The California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board: What You Need to Know

Within the State of California, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) is the administrating body to adjudicate claims of Injured Workers. The WCAB consists of both a main judicial body and local offices throughout the State of California.

What does the Main WCAB Office Do?

The Main WCAB Office exercises all judicial powers vested by the Labor Code in a reasonable and sound manner and provides guidance and leadership to the workers’ compensation community through case opinions and regulations. The WCAB exercises all judicial powers vested in it by the Labor Code. Its major functions include review of petitions for reconsideration of decisions by workers’ compensation judges and regulation of the adjudication process by adopting rules of practice and procedure.

What do the Local WCAB Offices Do?

Local offices adjudicate individual claims. This includes such issues as law and motion, approval of settlements, and trials. The local offices issue orders and awards on cases concerning various issues such as entitlement to compensation, finding of injury as being industrial and whether there has been a wrongful discrimination in violation of Labor Code Section 132a. The local WCAB also adjudicates claims of Serious and Willful Misconduct.

Where are the Local WCAB Offices?

There are local offices in Anaheim, Bakersfield, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles Marina del Rey, Oakland, Oxnard, Pomona, Redding, Riverside, Sacramento, Salinas, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Stockton, and Van Nuys.

Who are the Judges at the Local WCAB Offices?

At Local Offices, there are Presiding Judges and Worker’ Compensation Judges. They are responsible for the administration and handling of individual workers’ compensation cases. As an Injured Worker, contact will be with these individuals.

Who is a Presiding Judge(PJ)?

Per Cal HR, a Presiding Judge supervises the staff and is responsible for the operation of a district office of the WCAB. According to HR, it does not include the judicial decisions of the judges. They are to preside as judicial officer over hearings under Workers’ Compensation Law; and to do other related work.

The typical tasks of a PJ is to Plan, organize, coordinate, and supervise the work of the staff; they issue orders for writs of attachment and writs of execution and exercise responsibility for staying, quashing, and recalling such writs; review and analyze petitions, applications, and other requests for proceedings and assigns them for hearing and decision; do not change the decisions of a judge in individual cases; establish and maintain calendars; confer with administrative officers on policy matters; conduct hearings under the laws pertaining to workers’ compensation and issues decisions; and prepares reports.

Their experience may be one year of California state service performing the duties of a Workers’ Compensation Judge or five years of experience in the active practice of law, including appellate practice. This experience must either have included or been supplemented by two years in work regularly requiring the interpretation and application of Workers’ Compensation Law.

A PJ has knowledge of principles and provisions of the Labor Code pertaining to workers’ compensation insurance and safety; leading court decisions in California and the United States Supreme Court on the subject of California Workers’ Compensation Law; principles of personnel management, supervision, and training; conduct of proceedings in a trial court, rules of evidence governing such proceedings, and laws relating to serving notices, taking depositions, and issuing subpoenas; medical, physiological, anatomical, and occupational terminology in relation to cases of industrial injury; purposes, organization, and procedure of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and Division of Workers’ Compensation; procedure before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board; legal research methods; and a manager’s/supervisor’s responsibility for promoting equal opportunity in hiring and employee development and promotion, and for maintaining a work environment that is free of discrimination and harassment.

A PJ has the ability to plan, organize, and direct the work of a staff of Workers’ Compensation Judges and supporting personnel; evaluate personnel performance; conduct hearings in a manner that will obtain all pertinent evidence and secure the confidence and respect of all parties; analyze and appraise legal problems, and apply legal principles and precedents to particular sets of facts; make summaries of evidence, findings, awards, orders, and other legal documents relating to compensation litigation; perform legal research; analyze situations accurately and take effective action; communicate effectively; and effectively promote equal opportunity in employment and maintain a work environment that is free of discrimination and harassment.

A PJ also has the willingness to travel.

What is a Worker’s Compensation Judge?

Per CalHR, a Workers’ Compensation Judge conducts judicial proceedings at which evidence, oral and written, is produced by adverse parties to disputed claims arising under the Labor Code provisions pertaining to workers’ compensation insurance and safety; to make decisions upon the evidence presented; and to do other related work.

The typical tasks of a WCJ is to act as the presiding officer in judicial proceedings, instructs the parties and witnesses, as occasion arises, as to their rights; administers oaths to and questions witnesses; rules on the admissibility of oral and documentary evidence; prepares a memorandum containing a digest of the testimony produced, together with a discussion of the evidence under the issues framed and Findings of Fact and the conclusions of law in support of the decision in each case; advises members of the public on questions they may ask as to their rights under the Labor Code of the State of California and assists them in interpreting the provisions pertaining to workers’ compensation insurance and safety; and does legal research.

WCJs have qualifications of being an active member of the State Bar and either Licensed to practice law in California for five or more years, at least two years of which shall be as an attorney serving on the staff of the Division of Workers’ Compensation or Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board in a class with a level of responsibility not less than that of an Industrial Relations Counsel I. or Licensed and experience in the active practice of law* in California for five or more years, in litigation before a trial court or quasi-judicial body involving the interests of adverse parties, at least three years of which shall be in workers’ compensation law or Licensed and experience in the active practice of law in California for five or more years, experience in workers compensation law, at least three years as presiding officer in a judicial or quasi-judicial body; or as a member of a court conducting judicial proceedings; or an administrative body conducting quasi-judicial proceedings; or as a hearing officer.

WCJs have the knowledge of the principles and provisions of the Labor Code pertaining to workers’ compensation insurance and safety; leading court decisions in California and the United States Supreme Court on the subject of California Workers’ Compensation Law; conduct of proceedings in a trial court, rules of evidence governing such proceedings, and laws relating to serving notices, taking depositions, and issuing subpoenas; medical, physiological, anatomical, and occupational terminology in relation to cases of industrial injury; purposes and organization of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and Division of Workers’ Compensation; procedure before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board; legal research methods and performing such research; and underlying philosophy of workers’ compensation legislation.

WCJ’s have the ability to perform legal research; conduct hearings in a manner that will obtain all pertinent evidence and secure the confidence and respect of all parties; analyze and appraise legal problems, and apply legal principles and precedents to particular sets of facts; make accurate summaries of evidence and prepare appropriate findings, awards, orders, and other legal documents relating to compensation litigation; analyze situations accurately and adopt an effective course of action; and communicate effectively at a level required to perform the essential functions of the job.

The special personal characteristics of a WCJ is willingness to travel, impartiality, judicial temperament, self-motivation and tact.

What is an Information and Assistance Officer?

Most local WCAB offices have an Information and Assistance Officer. I & A Officers provide services to injured workers, employers and others. A primary duty of an I&A Officer is to help injured workers who don’t have attorneys navigate the workers’ compensation system.

What if I need the I & A Officer?

You should contact the front desk of the WCAB and request assistance from the I & A Officer. They will assist in you making contact.

What is the Disability Evaluation Unit?

Per the State of California, the Disability Evaluation Unit (DEU) determines permanent disability ratings by evaluating medical descriptions of physical and mental impairment. At the DEU are Raters. These are the individuals who rate the individual report. They are highly trained and skilled at handling these matters.

The determinations are used by Workers’ Compensation Judge, Insurance Claims, Claims Administrators, and Applicant’s Attorney to determine permanent disability benefits. There are three types of ratings: Formal, requested by the Judge, Consultative, at the request of an attorney or DWC Information and Assistance Officer, and Summary ratings which are done on non-litigated cases at the request of a claims administrator or injured worker.

Also, the DEU calculates commutations as well. Commutations are used to accelerate payments for either the Applicant’s indemnity award or attorney’s fees.

If I am having problems at the WCAB, who should I contact?

At a local WCAB, I would recommend that you contact the front desk initially. Most likely, they will refer you to the Presiding Judge to address your concerns.

The Law Offices of Edward J. Singer

With more than 25 years of expertise in defending workers’ rights, the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, A Professional Law Corporation, is here to assist. If you have any questions concerning your rights, please do not hesitate to contact our offices. Please contact us today concerning any workers’ compensation questions or issues.