When you review the website for ‘Office Careers’, you find a relatively simple page with limited information. It certainly does not look like a large vocational retraining program. Yet, the privately run Renton-based online job retraining school has received more than $7.4 million in payments for job retraining services from L&I since 2010. For reference, that is more than any other school/program in the entire state. This is despite the fact that the school is unaccredited and, by virtually all accounts, shockingly ineffective.
For years, workers’ compensation lawyers have been sounding the alarm about this program. Injured workers are being rushed through ineffective training, granted a meaningless offered certificate, and are left with no new skills, no chance for a job, and no more workers’ comp benefits. It is being called ‘The School of Broken Promises’. Recently, KING 5 Investigators published Part I, Part II and Part III of its report on Office Careers.
Injured Workers: No Skills, No Jobs, No More Benefits
Joe Cheyney, a 54-year-old San Juan County man, is currently going through the Office Careers job retraining program. A former city worker, Mr. Cheyney, suffered serious knee, back, and head injuries in a motor vehicle accident. L&I is paying Office Careers approximately $13,800 to retrain him as a secretary—a position Mr. Cheyney says he could never perform.
To start, Mr. Cheyney has dyslexia and learning disabilities. He wants the state to know that he lacks the computer skills to ever get a job as a secretary. After four months of training from Office Careers, he types at five words per minute. Yet, according to Office Careers, he is “currently performing well.”
The KING 5 Investigators went behind the scenes, observing several hours of online classwork with Mr. Cheyney. During that time, they confirm that they witnessed only a few minutes of instruction. Even more alarming, Mr. Cheyney pulled up an assignment that he said he never completed—the instructor simply did it for him.
This is far from a unique case. Beverly Wasson, a 75-year-old Island County woman who received a certificate from Office Careers in 2013, says she completed the program without ever learning how to type. According to KING 5 Investigators, 28 out of the 30 Office Careers students that they talked to reported a negative experience, leaving the program with:
- No new skills;
- No new job; and
- No more workers’ comp benefits.
For injured workers who are going through the vocational retraining program, the stakes are enormous. Once they complete a retraining program, their benefits can be cut off entirely. If they leave vocational retraining with no new skills and no reasonable chance to get a job, they are being taken advantage of by the system. As Mr. Cheyney’s wife aptly put it, the entire situation is “unfair.”
A Long History of Complaints Against the Ineffective, Unaccredited School
Unfortunately, the problems with Office Careers are far from new. Attorneys who specialize in workers’ comp cases have repeatedly complained about L&I’s use of the unaccredited, ineffective online vocational school.
Judges Ruled Against the State in 100 Percent of ‘Office Careers’ Cases
In Part II of its report, KING 5 Investigators reviewed six years worth of cases involving injured workers who received retraining from Office Careers. In total, 15 disabled workers who had their benefits cut off after going through vocational retraining with Office Careers filed an appeal. In all 15 cases, judges ruled in favor of the injured worker—ordering L&I to reinstate benefits. In other words, judges are making it clear that injured workers are not leaving the Office Careers program with anything approaching employable skills.
No Action from the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I)—Yet
As noted in the KING 5 Investigators report, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has yet to take any action against Office Careers. Rich Wilson, the private sector compliance manager for L&I, told reporters that the agency has never found concrete evidence of wrongdoing by Office Careers. This is despite decades of complaints from injured workers and workers’ comp lawyers.
Though, Mr. Wilson did note that L&I is currently conducting an audit of the school – that should be finished in the coming months. Hopefully, this report and the years of hard work by professionals will finally get the agency to take action.
Thank You to WSAJ Lawyers and KING 5 Investigators
We want to recognize the lawyers from the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ) workers’ compensation section, KING 5 Investigators, and all other parties who helped bring new light to this outrageous and infiltrating story.
We Support Workers’ Rights and Workplace Safety in Washington
At The Walthew Law Firm, we have decades of experience representing injured workers in workers’ compensation claims. Our legal team is committed to providing proactive, effective representation to clients. To arrange a free, strictly confidential consultation with an experienced work injury attorney, please contact us today. With office locations in Seattle and Everett, we serve communities throughout Washington.