IN BRIEF: Two former Microsoft Corp. employees are suing the company for not protecting them from the psychological damage of viewing extreme content, resulting in severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The two former employees, Henry Soto and Greg Blauert worked for Microsoft’s Online Safety Team, a division responsible for flagging objectionable content and reporting it to the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The two were given access to all Microsoft user online accounts.
One of the employees, Henry Soto, claims he was ‘involuntarily transferred’ to the team in 2008, and he didn’t have choice on the matter. His job required him to view “photos and video showing horrible brutality, murder, indescribable sexual assaults, videos of humans dying and, in general, videos and photographs designed to entertain the most twisted and sick-minded people in the world.”
Greg Blauert alleges he was hired as a full-time employee in 2012, and his job involved reviewing thousands of images of “child pornography, adult pornography and bestiality that graphically depicted the violence and depravity of the perpetrators.”
Microsoft Didn’t Offer Adequate Psychological Support
According to the lawsuit filed on 30 December, 2016, the company did little to warn or prepare for the psychological damage the viewing of disturbing content could inflict. Moreover, employees who clearly needed psychological support were often told to simply go for a walk, play a video game (a part of Microsoft’s Wellness Program), or take a smoke break to manage their symptoms.
As per the filing, Blauert greatly suffered from his work, leading to a serious mental breakdown in 2013. Similarly, Soto’s work resulted in him suffering from anxiety problems, panic attacks, depression, disassociation, visual hallucinations and the inability to be around children, including his own son. Being around children would remind him of “horribly violent acts against children that he has witnessed.”
Microsoft has disputed the claim saying, “If an employee no longer wishes to do this work, he or she will be assigned other responsibilities.” Moreover, employees on the Online Safety Team are automatically put on a ‘Wellness Program’. The Redmond company says it’s mandatory, where employees are provided one-on-one sessions with a counsellor to minimize the psychological impact on viewing such grotesque material. Moreover, “employees are limited in how long they may do this work per day and must go to a separate, dedicated office to do it; they can’t do this work at home or on personal equipment.”