Canadian Woman Loses Disability Benefits Over Facebook Photos

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The intersection of law and social media fascinates me. Courts, judges and lawyers are trying to figure out how to deal with these new forms of communication. There are great concerns over privacy, as employers have fired employees for postings they have made on their private blogs.

So a story from Canada caught my eye this weekend. It was about a woman who was receiving disability benefits for the past year and a half for major depression. It is common when someone is on disability benefits for the insurance company to call and talk to the employee and ascertain if she is still disabled and whether or not the benefits should continue. In a case of depression, the representative might ask questions about the person’s moods and activities, and request the person’s medical records. Based on the information gathered, the company decides whether the person is still disabled.

What has gathered attention in this case is that the company made the decision that the woman was no longer disabled and thus no longer entitled to disability benefits based, in part, on pictures posted on her Facebook page. The pictures showed her on a vacation at the beach, and at a Chippendale’s male stripper show. The insurance company reasoned that if you go on vacation and go out for a good time, you aren’t suffering from depression and thus aren’t disabled.

It shows a narrow view of depression and mental illness. People who are depressed do go to the beach, to a wedding or out to go shopping. They don’t all shut themselves in their homes. The woman’s doctor also said that “having fun” would be good for her health and help her recover. So much for that advice.

I have dealt with this very issue with several clients who have gotten their disability benefits canceled because they were following their therapists advice and trying to take part in life in order to hasten and improve their chances of recovery. Going to a wedding and hosting a dinner can be seen as ‘too’ normal, as if an individual who is dealing with mental illness must just stay home, cut off from the rest of the world.

You also wonder how the insurance company got access to her pictures. Many people do accept friend requests from people they don’t know, but you wonder if there was any deception in gaining access to her personal information. The story also make you (or at least me) think twice about what we post online, even on our personal Facebook page. It is all, potentially, in the public domain. Contact me if you have any questions about social media and the law.



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