97-79. Offices and supplies; deputies with power to subpoena witnesses and to take testimony; meetings; hearings.

(a) The Commission shall be provided with adequate offices in which the records shall be kept and its official business transacted during regular business hours; it shall also be provided with necessary office furniture, stationery, and other supplies.

(b) The Chair of the Commission may appoint deputy commissioners to serve a term of six years. No person may serve more than two terms as a deputy commissioner. In calculating the number of terms served, a partial term of less than two years shall not be included. Deputy commissioners shall have the same power as members of the Commission pursuant to G.S. 97-80 and the same power to take evidence and enter orders, opinions, and awards based thereon as is possessed by the members of the Commission. During the term, the deputy commissioner may only be removed from office pursuant to G.S. 97-78.1. Upon the expiration of each term, the deputy commissioner's employment shall be separated unless reappointed by the Chair of the Commission.

(c) The Commission or any member thereof may hold sessions at any place within the State as may be deemed necessary by the Commission.

(d) Hearings before the Commission shall be open to the public and shall be stenographically reported, and the Commission is authorized to contract for the reporting of such hearings. The Commission shall by regulation provide for the preparation of a record of the hearings and other proceedings. Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection, informal hearings conducted pursuant to the provisions of G.S. 97-18.1, whether by telephone or in person, shall not be open to the public nor stenographically reported unless the Commission orders otherwise.

(e) The Commission, or any member thereof, or any deputy is authorized by appropriate order, to make additional parties plaintiff or defendant in any proceeding pending before the Commission when it is made to appear that such new party is either a necessary party or a proper party to a final determination of the proceeding.

(f) The Commission shall create an ombudsman program to assist unrepresented claimants, employers, and other parties, to enable them to protect their rights under this Article. In addition to other duties assigned by the Commission, the ombudsman shall meet with, or otherwise provide information to, injured employees, investigate complaints, and communicate with employers' insurance carriers and physicians at the request of the claimant. Assistance provided under this subsection shall not include representing the claimant in a compensation hearing.

(g) The Commission shall adopt rules, in accordance with Article 2A of Chapter 150B of the General Statutes, for administrative motions, including practices and procedures for carrying out the provisions of this Article. (1929, c. 120, s. 53; 1931, c. 274, s. 10; 1951, c. 1059, s. 7; 1955, c. 1026, s. 11; 1971, c. 527, s. 2; c. 1147, s. 2; 1981 (Reg. Sess., 1982), c. 1243, s. 1; 1993 (Reg. Sess., 1994), c. 679, s. 5.2; 2013-294, s. 5; 2013-413, s. 60(b); 2014-100, ss. 15.16(a), (d); 2014-115, s. 17.)