The Division of Worker’s Compensation, part of the Department of Industrial Relations, announced on Tuesday that “in-person walk-through” documents will once again be accepted next month, appeasing many workers who have been asking for the in-person option for years.
Like the vast majority of state departments and divisions that deal directly with members of the public, the DWC suspended nearly all in-person meetings, appointments, and hearings due to COVID-19, moving to virtual services. While Courts, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and others slowly brought back in-person services due to the need arising, the DWC became more strict, with basic services such as in-person walk throughs continuing to be virtual despite many needing or wanting to speak with someone in-person.
“I think we all remember the bad days of COVID where in-person meetings were right out the window even if proper precautions were being taken,” Randy Lang, a health advisor to several worker groups, told the Globe on Tuesday. “Whether it was said or unsaid, a big reason why the DWC and other organizations dealing with workers comp were kept virtual for so long was because workers could file for a compensation claim if they contracted COVID-19 from the workplace.”
“So look at that scenario. You could potentially have a ton of people coming in to meet you personally, knowing a lot of them either recently had, or possibly even still do, have COVID. That is basically funneling everyone in who has the disease in a very spreadable situation. Hospitals and other places had to deal with it very carefully and take every caution possible, but they were way more equipped to do so and sort of had to. For others that could go virtual, they did.”
However, with new cases and hospitalizations of COVID-19 once again going down statewide, and COVID-19 becoming far less deadly in new variants, more and more places have been dropping mask requirements and returning to in-person services since the beginning of this year. One of the last major holdouts had been DWC in-person walk throughs, especially for those filing claims who wanted to physically see people about it. As a result, and as a part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s SMARTER plan of returning services back to normal due to COVID-19 becoming more and more endemic, the DWC announced that in-person walk through document acceptance would be coming back early next month.
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“The Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) today announced that all DWC district offices except Eureka will accept in-person walk-through documents beginning September 6, 2022. Eureka is permanently a virtual office and walk-through documents should be brought to the DWC Santa Rosa district office,” the DWC said in a press release on Tuesday. “In addition, effective September 6, 2022, DWC will no longer accept virtual walk-throughs in the Lifesize platform.”
While the decision has been a long time coming for Californians seeking worker’s compensation benefits, many who had to go through the virtual system lament having to have gone through it virtually in the first place.
“Physically meeting people during such a tough time is a really understated need,” explained Elena Moreno, an at-home care specialist who has helped assist many workers injured on the job for over a decade, in a Globe interview. “Before the pandemic, the system wasn’t perfect, but you could still physically go in and talk and everything. A lot of people want more than to hear a voice or see a person on a laptop or tablet when dealing with this. But, with COVID, that was ruined. I helped many get ready for such meetings and all of them felt like it was very impersonal.”
“I know why they all chose to distance themselves from COVID-19 as much as possible. But so many felt like they weren’t being properly heard without meeting anyone over their claims. It’s good that walk-throughs are becoming in-person again. It doesn’t seem like much, but it really does mean a lot to many who are going through a rough time like this.”
In-person walk through documents are to be accepted again by the DWC starting September 6th.