OAH COVID-19 Procedures
OAH is committed to the continuation of our critical court services while also providing a safe environment for both the people we serve and our employees.
Following guidance from the CDC, Governor Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health, we developed a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. The plan describes the steps we are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19, including the procedural changes described below.
All court proceedings that can effectively take place through a remote platform will take place through a remote platform.
How will judges decide if proceedings can effectively be held remotely?
Our assumption is that all proceedings can be held remotely. Judges decide on a case-by-case basis if that assumption is not true. Matters that cannot effectively take place using a remote platform will be scheduled for in-person proceedings at OAH’s St. Paul or Duluth hearing rooms. Factors that may result in an in-person proceeding include:
- A party needs an interpreter or other accommodation.
- A party cannot access the internet or a device suitable for video conferencing.
- There is a large number of parties or witnesses, and enough physical courtroom space is available to accommodate them.
- Absent good cause shown, the existence of credibility issues does not in and of itself mean the hearing cannot be conducted using a remote platform.
This list is non-exclusive.
Virtual Proceedings via Teams
Teams is available for non-record proceedings and will slowly expand to record proceedings through June and July 2020. We are starting with highly predictable, lower-risk proceedings that are already being held by telephone (such as prehearing conferences or mediations). We will slowly incorporate more judges and more complicated proceedings as we all become accustomed to this new experience. Judges will contact parties to suggest converting select proceedings to Teams. Parties should not contact the assigned judge.
Review the Teams user guide before participating in a virtual proceeding.
We chose to use Microsoft Teams for most of our proceedings for these reasons:
- OAH already has the software, meaning quicker implementation is possible;
- There’s no additional cost to the state and no cost to participants;
- It has Microsoft’s O365 Government Community Cloud security certification;
- Each meeting has a waiting room, meaning that people can only join if the judge approves them;
- Participants can share their screen to help present exhibits;
- Participants do not need to create an account;
- Participants can connect from computers, mobile devices, or tablets.
Virtual Proceedings via WebEx
We are also partnering with agencies to use WebEx for virtual public comment hearings. We anticipate other agencies will use WebEx together with an operator-assisted call to effectively hold public comment hearings on rulemaking and other cases with public involvement throughout the peacetime emergency.
We recommend WebEx for public comment hearings because:
- It allows us to use an operator-assisted call to moderate public comments;
- Participants can see more people at once if video is used (up to 25);
- Participants do not need to create an account;
- Participants can connect from computers, mobile devices, or tablets;
- There is an additional charge for this software; limiting its use saves the state money.
OAH employees must pass a health screening before entering the building. Court visitors, including attorneys, parties, and interpreters, do not need to pass a formal health screening. Signs in OAH's lobby encourage visitors to report any COVID-19 symptoms or known exposure to their attorney or judge.
Cloth face masks are strongly encouraged for in-person proceedings. OAH has obtained a limited supply of disposable masks. If you don't have a mask and want to wear one, ask our receptionist.
Plexiglass shields have been installed at the OAH reception area in St. Paul, as well as around the attorney workspaces, witness box, and judge bench in courtrooms 1, 3, 8, and 11.
Visitors must wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before entering OAH's courtroom area.
In-person proceedings will use a larger hearing room that will accommodate social distancing of 6 feet between participants. Extra seating has been removed from all hearing rooms. Each remaining chair’s location is marked by blue tape. This provides a visual cue on seating areas that are 6 feet away from one another. Chairs should not be moved. Signs are posted outside each room with room capacity identified. Conference rooms are also available for an attorney and their client to confer in private while maintaining a distance of 6 feet.
OAH's facilities staff disinfects hearing rooms and conference rooms after every use.
Proceedings will be scheduled in their normal course. If a proceeding would normally be scheduled in Fergus Falls, it will be scheduled in Fergus Falls. If a proceeding would normally be scheduled by telephone, it will be scheduled by telephone. Exceptions are for hearings that we know will be on a remote platform at the time of scheduling. We are not scheduling everything remotely because we don't know how long this will last, and our proceedings are scheduled up to six months from now. This approach provides flexibility to hold virtual proceedings as long as necessary, and allows us to go back to in-person proceedings immediately when possible.
Judges will contact parties scheduled for in-person proceedings to discuss holding by a remote platform.
All exhibits must be be eFiled at least one day in advance of the proceeding, regardless of the proceeding's location. This applies to all hearings: motion hearings, attorney fee hearings, and in-person and video evidentiary hearings. This supersedes any other order that requires paper filings.
Temporary Stipulation Assistance
All Workers' Comp Stipulation Status Conferences continue to be suspended until further notice. Judges will email parties on cases that have been reported settled if more than 45 days have passed without receipt of a Stipulation for Settlement. Judges will schedule telephone calls or other follow-up contact as needed to assist parties in submitting a final stipulation for review and approval by the court.
To prepare for the anticipated workload increase as a result of COVID-19, we are adding several of our Administrative Law Judges to help with this stipulation assistance process. Our Administrative Law Judges are experienced intermediaries and capable mediators, and are well-qualified to provide this limited, much-needed service. All parties who have reported a settled case will receive communication from our Administrative Law Judges. Parties do not need to request anything. Workers' Comp judges will continue to review and approve stipulations when they are filed. Administrative Law Judges will only help to move settlements forward.
What to do if you're sick
Please do not come to court if you are experiencing any flu-like symptoms, have a fever, are coughing or sneezing, or have been directed to self-quarantine as a precaution. If your client or a witness is experiencing these symptoms, please do not bring them to court. If you cannot attend court because you are sick or quarantined, Workers' Comp litigants should call or email the assigned judge. Administrative Law litigants should call or email the assigned judge's legal assistant.
What to do if you get sick later
If you visit OAH and later develop COVID-19 symptoms, contact the Minnesota Department of Health:
Minnesota Department of Health
651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903
Weekdays: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Weekend: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Minnesota Department of Health will help the you decide whether to obtain a COVID-19 test. If a test is positive, the caller will receive follow-up from contact tracers and OAH will hear from the contact tracers.
We will keep you informed
We will update this page as needed. We will also use GovDelivery to notify court users of any changes by email. If you need to sign up for GovDelivery, use the popup box on the lower right corner of our website.