According to the 32-page complaint filed on December 30, 2016, two ex-members of Microsoft’s Online Safety team are suing the company, claiming they were never warned about the dangers of the job. As reported by both Soto and Blauert, Microsoft failed to provide psychological support to them, despite the fact that they were handling disturbing content.
The two former Microsoft employees were customer service workers assigned by the company to its Online Safety team and had the responsibility to decide whether content should be removed or reported to law enforcement. During their time at the job, Soto and Blauert had to process images of murder, bestiality and child pornography which they claim caused them PTSD.
“Plaintiffs Henry Soto and Greg Blauert were not warned about the likely dangerous impact of reviewing the depictions nor were they warned they may become so concerned with the welfare of the children, they would not appreciate the harm the toxic images would cause them and their families,”, Soto and Blauert say in the complaint filed by ‘Ben Wells & Associates’ and Rebecca Roe with ‘Schroeter Goldmark & Bender’.
Involuntary transfer and the Wellness Program
Soto and Blauert also report that in 2009 Microsoft began providing a form of counseling for members of the team called ‘Wellness Program’ and it depended significantly on input from the team members such as Mr. Soto. The plaintiffs allege that Microsoft advised its employees to take “walks and smoking breaks” and “redirect thoughts by playing video games”.
Unanswered calls for change
According to the complaint Mr. Soto and Mr. Blauert both recommended several changes to the team: “Plaintiffs have recommended many changes to Online Safety. The list includes mandatory rotations out of the program, for pre-vacation vacations, mandatory weekly meetings with a psychologist with specialized training and authority to remove employees when the content is becoming too toxic, a spousal wellness program, as well as changes designed to lessen the impact of continually viewing toxic images. Some of these items were also recommended to Microsoft in approximately 2007 and 2008”.
Despite the fact that both employees “lacked any meaningful understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder”, they attempted to change the way Online Safety team worked several times and failed repeatedly to do so.
No comment from Microsoft
Microsoft’s response to the matter is limited to a short statement by a representative of the company, sent to ‘The Daily Beast’ after the newspaper’s inquiry about the complaint filed against Microsoft: “Microsoft applies industry-leading, cutting-edge technology to help detect and classify illegal images of child abuse and exploitation that are shared by users on Microsoft Services. Once verified by a specially trained employee, the company removes the image, reports it to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and bans the users who shared the images from our services. We have put in place robust wellness programs to ensure the employees who handle this material have the resources and support they need.”