By George H. Friedman, SAA Publisher & Editor-in-Chief
As more and more financial services firms announce their plans for returning staff to the workplace (see our coverage in SAA 2021-24 (Jun. 24)), we thought we would check in with the major ADR institutions to inquire about their “back-to-the-office” intentions.
Hard to believe, but it’s been over two months since leaders from the American Arbitration Association - ICDR (“AAA”), the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution, Inc. (“CPR”), FINRA Dispute Resolution Services (“FINRA DRS”), and JAMS, participated in a survey that resulted in our April 28 blog post, COVID-19’s Continued Impact on ADR Providers: the Key Institutions Update Us on Plans for the Future. As more financial services firms announce “return-to-the-workplace” policies, we thought it made sense to check back in with a mini-survey asking these leading ADR institutions to reaffirm or update what they said in April on two of the questions, and answer a new question. Joining us again to fill in the blanks are: Rick Berry, FINRA Dispute Resolution Services Executive Vice President and Director of Arbitration; Christine L. Newhall, AAA Senior Vice President; Kristine Snyder, JAMS Senior Public Relations & Content Manager; and Helena Tavares Erickson, CPR – SVP, Dispute Resolution Services. We present the responses below. Spoiler alert: some staff are already back at the office and the rest are returning soon. And so far returning staff won’t need to prove vaccination status.
Are your administrative offices open and staffed?
AAA: Yes. We have resumed limited on-site operations with strict safety protocols in place, and where state and local guidelines permit, either regular or business essential activities. Office locations where on-site work is being performed include the following: New York City (3 offices), Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Charlotte (NC), Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Fresno, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami (FL), Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Johnston (RI), San Francisco, Somerset (NJ), Voorhees (NJ), and Washington DC (21 out of 28 offices). Starting on July 12, 2021, AAA will enter its next phase of returning employees to in-person operations with up to 50% capacity in a majority of AAA offices.
With respect to AAA hearing facilities, AAA offices are open for in-person hearings. AAA has put a number of safety protocols in place in compliance with state and local requirements.
CPR: Our office is not physically open to the public but we have been fully functional remotely since the start of the pandemic. Cases can continue to be filed easily via email. We do recommend payment by credit card or wire to expedite the process, as checks are only collected several times a week.
FINRA DRS: With limited exceptions, our offices are not currently open to the public. FINRA is taking a phased approach and plans to reopen several office locations for staff, on a voluntary basis, in the near future.
JAMS: In accordance with changes to local and federal regulations, almost all JAMS administrative offices are open and staffed in markets where in-person proceedings are taking place. JAMS prioritizes the safety of its staff, neutrals, attorneys and clients and will continue to require face coverings and social distancing in public areas of our Resolution Centers at all times.
Describe any plans to resume in-person office operations.
AAA: The AAA plans to fully resume in-person operations in phases based on our ability to do so safely, in conformance with state and local guidelines, and employee readiness and ability to return to on-site work. We are continuously evaluating the most effective way to accomplish this goal.
CPR: Our physical office is scheduled to reopen in September 2021.
FINRA DRS: We have not announced when our offices will be open to the public. FINRA is taking a phased approach and plans to reopen several office locations for staff, on a voluntary basis, in the near future.
JAMS: Most JAMS Resolution Centers are now open for in-person or hybrid sessions, in accordance with local government regulations and guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control. Detailed information regarding scheduling in-person, hybrid and virtual sessions, as well as what health and safety protocols are being implemented, are available for each JAMS Resolution Center online. A particular panelist’s availability to conduct virtual proceedings is available on their bios on the JAMS website and respective case managers can provide availability for in-person, hybrid and virtual sessions.
[New]: If not covered above, do you have a vaccination policy for returning staff? That is, must staff be vaccinated? If so, do they have to prove it?
AAA: At this time, AAA is not mandating employee vaccinations.
CPR: We are monitoring the situation and will make decisions on return policies closer to the date of return in September 2021.
FINRA DRS: FINRA has not announced a vaccination policy for returning staff.
JAMS: JAMS will not be requiring staff, neutrals, attorneys, and clients to attest to or prove they have been fully vaccinated prior to entering a JAMS Resolution Center, which is why face coverings and social distancing will continue to remain in place. If you would like more information, please contact your local JAMS case manager or JAMS business manager.
(ed: *We thank these leaders for helping us keep our mutual constituents informed and up-to-date! **We look forward to our fall survey, which we’ll title, The COVID-19 Pandemic is Thankfully Behind Us: Which ADR Changes will be Lasting?)