August 26, 2020
The WSIAT continues to work diligently to adapt to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to those of you who have provided feedback regarding your experiences with teleconference and videoconference hearings; this feedback has been taken into account to continually improve the WSIAT’s hearing processes. I am pleased to report that the majority of hearings have successfully proceeded by teleconference or videoconference since March 2020.
I am writing to provide updates on the WSIAT’s procedures.
Communications with WSIAT to facilitate the scheduling of hearings
The WSIAT continues to operate with the majority of staff and OICs working remotely. As I have said in previous correspondence, the WSIAT relies upon the cooperation of parties and representatives to facilitate the processing of appeals and the scheduling of hearings.
In view of public health restrictions related to COVID-19, the Tribunal will resume in-person hearings on a very gradual and limited basis. Alternative hearing methods (teleconference, videoconference, and written) will continue to be used to schedule most hearings. The Scheduling Department will contact parties in writing to ask if they wish to proceed by way of videoconference or teleconference. To proceed by videoconference, parties must confirm that they are equipped and capable of conducting a Zoom videoconference hearing. In addition, the parties must provide contact information (telephone numbers and email addresses) which is required to set up the videoconference.
Please note: If parties do not reply to the Scheduling Department or provide an incomplete reply, the Tribunal will proceed with a teleconference hearing format.
Resumption of Time Limits
I wish to confirm that the suspension of limitation periods and procedural timelines at the WSIAT will end on September 14, 2020. On this date, all parties will be subject to the limitation periods in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 and expected to comply with the procedural timelines in the WSIAT’s Practice Directions. Detailed information about the resumption of time limits is set out in the notice Resumption of Limitation Periods and Procedural Timelines at the WSIAT.
Questions or concerns about meeting a deadline or any other issue can be directed to the WSIAT Call Centre.
Consent for Videoconference Hearings
Consistent with its approach for other hearing formats, the WSIAT will no longer be asking hearing participants to provide their written consent to participate in a remote videoconference hearing. However, for a hearing to proceed by videoconference, all participants in the hearing, including parties, their representatives, and witnesses, must agree to participate in the videoconference hearing and must also have the necessary technology to meaningfully participate.
There is always a small risk that confidential information communicated in an electronic hearing may be compromised. Parties are made aware 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.
Document Sharing in Advance of the Hearing
The WSIAT has received feedback from representatives about challenges related to showing documents to witnesses while they are testifying during an electronic hearing. Case materials are provided to representatives but not to parties that are represented (workers or employers).
The WSIAT’s Best Practices: Teleconference and Videoconference Hearing Information for Representatives and Parties includes suggestions as to how representatives may put documents to a witness during their testimony, which includes reading the parts of the document that will be put to the witness verbatim, for the record.
The WSIAT is also exploring the potential use of screen sharing during videoconference hearings and will provide an update about the use of this feature soon.
In the meantime, representatives may share documents with witnesses in advance of the hearing, but must do so in a way that ensures that a worker’s personal information, and in particular, health information, is kept confidential. Therefore, documents may be shared with a witness by representatives 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.
Updates about the WSIAT’s operations will continue to be posted on the WSIAT’s website. Please check our website regularly for the most recent information. It is important to note that procedures in any individual matter may be adjusted as determined necessary by the hearing vice-chair or panel.
Thank you for your continued patience and cooperation.
Best regards and take care,