There is much discussion about the impact that COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is having on our lives in recent times. It is now beginning to have an impact on the workers’ compensation landscape.

The first announcement made by the President, Judge Gerard Phillips from the Workers Compensation Commission (‘the WCC’) was addressing face to face hearings. In particular, it was decided that from Monday 23 March 2020, conciliation/arbitration proceedings, mediation conferences and presidential hearings will be conducted by telephone.  The decision did note that in some circumstances, for example where a witness needs to give evidence, the proceedings may be conducted by audio-visual link.  The announcement included that all arbitration proceedings and presidential proceedings conducted by telephone or audio-visual link will be recorded.

The announcement also noted that there will be exceptional circumstances where proceedings may be conducted in person however an application for same will need to be made with the Commission.

Another announcement has now been made, this time with respect to Approved Medical Specialist (‘AMS’) assessments. After consultation with medical and legal experts, the WCC has announced that it is suspending all face-to-face medical assessments until further notice.  The suspension comes into effect from 25 March 2020.

The President, Judge Gerard Phillips has announced that the WCC is working with iCare, SIRA and other stakeholders to explore alternatives to face-to-face assessments, and a further announcement will be made in this regard in the near future.

The announcements pose various questions regarding how medical disputes in the WCC will be managed moving forwards, including:

  1. Will AMS assessments with respect to psychological injuries be conducted via video link only?
  2. For assessments requiring a physical examination, will the WCC simply defer assessments to a later date? or
  3. Will Arbitrators play a more significant role in determining claims for permanent impairment compensation without referring disputes to an AMS in line with the new powers vested in Arbitrators by the Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment Act 2018?