OALJ Acceptance of Electronic Signatures
In view of the risks presented by the novel coronavirus COVID-19, most Americans are practicing social distancing and many jurisdictions have issued stay-at-home orders. One impact of these circumstances on administrative adjudications is that it has become difficult to obtain “wet” handwritten signatures on documents that need to be filed with the United States Department of Labor, Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) and the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA). Below is information on the discretion of the presiding administrative law judge to accept electronic signatures in pleadings and other papers.
Summary of 29 C.F.R. Part 18 Regulations on Electronic Signatures
Under 29 C.F.R. § 18.35(a), motions or other papers filed with OALJ must be signed, and under 29 C.F.R. § 18.50(d), discovery documents in cases before OALJ must be signed. An administrative law judge has the authority, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 18.30(b)(4), to “allow papers to be signed, filed, or verified by electronic means.” Accordingly, an administrative law judge has the discretion to accept a document with a typed name or notation in the signature block of the document (e.g., “s/John Doe” or “s/”), and may deem the act of submitting such a document by email sufficient to comply with these regulatory signature requirements.
With respect to documents other than those described in the preceding paragraph, an ALJ may accept a document with a typed name in the signature block of the document or with a duplicate of a person’s signature, such as a pdf image, as a document “signed … by electronic means.” 29 C.F.R. § 18.30(b)(4). An ALJ may order that a party submitting such a document with a typed name or notation in the signature block include a statement that the person “sign[ing a document] . . . by electronic means” affirmatively waives a subsequent challenge of the validity of his or her own signature on that document.
Finally, in those cases where the formal rules of evidence at 29 C.F.R. Part 18, Subpart B, apply, the party submitting a document that is “signed . . . by electronic means” must be prepared to establish the admissibility of the signature, such as by demonstrating that a pdf image of a person’s signature is admissible as a duplicate of the original under 29 C.F.R. § 18.1003.