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Facebook worker seeks class-action status over job conditions

Facebook is accused of failing to provide its content moderators with a safe working environment.

If one such worker -- among the thousands of employees who have held the job -- has her way, a new lawsuit over the issue will soon achieve class-action status. That would open the door to claims from anyone with a similar complaint.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff claims that Facebook executives -- along with the management of the staffing company through which she was employed -- negligently failed to provide a safe working environment for its content reviewers. Content reviewers serve as censors for social media posts. As a result, they see all manner of disturbing and graphic images that have to be removed from the online platform. Images they have to review include those involving extreme violence, suicide, murder, sexual acts and more.

The plaintiff alleges that she developed nightmares, anxiety and other psychological problems that were eventually diagnosed as part of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to her exposure to such violent content. As a result of her illness, she now experiences ongoing symptoms that are triggered by things like touching a computer mouse and loud noises. She claims, through her lawsuit, that Facebook provides little training to moderators about how to handle the emotional aspect of their job.

For its part, Facebook says that it has recently changed the way that its content moderators view images. It also provides psychological support to moderators and trains them on how to recognize the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. In addition, it claims that it does provide workers with access to health benefits -- including onsite counselors -- to treat them when they are overwhelmed by what they see and requires its partner companies to do the same. If the plaintiff's allegations are true, however, it means that the social media giant isn't following its own safety procedures.

Typically, employees can only file a civil lawsuit against their employers outside of the workers' comp system under limited circumstances. That is usually when the employer acted with willful or intentional disregard for the employees' safety. While it remains to be seen how this suit will turn out, it's important to note that it is treating mental health safety -- something that is often overlooked in workplaces -- as equal in importance to physical safety.

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