Last week I had two cases involving two different workers’ compensation insurers trying to use an injured worker’s social media online presence to deny benefits. In the first case, the adjuster sent the hearing officer copies of photos from my client’s Facebook page showing him playing softball. The issue at the hearing was whether my client had legitimate medical excuses for not attending vocational school.
The softball photos suggested that my client was lying about his worsened back injury and ability to attend school. The insurer didn’t see anything wrong with giving them to the hearings officer without knowing when they had been taken. My client had actually posted these photos to his Facebook photo page months ago, before his claim was reopened for more medical care. While my client had a credible explanation about his activity in the photos, he never expected the insurer to attempt to use his photos against him.
My other client had been employed over fifteen years with the same employer without any disciplinary complaints when he had an accident at work causing a serious neck injury. After his claim was accepted, he was directed to treat with a particular doctor who has an ignorant attitude toward injured workers. During an office visit, the doctor accused him of being able to move his neck better than what he was showing the doctor. The doctor had been sent a link to the client’s youtube video showing him playing a guitar in a amateur band after the date of his accident.
This second client is an older gentleman who has MRI findings that show an objective injury to his cervical spine that may require a surgery. Yet, the treating doctor was more interested in the youtube clip of the client cradling and strumming a guitar, and found that reason to send the client back to a job that required him to lift 80 lb. bags of cement.
The following day, this client was humiliated further when he received a disciplinary notice from his employer. The employer apparently intended to terminate him for allegedly falsifying the extent of his neck injury, based on this same youtube clip. The client then hired legal help. He did not lose his job, and his care is being transferred to another doctor.
Both of these clients did nothing wrong, and neither had any idea that what they had put up for friends and family to view on the internet would result in such problems on their workers’ compensation claims. The lesson for injured workers is to be aware that employers, adjusters, private investigators, co-workers, nurse case managers, opposing attorneys, doctors, physical therapists, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and anyone with access to your social media sites may misinterpret, intentionally or not, something you post as being inconsistent with your work injury. Be aware that in addition to photos you or your friends post of you, your friends and you might comment about recent activities or trips that are entirely innocent, but that could be twisted and used against you. It may be wise to deactivate all of your social media sites while your claim is pending.