Washington state’s workers’ compensation arm spends a lot of time and resources investigating employers and employees suspected of defrauding the public safety net program that acts as a lifeline for workers injured on the job.
Sometimes, the worker’s comp division itself comes under scrutiny.
Seattle news station KING5 uncovered how Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has been steering millions of dollars to an unaccredited school tasked with retraining injured workers who can’t return to their previous job and don’t have the skills for a career change.
Upon graduation from the Renton-based school, called Office Careers, which mostly offers online courses, the injured workers are often deemed “employable” and no longer have access to L&I benefits.
The investigators raised doubts that Office Careers actually prepares–or even tries to prepare–students for the workforce. That was case for 28 out of 30 students interviewed by KING5.
“The former students said they didn’t take any tests to get into the school, or any tests to show they had actually learned any skills,” the investigation found. “The 28 students with negative experiences said they left the training with a certificate but no skills, no job, and no more benefits from the state.”
For some students, the classes were more than just a waste of time.
Cyprian Amadeo fell into a deep depression after the program ended, his benefits dried up and he was no closer to finding a new career. Injured at work in 2007 when he fell down a flight of stairs, 57-year-old Amadio said he got nothing out of the courses and had no idea why Office Careers sent him a certificate.
“[After Office Careers] … I was going to food banks to feed my family,” he told King5. “I would be crying getting food because I felt helpless, like my whole life has been destroyed and nobody cares. I thought I would be better off dead.”
State financial records over the past decade show that L&I has paid more than $70 million to dozens of schools for retraining. Office Careers was the top recipient of L&I funds during that period, receiving $7.4 million. And unlike many of the other schools competing for L&I funds, Office Careers has no accreditation and doesn’t track whether its graduates ever obtain jobs. While that’s not against the law, it raises serious questions about the resources available to vulnerable workers who rely on the state to help get them back to work.
Employment attorneys said they’ve complained to L&I officials about Office Careers since 2007, but the workers’ comp office only took action for the first time in June, when it launched an audit of the Renton school. The results of the audit are due in two months.
Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us at if you have a question about your employment status, or if you have an L&I, workers’ comp, injury, or employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.