Microsoft online safety ex-staff sue over PTSD

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Microsoft online safety ex-staff sue over PTSD

The former employees say they didn't receive proper mental-health support as they suffered from the psychological impact resulting from their work.

Two former Microsoft employees are suing the company claiming they developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from being forced to watch "horrific images" and online videos of child pornography, murder and bestiality as part of their job.

Henry Soto and Greg Blauert worked on Microsoft's online safety team, and their job was to decide if content should be removed or reported to police. They sued the Redmond company in King County Superior Court on December 30.

The report said Soto and Blauert claimed Microsoft did not offer an adequate health plan and after years of watching such videos they said they had suffered psychological distress.

The pair also allege that Microsoft said it could not provide them a therapist with the requisite training and also refused to pay for therapy. Once the employees have determined that the images violate the company's community standards and the law, they delete the accounts of the people who posted them and report the incidents to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, per federal law.

In a statement, a Microsoft spokeswoman said the company disagreed with the plaintiffs' claims.

Soto claimed that he did not ask for a job in the online safety team, alleging that he was not told of the nature of the job, only that he would be reviewing terms of use violations when he was drafted in.

Microsoft provided counseling sessions for members of the team suffering from "compassion fatigue", a non-official mental illness characterized by anxiety, tension and apathy towards violence, per the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project.

He said he was embarrassed by his symptoms that progressed over time to include panic attacks in public, disassociation, depression, visual hallucinations, and an "inability to be around computers or young children" including his son at times, because "it would trigger memories of horribly violent acts against children that he had witnessed". He rejoined Microsoft in 2011 under the employ of a contracting firm, Society Consulting, but supervised by Microsoft employees.

He suffered a physical and mental breakdown in 2013, the complaint says, and struggles with debilitating PTSD that has prevented him from returning to work and undermined his relationships with his wife and children. However, once he and Blauert were assigned to the Online Safety Team, they were forced to remain there for 18 months before they could request a transfer. After doctors recommended medical leave for both men, they both applied for worker's comp, but were denied.

The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries rejected an injury claim Soto made in 2015, the complaint says, contending the complaint was not filed within one year of the alleged injury and that the condition was not an occupational disease.

The men are seeking compensation for their health problems and lost wages, as well as a court order that Microsoft impose greater safeguards to protect employees doing similar work.

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