Friday, November 20, 2009
A Quebec woman on long-term sick leave is fighting to have her benefits reinstated after her employer's insurance company cut them, she says, because of photos posted on Facebook.
Nathalie Blanchard, shown here on a beach holiday during her sick leave. (Facebook)Nathalie Blanchard, 29, has been on leave from her job at IBM in Bromont, Que., for the last year and a half after she was diagnosed with major depression.
The Eastern Townships woman was receiving monthly sick-leave benefits from Manulife, her insurance company, but the payments dried up this fall.
When Blanchard called Manulife, the company said that "I'm available to work, because of Facebook," she told CBC News this week.
She said her insurance agent described several pictures Blanchard posted on the popular social networking site, including ones showing her having a good time at a Chippendales bar show, at her birthday party and on a sun holiday — evidence that she is no longer depressed, Manulife said.
Blanchard said she notified Manulife that she was taking a trip, and she's shocked the company would investigate her in such a manner and interpret her photos that way.
"In the moment I'm happy, but before and after I have the same problems" as before, she said.
Blanchard said that on her doctor's advice, she tried to have fun, including nights out at her local bar with friends and short getaways to sun destinations, as a way to forget her problems.
She also doesn’t understand how Manulife accessed her photos because her Facebook profile is locked and only people she approves can look at what she posts.
Insurer confirms it uses Facebook
Her lawyer Tom Lavin said Manulife's investigation was inappropriate.
"I don't think for judging a mental state that Facebook is a very good tool," he said, adding that he has requested another psychiatric evaluation for Blanchard.
"It's not as if somebody had a broken back and there was a picture of them carrying with a load of bricks," Lavin said. "My client was diagnosed with a major depression. And there were pictures of her on Facebook, in a party or having a good time. It could be that she was just trying to escape."
Manulife wouldn't comment on Blanchard's case, but in a written statement sent to CBC News, the insurer said: "We would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook." It confirmed that it uses the popular social networking site to investigate clients.
Insurance companies must weigh information found on such sites, said Claude Distasio, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.
"We can't ignore it, wherever the source of the information is," she said. "We can't ignore it."
Blanchard estimated she’s lost thousands of dollars in benefits since Manulife changed her claim.