Two former Microsoft employees filed a lawsuit against the Washington-headquartered company for failing to protect them from the psychological trauma of viewing disturbing material resulting in the two men suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Henry Soto and Greg Blauert were reportedly part of Microsoft’s “online safety team” and were forced to view photos and videos of “indescribable sexual assaults,” “horrible brutality,” murder and even child abuse. As a result of regular viewing of “inhumane and disgusting content,” the two employees suffered from PTSD.
The lawsuit alleged that psychological impact was so severe that the negative symptoms are “triggered” when the two men see children, adding that the two couldn’t use computers anymore without suffering from a serious breakdown. It accused Microsoft of “negligent infliction of emotional distress.”
Microsoft denied the allegations, telling the BBC that it took the health of its employees seriously.
“Microsoft takes seriously its responsibility to remove and report imagery of child sexual exploitation and abuse being shared on its services, as well as the health and resiliency of the employees who do this important work,” the company said, adding that shielding internet users from disturbing material while minimizing the content’s impact on its employees was a continued learning process.
In the lawsuit, Blauert alleged that when he did express uneasiness, he was asked to “smoke,” "go for a walk” or “play video games” to distract himself. His work contributed to his mental breakdown in 2013, he said.
Soto said he viewed “many thousands of photographs and videos of the most horrible, inhumane and disgusting content one can imagine.” While his superiors praised him for his “courage,” he alleged that the job resulted in him suffering from “panic attacks, disassociation, depression, visual hallucinations.” He was also unable to be around children, including his own son, as being near them would remind him of the “horribly violent acts against children that he had witnessed,” the lawsuit said.
Microsoft disputed these claims saying anyone part of the online safety team was automatically placed in “Wellness program” to help them cope with the disturbing content they had to view on a regular basis. The company also claimed to have measures in place to reduce the “realism” of the pictures and videos including blurred images, low-resolution pictures, etc.
“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,” the company told BBC.