.), the hearing will be automatically converted to a teleconference hearing and the hearing will proceed (subject to the discretion of the Vice-Chair/Panel).
During the Hearing
1. Natural Justice
Like all WSIAT hearings, the teleconference or videoconference hearing will proceed in accordance with the principles of natural justice, including the principle that all parties be given a fair opportunity to have their case heard and to meaningfully participate. The Vice-Chair/Panel will instruct the parties on the order of proceedings once the hearing has started. Generally speaking, the usual format will be followed: introductory remarks from the Vice-Chair/Panel; 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. Confirming the Participant’s Identity
Hearing participants may be asked a verification question by the Vice-Chair/Panel at the start of the teleconference or videoconference hearing, to confirm their identities. Hearing participants who are parties to the appeal (for example, the worker) will be asked a verification question by the Vice-Chair/Panel. In the case of a witness who is not a party to the appeal, the representative calling the witness to testify will be required to confirm the identity of the witness.
3. Effective Communications During the Hearing
Hearing participants should 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.
The WSIAT asks hearing participants to say their names whenever they start speaking.
Devices that are not in use should be turned off, and background noises should be turned off, including radios and televisions. A hearing participant may be asked to mute their phone when they are not speaking, to assist with the sound quality of the teleconference.
The WSIAT recognizes that representatives and parties may wish to have a confidential discussion with each other during the hearing. Remote hearings present special challenges for these communications. Participants should request a break if a private discussion is necessary. Private discussions between parties and representatives will be conducted over the parties’ own phone lines. Any hearing participant who disconnects from the teleconference line should use the original dial-in telephone number and participant code provided, to reconnect to the teleconference.
Representatives have responsibilities when communicating with witnesses who are giving evidence, as communicated in the Law Society of Ontario’s Rules of Professional Conduct (Section 5.4) and Paralegal Rules of Conduct (Rule 4.03). Private discussions about evidence given on direct examination, or when a witness is in cross examination (or cross questioning), including texting and emails or discussions on a break, are not permitted.
4. Case Materials for the Hearing
The Vice-Chair/Panel will have access to the case materials for the appeal, either on paper or as an electronic file. Hearing participants should ensure that they provide the page reference when referring to a document in the case materials.
a. Screen-Sharing Over Zoom in videoconference hearings:
The Zoom screen-sharing function will be available for use by representatives and parties during the course of a videoconference hearing. Representatives and parties who wish to screen-share during the hearing should advise the Vice-Chair/Panel. The Vice-Chair/Panel may stop the parties/representatives from screen-sharing if necessary. Only the parties or representatives will screen-share during the hearing. The Zoom screen-sharing function will not be used by Vice-Chairs/Panels to share documents on the screen during the course of the hearing. Should the Vice-Chair/Panel have questions about a particular document, the worker’s representative may be asked to screen-share that document with the worker or witness.
When possible, the default process will be for the worker’s representative to screen-share any relevant documents. In circumstances where this is not possible, the worker will be asked to provide verbal confirmation that they consent to the screen-sharing of any of their personal information.
b. Documents may be shared with a witness by representatives in advance of the hearing as follows:
It is sometimes necessary or helpful to refer to a document during testimony at the hearing to assist with presenting the case or to help clarify the evidence for the Vice-Chair/Panel. During COVID-19, the Tribunal provides case materials to representatives, but the Tribunal does not have the capacity to provide case materials to clients (for example, workers or employers). Pursuant to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997, all parties have a duty to keep a worker’s personal information confidential. In light of these restrictions, representatives may share documents with a witness in advance of the hearing as follows:
- A worker’s representative, who chooses to provide copies of some documents from the worker’s case materials to a worker in advance of the hearing, must ensure that the documents are provided to the worker in a secure manner and kept confidential.
- An employer’s representative, who chooses to provide copies of some documents from the worker’s case materials to a witness (who is the employer) in advance of the hearing, must ensure that the documents are provided to the employer witness in a secure manner and kept confidential.
- A representative, who chooses to provide copies of some documents from the worker’s case materials to another witness (other than the worker or the employer) in advance of the hearing, must ensure the information is kept confidential, is provided to the witness in a secure manner, and that all health information is in an anonymized form.
- In two-party appeals, representatives of workers and employers are encouraged to coordinate the provision of case materials to witnesses before the hearing.
Representatives are also reminded to follow their professional obligations when appearing before the WSIAT, and provide any necessary instructions to clients and/or witnesses regarding sharing documents from the case materials.
c. When documents are not shared with a witness by representatives in advance of the hearing, the suggested approach is as follows:
As noted above, in circumstances where a party is represented, the WSIAT will only send case materials to the representative. This may result in a situation in a hearing where the representative has the case materials in front of them, but the worker or employer (their client, located in a different location) does not. This means that the witness may not be able to look at a document that they are being questioned about. If a representative or an OIC wishes to put a document to a witness during their testimony, the WSIAT’s recommended approach for representatives and/or OICs questioning a witness is as follows:
- Identify the document for the witness (page number, author, date, and context);
- Read aloud verbatim for the record the passages of the document that you intend to put to the witness; and
- If there is an interpreter involved, the interpreter will interpret the words spoken by the individual reading the document aloud.
5. Recording the Hearing
The WSIAT will record the hearing proceedings as in the usual course. No other recording of the hearing process (whether audio or visual) by representatives or parties should occur. Hearing participants are not permitted to take photographs of the videoconference hearing or generate screen captures.
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. The recommended approach is as follows:
- In teleconference hearings, representatives should respectfully interrupt the conversation to let the Vice-Chair/Panel know they have something to say.
- In videoconference hearings, representatives should raise their hand to show the Vice-Chair/Panel that they wish to speak.
A witness may be excluded from the hearing by the Vice-Chair/Panel while an objection is discussed. In a teleconference hearing, an excluded witness will be asked to disconnect from the teleconference line, and will be asked to dial-in again at a time designated in advance by the Vice-Chair/Panel. Any hearing participant who disconnects from the teleconference line should use the original dial-in telephone number, and participant code provided, to reconnect to the teleconference.
In a videoconference hearing, an excluded witness will be asked to disconnect from the teleconference line, and will be placed in the Zoom virtual waiting room by the Vice-Chair/Panel. The excluded witness will be asked to dial-in again to the teleconference line at a time designated in advance by the Vice-Chair/Panel; and will be re-admitted to the Zoom videoconference by the Vice-Chair/Panel.
Witnesses - Location of Witnesses
If a party will be calling multiple witnesses, consistent with in-person hearings, the witnesses are expected to provide their testimony individually and are not permitted to hear the testimony of other witnesses. (A Vice-Chair/Panel may make an exception to this rule in any given hearing.) 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 or from the videoconference hearing during the testimony of the other witnesses.
Practically, this means that witnesses should not be together and should be alone in the individual physical room in which they are testifying. When witnesses are giving their testimony, they must always keep their camera and phone on unless instructed otherwise. The camera should be positioned so that the Vice-Chair/Panel and parties can clearly see the witness, particularly their whole face.
If a party intends to call more than one witness and the witnesses are in different locations, each witness will be contacted separately. The representative will be responsible for contacting the witnesses when it is their turn to testify, and for ensuring that the witnesses know how to connect with the teleconference or videoconference hearing.
Generally it will be acceptable for a party to have an observer but any observer(s) should be identified at the start of the hearing by the party or the representative. 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 WSIAT’s Practice Direction: Who May Attend a Hearing.
At this time, Vice-Chairs/Panels do not have the ability to receive new documents on the day of the hearing, in the teleconference or videoconference process. The WSIAT will not permit the Zoom screen-sharing function to be used by a representative or party to introduce a new document on the day of the videoconference hearing (subject to the discretion of the Vice-Chair/Panel).
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 WSIAT 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. Parties and representatives are encouraged to submit new material as far in advance of the hearing as possible.
The Vice-Chair/Panel will usually advise the hearing participants regarding the break times. If a representative or a party needs a break during the proceedings, they may request a break. In a teleconference hearing, the hearing participants will be asked to disconnect from the teleconference line at the start of the break, and will be asked to reconnect to the teleconference at the end of the break (at the time designated in advance by the Vice-Chair/Panel) using the original dial-in teleconference number and participant code provided.
In a videoconference hearing, the hearing participants will be asked to disconnect from the teleconference line at the start of the break, and they will be placed in the Zoom virtual waiting room by the Vice-Chair/Panel. The Vice-Chair/Panel may ask a party to turn off the video on Zoom during the break (by pressing “Stop Video”).
The hearing participants will be asked to use the original dial-in telephone number and participant code provided to reconnect to the teleconference. In videoconference hearings, participants will also be re-admitted to the hearing from the Zoom virtual waiting room by the Vice-Chair/Panel, when the break is over.
The Vice-Chair/Panel will ensure that the parties have the teleconference dial in information required to access the teleconference hearing at the end of the break.
During any break in the hearing proceedings, the participants will not usually log out of the Zoom connection; rather participants will be placed in the Zoom virtual waiting room by the Vice-Chair/Panel. The Vice-Chair/Panel will also not usually log out of the Zoom connection during a break in the hearing proceedings.
If You Become Disconnected During the Hearing
Hearing participants should not be concerned if the teleconference or videoconference connection experiences technical difficulties or becomes disconnected. Hearing participants who lose the audio connection during the hearing should attempt to reconnect to the teleconference by using the original dial-in telephone number and participant code provided.. Hearing participants should restate their names when rejoining the teleconference.
If hearing participants lose the Zoom video connection during the hearing, they should attempt to re-join the hearing by going back to the Zoom website and join using the Zoom conference information originally provided (meeting ID and meeting password).
Every attempt will be made to ensure that the hearing is reconnected. If for any reason the Zoom aspect of the videoconference does not function, the Vice-Chair/Panel will convert the hearing into a teleconference hearing so that the hearing can proceed (subject to the discretion of the Vice-Chair/Panel).
We anticipate that there may be unavoidable interruptions or technical difficulties, and we appreciate the patience and understanding of all hearing participants.