In response to the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, the Social Security Administration (SSA) began conducting telephone hearings in late March 2020. By now, our lawyers have participated in several of these hearings. For the most part, the hearings have been conducted without any technical difficulties. You have the option to choose whether or not you want to participate in a telephone hearing. Most of our clients are agreeing to participate as it is unknown when in person hearings will take place again as SSA has indefinitely postponed hearings for claimants who would prefer to appear before a judge in person. Telephone hearings have the benefit of getting your case heard faster.
Before you agree to a telephone hearing, it is important to keep in mind a few things. First, you need to use a telephone that has a good line with no background noise or connection issues. Your testimony will be recorded and it needs to be clear. Second, you need to be in a room by yourself so no one else can hear you or assist in answering the judge’s questions. Also, this prevents background noise such as children playing or other household noises. The judge will also confirm with you that you are not recording the hearing.
The Social Security hearing office that is conducting the hearing will call all the parties that are participating in the hearing which typically includes the judge, the lawyer and the vocational expert. Note that the judge conducting the telephone hearing is doing it from his/her home using software that enables the judge to securely place and receive calls and record phone conversations.
Some may think that telephone hearings do not give a full opportunity for the judge to evaluate a claimant like an in-person hearing. But, they seem to be an adequate substitute given the current pandemic crisis.
Remember, if you are offered a telephone hearing, you have the right to refuse it. If you do, though, your case will be taken off the docket until in person hearings are offered again. When this will happen, no one knows. Count on it being many months.
We will continue to fight for Social Security Disability and SSI benefits for our clients and will keep you updated on our blog and Facebook with updates as we continue through this unprecedented time.