Last night, there was a news broadcast on King 5 News regarding a vocational retraining program called Office Careers. This program has been approved by the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) for a while. Since then, the local workers’ compensation community has been a buzz.
The Office Careers news report
According to the investigation, L&I paid millions of dollars over time to this unaccredited retraining facility without any proof of success. As a workers’ compensation attorney representing work injury claimants in Washington State, I am thrilled to see that this issue is finally exposed. In my experience, Office Careers is the “go-to” program that vocational counselors select to retrain some of the most disabled and challenging injured workers.
Why do vocational counselors like Office Careers?
As I see it, Office Career has become the default vocational retraining program. In my opinion, it’s because they claim to provide job retraining after a work injury that anyone can pass. However, it’s because they provide injured workers with the bare minimum marketable skills (at best). As a result, the people retrained after a work injury might be able to obtain basic minimum wage office assistant type work.
At first glance, the program seems ideal for injured workers living in more remote areas. That’s because Office Careers offers an entirely online retraining program. This eliminates the challenges and hassle of finding an onsite retraining program within a reasonable distance of the injured worker’s home.
Personal experience with the Office Careers retraining program
My client, who wishes to remain anonymous, was watching the news report the other day and gave me permission to share the following information. L&I said that this client is capable of retraining at Office Careers back in October 2018, through her L&I claim. I submitted a dispute to L&I arguing that my client lacked the aptitudes to succeed in the program. Moreover, I explained that the injured worker was being set up for defeat and failure. Here, my rational was that this work injury client has already undergone aptitude testing and received very low scores.
In this case, it was pretty obvious that the injured worker would need additional time and assistance to complete a GED before moving on to the program with Office Careers. Despite my arguments, L&I approved the retraining plan. My client started a GED program at a local institution but struggled to pass the testing to obtain the GED certificate. The vocational counselor wasn’t happy with the lack of progress from the local GED program. Because of this, the vocational counselor pushed for a plan modification that would involve the GED course and a general clerical course though Office Careers.
From in-class GED program to Office Careers
In the plan modification report, the vocational counselor stated that: “Office Careers provides the GED training and has Spanish and English-speaking instructors to assist [the work injury claimant] in passing the test”. Despite my client’s lack of success in a local in-class GED program, L&I approved the modification. Under the plan modification, Office Careers would collect over $17,000 in tuition. The injured worker started the program at Office Careers in September 2019.
Within the first three weeks Office Careers wrote a progress report indicating that “it might not be feasible in the timeframe of this program to prepare [the injured worker adequately] to succeed at GED” due to the worker’s low scores. It was known that the injured worker had learning disabilities. It was evident that my work injury client had only a 6th grade educational level prior to starting retraining. In a progress report from December 2019, Office Careers stated that it is “hoped that a person starting GED training (or equivalent) starts the process with at least an 8th grade understanding as a starting point”. The injured worker continued to struggle with the retraining program even though they put forth their best efforts to succeed.
What’s next in this L&I claim?
Ironically, today my office received a vocational closing report indicating that this work injury claimant cannot benefit from the retraining program. Consequently, they are discontinuing my client’s vocational retraining services. We knew that this determination was coming. However, it doesn’t lessen the devastating impact on this injured worker.
This process has been exhausting and demoralizing. It has done nothing to benefit an injured worker trying desperately to recover from a devastating industrial injury. We applaud the sharp investigative reporters at King 5 News for bringing this issue to light. And, we pray that this news will create a wave that will change the attitude towards retraining services that genuinely benefit injured workers.