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Coronavirus Impact on Arbitration & Mediation Hearings

Richard W. Berry
"The safety and well-being of parties, arbitrators, witnesses and other participants is of paramount importance."

Richard W. Berry
FINRA Executive Vice President and Director of Dispute Resolution Services

Holding In-Person Arbitration Hearings and Mediations Safely

Status: Effective August 2, 2021, all FINRA DRS hearing locations are open for in-person proceedings.

Effective November 21, 2022, FINRA DRS will no longer contact arbitrators six to eight weeks in advance of a hearing date to ask if they are unwilling to participate in person. FINRA DRS is primarily an in-person forum, and arbitrators are expected to participate in person at most hearings. Furthermore, FINRA DRS will no longer require vaccination attestations in advance of in-person hearings.

Vaccination Requirement for In-Person Participants

All in-person participants, including arbitrators, mediators, counsel, parties, paralegals, witnesses, and others, must be fully vaccinated to attend FINRA Dispute Resolution Services arbitration hearings or mediation sessions (hearing). An exception will be made for in-person participants who have circumstances preventing them from being vaccinated. Those in-person participants who are not fully vaccinated must take a negative PCR or antigen test within 72 hours of the start of the hearing and every 72 hours during the course of the hearing. Arbitrators may request reimbursement for at-home COVID tests (see Frequently Asked Questions below). For all other in-person participants, the costs associated with COVID testing are the responsibility of the parties or individuals that incurred them.

Additionally, each day at the start of the hearing, the arbitrators will ask in-person participants to confirm that all of the statements in the below Health Self-Assessment are true. In-person participants must review the online Health Self-Assessment before appearing at the hearing. If someone is unable to confirm that all of the statements are true, they cannot enter FINRA facilities or participate in a FINRA-sponsored hearing in person.

During the hearing, any in-person participant who experiences symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or learns of exposure to an individual who has tested positive for the virus must immediately notify the panel and cease attending the hearing in person.

If an in-person participant tests positive or is presumed positive for COVID-19 within 10 days after attending a hearing in person, please contact staff immediately.

Testing Requirement for In-Person Participants (Florida Hearing Locations Only)

For cases with in-person arbitration hearings or mediation sessions (hearing) in Florida, all in-person participants, including arbitrators, mediators, counsel, parties, paralegals, witnesses, and others, must take a negative PCR or antigen test within 72 hours of the start of the hearing and every 72 hours during the course of the hearing. Alternatively, in-person participants in Florida can be fully vaccinated. Arbitrators may request reimbursement for at-home COVID tests (see Frequently Asked Questions below). For all other in-person participants, the costs associated with COVID testing are the responsibility of the parties or individuals that incurred them. 

Additionally, each day at the start of the hearing, the arbitrators will ask in-person participants to confirm that all of the statements in the below Health Self-Assessment are true. In-person participants must review the online Health Self-Assessment before appearing at the hearing. If someone is unable to confirm that all of the statements are true, they cannot enter FINRA facilities or participate in a FINRA-sponsored hearing in person.

During the hearing, any in-person participant who experiences symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or learns of exposure to an individual who has tested positive for the virus must immediately notify the panel and cease attending the hearing in person.

If an in-person participant tests positive or is presumed positive for COVID-19 within 10 days after attending a hearing in person, please contact staff immediately.

Health Self-Assessment

If you are unable to confirm that all of the following statements are true, you cannot enter FINRA facilities or participate in a FINRA-sponsored hearing in person:

  • I am fully vaccinated, or I have received a negative PCR or antigen test result for COVID-19 within the previous 72 hours before today’s hearing.
  • I am not currently under recommendation of quarantine or self-isolation by a medical or public health official, professional, or other government entity.
  • Within the past 5 days, I have not been close to someone with a fever, have not tested positive for COVID-19, and have not been in close physical contact (6 feet or closer for a total of 15-minutes) with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • I have not experienced any of the following symptoms that are new and cannot be attributed to a noncommunicable health condition in the last 10 days:
    • Fever (>100.4 F) or chills
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    • Fatigue or weakness (from illness, not exertion)
    • Muscle or body aches (from illness, not exertion)
    • Headache
    • New loss of taste or smell
    • Sore throat
    • Congestion or runny nose
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Diarrhea

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of COVID test is required for unvaccinated in-person participants?

You can take an antigen test (also known as a rapid test) or a PCR test.

I’m an arbitrator. How do I get reimbursed for the cost of an at-home COVID test?

Arbitrators may request reimbursement from their insurance for at-home COVID tests. Alternatively, they may request reimbursement from FINRA for at-home COVID tests in an amount up to $15 per test for each day of a hearing. The cost of tests would be a miscellaneous line item on the arbitrator’s expense report.

Where can I obtain COVID tests?

At-home tests may be purchased at local pharmacies and may be reimbursable by your insurance provider (contact your insurance provider if you have questions).

Should I wait until I get to the hearing to take a COVID test and review the Health Self-Assessment?

No. Before arriving at the hearing, please (1) obtain your test results and (2) determine whether all statements in the Health Self-Assessment are true. If you receive a positive test result, or a statement in the Health Self-Assessment is false for another reason, do not attend the hearing in person.

I am unvaccinated. Do you need proof that I tested negative to enter the hearing?

Your verbal confirmation at the start of each day of the hearing that all of the statements in the Health Self-Assessment are true (including the statement that you received a negative test result within the previous 72 hours) is your proof that you tested negative. That is all that is required from you.

What if I experience symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or learn of exposure to an individual who has tested positive for the virus while attending an in-person hearing?

If you experience symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or learn of exposure to an individual who has tested positive for the virus while attending an in-person hearing, please immediately notify the panel and cease attending the hearing in person.

What if I test positive after attending a hearing in person?

If you test positive within 10 days after attending a hearing in person, please contact staff immediately so that we can follow our contact tracing procedures.

Safety Protocol for In-Person Hearings

FINRA DRS is committed to taking measures to ensure each hearing location is safe for the hearing participants. FINRA DRS is reviewing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and consulting with public health experts to determine the appropriate safety protocols at each hearing venue. Details on the exact safety protocols that will be in place for hearings will be sent to parties and arbitrators in advance of scheduled hearing dates. These protocols may include:

  • Masks, hand sanitizer, Plexiglass dividers, and face shields available in each room;
  • Masks required at FINRA offices where the COVID-19 Community Level is High (please note the CDC recommends that people at risk because of their health conditions consider wearing a mask if the COVID-19 Community Level is Medium); and
  • Information provided on best practices when traveling to and attending the hearing.