Deputy Commissioners are like judges for workers’ compensation. They have most of the powers of an elected judge. Their decisions are in writing and are called Opinions and Awards. A key difference between judges and deputy commissioners comes in how they get their jobs and how long they keep their jobs. Judges are elected and keep their jobs until there is a new election. Short of extreme situations when they are impeached a judge is certain to continue their term until the next election. That allows the judges to make decisions that they believe are consistent with the facts and the Constitution. Sometimes those decisions are unpopular. However only the public can remove a judge for making unpopular decisions – by voting the judge out.
Gov. McCrory and the new legislature recently passed a law which strips the deputy commissioners of this vital protection. Beginning in 2014 the Chairman of the Industrial Commission may terminate deputy commissioners at his sole discretion. We haven’t seen the effects of this highly controversial law. But it is quite plausible that deputy commissioners may be more cautious in their decisions. This is particularly true while the current political climate seems, at least to us who have been doing workers compensation for many years, to be favoring employers and insurance companies.