Quebec woman alleges sick leave benefits cut off because of Facebook

By Marianne White , Canwest News ServiceNovember 19, 2009 6:02 PM

A Quebec woman on leave from her job at IBM found her benefits were suddenly cut off at the end of October. When she called to inquire with Manulife, her insurance company, she was told they established she was ready to go back to work based on photos they saw on Facebook.

A Quebec woman on long-term sick leave is taking her insurer to court over a decision to cut her benefits based, according to her, on photos she posted on Facebook.

Nathalie Blanchard, 29, is on leave from her job at IBM in Bromont, Que., since she was diagnosed with severe depression in February 2008.

But her benefits were suddenly cut off at the end of October. When she called to inquire with Manulife, her insurance company, she was told they established she was ready to go back to work based on photos they saw on Facebook.

Blanchard had posted photos her herself enjoying the beach at a sunny destination and partying in bars with her friends.

“They didn’t ask her to explain those photos before making their decision,” said Blanchard’s lawyer Thomas Lavin.

Lavin said the Eastern Townships woman was encouraged by her doctor to take small vacations and go out more to try and forget about her worries and integrate herself back into her social network.

Blanchard is going to file a claim in Quebec Superior Court for wrongful dismissal and to seek damages against Manulife.

“She’s in a fragile position to begin with and this has certainly not helped her recovery,” her lawyer said Thursday.

Lavin said Blanchard also saw her mortgage insurance cut off because either Manulife or her employer called her financial institution to let them know what they saw on Facebook.

“That forced her to sell her house because she can’t afford to pay her mortgage, her credit has gone down the tubes and her reputation has been damaged. She’s not having a good time,” he said.

What people post on social networking sites like Facebook is increasingly being used against them in legal proceedings or criminal investigations.

Manulife acknowledged they are using information on such sites to investigate clients.

“We carefully assess and pay all valid claims, plus we would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook,” the insurer noted in a written statement sent to Canwest News Service.

Lavin said despite repeated requests from him and Blanchard, Manulife has refused to give them the evidence to back up their decision.

Earlier this year, a British Columbia court ruled that a woman who claimed that a car accident left her unable to enjoy her favourite activities should have removed her Facebook photos that proved otherwise.

Photos of Mirae Mayenburg hiking and cycling were entered as evidence in her court case against the Insurance Corp. of B.C.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
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