On February 25, 2021, the Director of the District of Columbia’s Department of Employment Services, Dr. Unique Morris-Hughes, issued a 2021 Stakeholder’s Letter announcing changes to the Administrative Hearings Division’s (AHD) policies and procedures due to the novel coronavirus epidemic. The AHD conducts formal administrative hearings under the D.C. Workers’ Compensation Act of 1979, as amended, D.C. Code § 32-1501 et seq.
Pursuant to the director’s announcement, effective immediately, all paper – including compensation orders, scheduling orders, and/or other orders – will be issued by the AHD through the department’s electronic filing system. Importantly, implementing policy change means that going forward, with respect to the issuance of compensation orders, scheduling orders, and/or any other order, will no longer be sent to the intended recipient via certified mail, as was previously required.
According to Director Morris-Hughes, this procedural change is designed to address staffing concerns within the department as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Suspension of the certified mail requirement, she noted in her February 25, 2021 letter, “will limit the staff’s physical presence in the office, reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, while enhancing the efficiency of service delivery to our stakeholders,” and went on to credit “the successful adoption and implementation of the e-filing system” with making this policy change possible.
While the “success” of the Department of Employment Services e-filing system is not in doubt, since the certified mail requirement was/is designed to ensure receipt by an appropriate individual or agent, questions regarding the effect on pro-se litigant’s due process rights still remain. Particularly related to Scheduling and Compensation Orders, which require a response or some action on the part of a pro se litigant, often resulting in a dismissal of an action for failure by the party to do so.
To address this concern, the D.C. Department of Employment Services and the AHD are encouraging all self-represented (pro se) litigants to register with the e-filing system at the outset of any litigation. According to the director, registration for the e-filing system will ensure that self-represented litigants “receive information more securely, timely, and faster.”
Only time will tell whether this policy change meets the director, AHD, and their respective stakeholders’ expectations. In the meantime, the director has advised that any questions, comments, or concerns regarding this policy change should be directed to Mohammad R. Sheikh, Deputy Director for the Labor Standards Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by associate Kara Parker.