If you disagree with a notice from the Office of Risk Management (ORM) regarding public sector workers’ compensation (PSWC) benefits, you may have the right to request a hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).
Specifically, OAH can hear and decide only the following types of cases:
- Challenges to ORM’s initial awards for or against benefits
- Challenges to ORM’s modifications of awarded benefits
- Requests for a determination of whether a claimant has a permanent disability
The purpose of this page is to help you learn more about PSWC benefits and the OAH hearing process. This page does not give legal advice. You can only get legal advice from a lawyer. If you are trying to find a lawyer, click on “I need more help” at the bottom of this page for general guidance.
Also, OAH tries to keep information on this page up to date, but laws and procedures sometimes change. You should refer to ORM notices, OAH orders, and official sources of laws and rules for current information and requirements regarding your case.
How do I request a hearing?
Your hearing request must be in writing and filed with OAH.
The specific information and documents you need to include, and deadlines for filing your request, depend on your reason for filing a hearing request. You can click on the reasons below to learn more about specific requirements. OAH Rule 2951 also has more information about beginning a PSWC case. The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
Appealing an initial award for or against benefits or a modification of benefits
You need to file two things with OAH:
- A completed copy of the PSWC Appeal Form, and
- A copy of the ORM decision you are appealing
Your hearing request must be received by OAH within 30 calendar days from the date ORM issued the decision. You may file the appeal form first, but OAH will not be able to schedule a hearing or move forward with your appeal until you also file a copy of the ORM notice you are appealing.
The Appeal Form includes instructions on how to complete and file the form. You can also visit the Filings & Forms page for detailed filing instructions.
Requesting a hearing to determine whether you have a permanent disability
You need to file three things with OAH:
- A completed copy of the PSWC Appeal Form,
- A copy of ORM’s Notice of Benefits Expiration (if you received one), and
- One of the following, regarding medical support:
- If you asked the PSWC Program to schedule a physician evaluation of your Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) status, include a copy of your request, or
- If you have already been evaluated, include the physician’s medical report that identifies the clinical diagnosis, diagnosis code, current clinical symptoms, current examination findings, MMI date, diagnostic test results, medical records reviewed, and explains how the physician arrived at the impairment rating, citing to the specific page number, paragraph, and table relied upon within the AMA guides applied, or
- If supporting medical evidence, records, or reports are not available when you file your hearing request, include a physician’s certification of that fact.
Your hearing request must be received by OAH within the last 52 weeks of your limited 500 weeks of Temporary Total Disability benefits. You may file the appeal form first, but OAH will not be able to schedule a hearing or move forward with your appeal until you also file your supporting medical documentation.
The Appeal Form includes instructions on how to file your request with OAH. You can also visit the Filings & Forms page for detailed filing instructions.
What are the OAH Rules and where can I find them?
The OAH Rules explain all the steps required to complete the OAH hearing process, from requesting a hearing to appealing a judge’s final decision. You can find the OAH Rules on the Rules & Laws page. You must follow the OAH Rules throughout the process.
Chapter 29 has rules for specific case types, including PSWC cases. So, you should start in Chapter 29 if you are looking for a rule about OAH procedures. Specifically, PSWC cases are covered by Rules 2950 through 2956. If a Chapter 29 rule does not cover a particular procedure, you should then look at the Chapter 28 rules, most of which broadly cover all case types at OAH. Chapter 29 rules sometimes refer to the related Chapter 28 rules to give you some guidance. Both Chapters also have a table of contents with section headings that can help guide you to the information you need.
Where can I find laws and regulations that apply to my case?
Every case has its own facts and circumstances, so some cases may involve laws and regulations that are not listed on this page. However, the D.C. Code and the D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR) generally cover PSWC cases at OAH.
The D.C. Code is where you can find District laws that create a program, such as the PSWC program. Within the bounds of specific laws, the D.C. agency that administers the program may then make regulations creating specific requirements and procedures. Regulations are often more detailed than laws, but laws have more authority. If there is a discrepancy between a law and a regulation, the law applies. When a judge decides a case at OAH, he or she may apply both laws and regulations to reach a final decision.
The laws creating the District’s PSWC program are in Title 1, Chapter 6, Subchapter XXIII of the D.C. Code. Sections directly related to OAH’s jurisdiction include:
- Section 1-623.24 – covers initial awards for benefits, modification of awards, and hearing rights, and
- Section 1-623.06a – covers the period for disability payments and right to a hearing for a determination of whether a claimant has a permanent disability.
ORM is the agency that administers the District’s PSWC program. As such, ORM’s regulations also have detailed requirements and information about PSWC. These regulations are in Title 7, Chapter 1 of the DCMR. Relevant sections include:
- Sections 7-115 through 7-121 – cover claims for benefits and ORM decisions,
- Section 7-144 – covers modifications of benefits, and
- Section 7-140 – covers permanent disability.
It can be helpful to navigate to the relevant title and chapter numbers in the D.C. Code and DCMR and look at the subchapter and section headings. The headings can help guide you to the particular sections that apply to the issues in your case.
If you are having difficulty finding or understanding laws or regulations, click on “I need more help” at the bottom of this page for more information about who you can contact for help.
How do I prepare for a hearing?
Hearing preparation generally involves each side collecting the information they want the judge to know and planning how to present the information. However, since PSWC cases often involve a lot of complicated information from both sides, the overall process of a PSWC case has a few stages. The stages help make sure your hearing is fair and efficient.
The process normally includes:
- A Status Conference
- Mediation (if the parties or the judge determine that the case could be settled without a hearing)
- A Prehearing Statement and Conference
- An Evidentiary Hearing
You can click each heading below for a general overview that can help with your preparation for that phase. But before each event, you will receive a “scheduling order” from the judge with specific instructions and deadlines.
OAH Rules 2952 through 2955 also have specific information regarding each step the process. Also keep in mind that other general OAH Rules may apply as well, including Rule 2809 (Filing of Papers); Rule 2811 (How to Serve a Paper); Rule 2812 (Calculating Deadlines); Rule 2813 (Motions Procedure); and Rule 2821 (Hearings and Evidence). The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
At a status conference, the parties meet with the judge to generally discuss the disputed issues in the case. You will not be sharing documents or giving testimony, so you do not need file anything ahead of time or prepare formal statements – just be prepared to talk about what you see as the issues in the case.
During the status conference the parties will also discuss deadlines for sharing information with each other. The exchange of information falls in two basic categories:
- Pre-hearing disclosures – this includes each side identifying their witnesses and sharing copies of documents intended to be used as evidence.
- Discovery – this is the formal process for requesting information and documents from an opposing party. Rule 2954 has more explanation and requirements for discovery in PSWC cases. The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
Discovery can involve different methods of getting information, which are explained in the rules, but one area that involves extra steps is preparing to have a doctor or other expert testify on your behalf as a witness. If you want your doctor to testify, for example, there will be a deadline by which you need to share the doctor’s identify and proposed testimony. This requires the doctor to prepare a report that contains, among other things, the doctor’s qualifications, a statement of all opinions the doctor plans to share, and the basis for those opinions, including any data or records the doctor relied on in reaching his or her opinions. Similarly, the opposing party will also identify their expert witnesses and share reports with you. These requirements are explained more in OAH Rule 2954.2.
Completing these steps, and other discovery requirements, are all part of preparing for an evidentiary hearing. And since the steps can take time, it is helpful for all parties to contact doctors and other witnesses as soon as possible. The more everyone knows before the status conference, the more each party will be able to identify and discuss potential issues during the status conference.
Each party should also start early in order to prepare for possible hurdles, such as a witness who isn’t willing to come to a hearing, or a person or organization who won’t voluntarily share requested documents. In these situations, a party can ask the judge for a “subpoena,” a formal court order that requires someone to attend a hearing or share documents. (Visit the Subpoena Request page for more details about this process). But the subpoena process can take some time and may affect case-related deadlines.
You should also have your calendar on hand for the status conference and be prepared to discuss possible dates for the next phases, including possible mediation, the prehearing conference, and an evidentiary hearing. Again, the more you know ahead of time, the more you will be able to discuss and propose reasonable deadlines for certain requirements.
Finally, be prepared to ask questions. If you don’t understand something in the scheduling order, ask the judge to explain. Also, during the status conference, if the judge or the other party uses legal language or talks about a process you don’t understand, ask for clarification. If questions come to mind later, you can contact the OAH Resource Center for general explanations and information. Click “I need more help” at the bottom of this page for Resource Center contact information.
Mediation is an informal process in which the parties meet with a neutral OAH mediator, who facilitates a discussion to see if the parties can negotiate and settle the case on their own terms. Mediations are confidential, so discussions are not shared with the presiding judge.
A mediation is led by the parties, so you can share whatever information or documents you think would be beneficial for the discussions and help you and the other party reach an agreed settlement.
Also, mediations and agreements are voluntary. Either side can refuse to mediate, if a party believes that reaching an agreement is not possible. And even if you agree to mediate, you do not have to accept a proposal you don't like. Ultimately, if a party refuses to mediate, or if an agreement cannot be reached through mediation, the case will return to the presiding judge to be scheduled for the next step of the hearing process.
OAH Rule 2815 has more information about mediations. The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
Prehearing Statement and Conference
Cases that cannot be settled through mediation are normally then scheduled for a prehearing conference. Preparation at this stage generally involves finalizing your list of witnesses, compiling all your supporting documents, and working with the other party on a joint prehearing statement. A scheduling order will explain exactly what the statement needs to include and the deadline for when it needs to be filed. You can also look at OAH Rule 2953.1 for more explanation.
But generally, the prehearing statement has a couple key purposes. First, the prehearing statement clearly identifies all the intended evidence to be presented at the evidentiary hearing, so there will be no surprises. There are two broad categories of “evidence”:
- Verbal testimony (what you and other witnesses say at the hearing), and
- Documents, photographs, or other physical items. These are called “exhibits.”
So, the prehearing statement must list each party’s witnesses and must include a list of each party’s exhibits, along with numbered copies of the exhibits. A claimant’s exhibits are numbered starting at 100 (Exhibit 100, Exhibit 101, Exhibit 102, etc.).
Second, the prehearing statement lays out information the parties agree on and identifies more clearly the issues that are still in dispute. For example, if the parties agree about certain facts, they can “stipulate” to those facts in the statement, meaning they can go ahead and establish those facts as true before the hearing. At the prehearing conference, the parties can further discuss and come to agreement on stipulated facts. Likewise, if a party has no objections to an exhibit the other side wants to use as evidence, then the parties can go ahead and agree to the admissibility of the exhibit into evidence. Or, if a party objects to the use of a particular exhibit, the party can explain those objections in the statement and discuss them at the prehearing conference.
Overall, these steps save time when preparing for and going through the hearing – if both sides have already agreed on certain facts and the admissibility of certain documents, witnesses don’t have to spend as much time talking about those things during the hearing. Also, laying out common ground helps clarify the exact dispute. So, each party can focus their time and attention just on actual disputed issues.
Along with the prehearing statement, the parties must also file in writing any requests they want the judge to act on before the hearing. This type of request is called a “motion in limine.” A “motion” is a request for the judge to take an action in the case. In limine is Latin for “on the threshold.” So, a motion in limine is a request for the judge to take some type of action before the start of the evidentiary hearing.
At the prehearing conference, the judge will rule on any prehearing motions and discuss with the parties the topics and issues raised in the prehearing statement. Also, the prehearing conference is an opportunity to raise and resolve any remaining issues regarding information exchange. So, if you have had difficulty getting information from the other side, you can explain this to the judge during the conference.
OAH Rule 2953 explains more about the purpose and specific requirements for the prehearing conference. The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
An evidentiary hearing is the formal process through which the parties present their evidence to the judge, including testimony and exhibits (the documents, photographs, and other physical items you have to support your case).
For testimony, you can practice telling your side of the story before the hearing. If you have witnesses that will testify on your behalf, you can ask your witnesses to practice their testimony as well. Practicing your testimony can help make sure you and your witnesses don’t accidentally leave out important information and can help you feel more comfortable on the day of the hearing. If you have a doctor or other expert witness, he or she will already have prepared a report and will be testifying based on information in the report
Regarding exhibits, you should keep in mind that properly filing all your exhibits before the hearing does not automatically mean that the judge can rely on the information in the exhibit when making a decision. Instead, you need to be prepared to introduce the exhibit during your testimony or a witness’s testimony. In other words, you or a witness will need to describe the item and may need to answer questions about it, so that the judge can be satisfied that the item is relevant to the case and is reliable. After you or a witness describe an exhibit and answer any questions from the judge or the other party, you can then ask the judge to admit the exhibit into evidence. If the judge allows the exhibit into evidence, you can then refer to the item in detail during your testimony, and the judge can rely on the item when making a decision. You need to be prepared for this process for each individual exhibit.
Lastly, you should have copies of all exhibits, both your own and the other party’s, when you come to your hearing. Even if your hearing is in person at OAH, OAH does not provide copies of the exhibits for the parties. Each party needs to bring their own copies.
How do I send documents or other exhibits I want to use for my case?
All exhibits must be filed with OAH and served on the other party. Deadlines will be explained in a scheduling order.
You can file exhibits with OAH in person; by mail, email, or fax; or through the OAH E-Filing Portal. Visit the Filings & Forms page for specific filing instructions.
“Serving” means delivering, mailing, or faxing copies of your exhibits to the other party. If the other party has agreed in writing, you may also send exhibits by email.
Each party must file and serve exhibits by the deadline given in the scheduling order to make sure both sides have opportunity to review everything.
If you do not know the contact information for the other party, look at the “Certificate of Service” at the end of the scheduling order you receive from OAH. The Certificate of Service lists the contact information for each party.
What can I expect at a hearing?
You should look closely at your scheduling order for information about how your hearing will be held, whether in person or remotely. If you are scheduled for a remote hearing, the scheduling order will have instructions on how to join by phone. You can also visit the Webex Hearings page for more information about joining a remote hearing.
If you are scheduled for a remote hearing by phone, you can request a video hearing or an in-person hearing, using the Request for Video Conference or In-Person Hearing form to explain your reasons. Or, if you are scheduled for an in-person hearing, you can request that you or a witness be able to join the hearing by phone, using the Request to Participate by Telephone form.
Status and prehearing conferences are informal, so these are typically held remotely, and you can expect an open discussion on issues pointed out in the scheduling order or raised by the parties. An evidentiary hearing, on the other hand, is a formal proceeding and must follow set procedures. Also, since evidentiary hearings usually involve a lot of documents and witness testimony, they are more likely to be held in person.
Whether in person or remote, an evidentiary hearing is generally divided into three main parts:
- Opening statements
- Presentations of evidence
- Closing arguments
An opening statement is not required but is your chance to give the judge a broad overview of your case and what you intend to prove through your evidence. The opening statement is not testimony and does not count as evidence, however. So, remember to present all of your evidence during the next part of the hearing, even if you talked about it already in your opening statement.
The presentation of evidence is the main part of the hearing. The judge will explain the order before the hearing begins, but the side with the “burden of proof” normally goes first when giving evidence. If you have the burden of proof, you will likely present evidence first, and you must present sufficient evidence to prove your side. If you don’t, then the other side will win.
The side with the burden of proof depends on the issue in the case. If a case involves an initial determination for benefits, the claimant has the burden to prove the extent and nature of the injuries and disability, including proof that the injury was work related. But if a case involves ORM’s decision to modify an award, the burden is initially on ORM to justify its decision. For cases involving whether a claimant has a permanent disability, the burden is on the claimant to prove that he or she is entitled to an award for permanent disability. You can find more detailed information about the burden of proof for different situations in ORM’s regulations, specifically in Title 7, Chapter 1, Section 159 of the DCMR.
When it is your turn to present evidence, you can give testimony and, if the judge allows your exhibits into evidence, talk about the documents or other items you have as evidence. (See “How do I prepare for a hearing?” above for more explanation about how exhibits are admitted into evidence). You can also have your witnesses attend and ask them questions to get them to testify on your behalf. Asking questions of your own witnesses is called “direct examination.”
After you or a witness are done giving testimony, the other side can ask questions about the testimony that was given. This is called “cross examination.” Likewise, after the other side’s witnesses give testimony as part of their presentation of evidence, you will have the opportunity to ask them questions. Generally, the purpose of cross examination is to weaken the testimony of the opposing party’s witness. But if cross examination questions are not asked thoughtfully, a witness’s answers can sometimes have the opposite effect of strengthening the testimony. To prevent a witness from saying too much under cross examination, the person asking questions is allowed to ask questions that require only a yes or no answer from the witness. Also, keep in mind that cross examination is optional – you are not required to ask cross examination questions, and the judge will not assume you agree with the testimony of the other side’s witnesses if you choose not to question them.
Throughout the presentation of evidence, the judge may also have clarifying questions for the parties and witnesses.
Finally, after both sides have presented their evidence, each side can give a closing argument. A closing argument is not required but is your opportunity to summarize your evidence and legal arguments as to why you should win. The closing argument is not evidence, and you cannot introduce new exhibits during your closing or talk about information that was not admitted into evidence. Sometimes the parties will agree to have written closing arguments rather than spoken arguments at the end of the hearing. In that case, the judge will set a schedule for submission of written arguments, and you will have more time to review the exhibits and testimony that will support your case.
Throughout the process, keep in mind that all evidence and arguments are being given directly to the judge. An evidentiary hearing is not an opportunity for the parties to talk and argue between themselves. So, you should practice your opening statement, presentation of evidence, and closing argument as if you are speaking directly to the judge.
I do not speak English very well. Can I get an interpreter?
Yes. Upon request, OAH will provide a free court-certified interpreter at your hearing. You cannot have a friend or family member interpret for you during a hearing.
You may request an interpreter when you file your initial hearing request, or you may request an interpreter at any other time by calling OAH at (202) 442-9094 or by emailing [email protected]. But please let OAH know as soon as possible that you need an interpreter for your hearing to give OAH time to schedule an interpreter.
If you have not requested an interpreter by the day of your hearing, you should let the judge know that you need an interpreter, and the judge can try to get an interpreter. If the judge cannot find an interpreter right away, the judge will need to reschedule the hearing to give time for OAH to schedule an interpreter for a new hearing date.
will also provide an interpreter if you need to speak with an OAH Customer Service Representative or Resource Center staff, whether visiting in person or calling OAH by phone. Simply ask for an interpreter and identify your language when you visit or call, and OAH staff will contact an interpreter to assist.
I have an impairment that makes it hard for me to attend a hearing. Can I get an accommodation?
Yes. Upon request, OAH will provide reasonable accommodations to allow you to participate in your hearing. You may request an accommodation when you file a hearing request, or you may request an accommodation at any other time by calling OAH at (202) 442-9094 or by emailing [email protected].
Please explain the accommodation you need, and OAH staff will be in touch with you to arrange reasonable accommodations for the day of your hearing. OAH may need some time to arrange the accommodations, so please let OAH know as soon as possible what accommodations you will need for your hearing.
What if I need to change a conference or hearing date?
You may ask the judge in writing for a different conference or hearing date, also called a “continuance.”
For this type of request, you must first reach out to the other party to see if they will agree to a different hearing date. The other party doesn’t have to agree, or even respond. But you at least need to make a good faith effort to get the other party’s consent.
You then must file your request with OAH and send a copy of the request to the other party. To make sure you give OAH all the information needed for this type of request, you may use the Request for a Different Hearing Date form.
You should never assume that a request is granted. If your conference or hearing date is approaching and you have not received a written response, contact the OAH Clerk’s Office to see if the judge has acted on your request. If the judge has not acted on the request by your hearing date, then the conference or hearing will be held as originally scheduled and you will be required to attend.
OAH Rule 2813 has more information about filing case-related requests, also called “motions.” The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
What if I miss my hearing?
If you missed your hearing, and you still want a hearing, you must ask for a new hearing date in writing as soon as possible. Even if the judge sends a Final Order in the other party’s favor before you file your request, the judge can still grant a new hearing and change the final order. However, you must give a good reason for having missed the hearing. To make a request, you may complete the Request for a New Hearing form and file the form with OAH and serve a copy on the other party.
OAH Rule 2828 explains more about this type of request. OAH Rule 2813 has more information about filing case-related requests, also called “motions.” The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
How does a judge make a final decision?
The judge will not make a final decision about your case during the evidentiary hearing. Rather, the judge will take time after the hearing to carefully consider all the evidence before making a final decision in writing. The judge’s written decision is called a “final order.” The final order will be sent to all parties to the case and will explain the facts of the case as determined by the judge, the laws that apply to the case, and the judge’s legal conclusions based on how the law applies to the facts.
The final order will also explain your appeal rights, in case you disagree with the judge’s decision.
What can I do if I disagree with a judge’s final order?
If you disagree with a final order, you may either:
- ask the OAH judge to reconsider the decision or grant relief from the final order, or
- file an appeal with the Compensation Review Board.
You cannot do both at the same time. If you ask the OAH judge to reconsider the decision or grant relief from a final order, and in response the OAH judge denies your request or makes a new decision that is still in the other party's favor, you can then file an appeal with the Commission Review Board. Or, you can skip the OAH reconsdiration process and immediately appeal an OAH final order to the Commission Review Board.
Procedures and requirements for requesting reconsideration or relief at OAH are in OAH Rule 2828. The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page. You can also visit the Closed Case Forms page, under “Filings & Forms,” for forms and instructions.
Instructions and requirements for filing an Application for Review with the Compensation Review Board are in Title 7, Chapter 2, Section 7-258 of the DCMR. The Compensation Review Board is separate from OAH, so OAH’s rules no longer apply once a case is appealed to the Board. For more information, you can visit the Compensation Review Board website.
I need more help.
If you have a PSWC case and are looking for limited legal advice, you can contact the Washington Lawyers’ Committee Workers’ Rights Clinic.
If you are trying to find a lawyer to represent you, there are a few resources to help your search:
- D.C. Bar’s Hiring a Lawyer webpage. This page includes directories and other general guidance on finding a lawyer.
- Bar Association of the District of Columbia (BADC) Lawyer Referral Service. You can select practice areas on the webpage to find a list of lawyers, or call BADC at 202-223-6600.
- General internet search for workers' compensation lawyers. Some workers' compensation lawyers may not take cases involving a government employee, but don’t get discouraged too easily. Other lawyers may be willing to take your case.
If you cannot find a lawyer or choose to represent yourself, you may talk with someone in the OAH Resource Center. Please call (202)-442-9094 and press “4” from the main menu, or send an email to [email protected]. The OAH Resource Center cannot give legal advice or be your lawyer, but our staff are happy to answer questions and give general information about PSWC and the OAH hearing process.