How social media evidence can affect PA workers’ compensation claims

A worker’s social media activity can be used as evidence in a workers’ compensation claim if it is authenticable and considered relevant to the claim.

Credibility is crucial in workers' compensation claims. Many people in Harrisburg have heard stories of workers being denied benefits or losing their benefits because of evidence that suggests their injuries aren't serious enough to qualify for benefits. However, many people may not realize that social media can be a source of this evidence.

Many working-age people use social media on a regular basis. The New York Times states that studies estimate people between ages 35 and 49 spend about 3 hours a day on social networking sites, while people between ages 18 and 34 spend over 3.5 hours. Unfortunately, this high level of online interaction and information sharing has the potential to adversely affect a worker's claim for a work-related injury or illness.

Admissibility of social media evidence

Social media evidence can take various forms. Personal posts, such as statuses, photos and check-ins can act as evidence. Communication between social media users can also serve as evidence. According to the American Bar Association, all of this evidence can be admissible if it is relevant to the litigation. For instance, a photo that shows a person engaging in an activity that his or her injury should physically prevent might be considered relevant to the person's workers' compensation claim.

Authenticity is an issue with any form of evidence. However, evidence shared through social media sites, such as Facebook, is generally assumed to be credible because the person who creates the profile is the only person who should be able to alter it or upload information. The information shared in the profile can be used to verify that the profile was created and maintained by the worker, rather than another person.

Potential impacts of social media evidence

Social media evidence may impact an injured Pennsylvania worker's claim or benefits in various ways. For instance, online activity could suggest all of the following things:

  • The injury arose outside of the course of employment and is not compensable. For instance, social media activity might show that an employee engaged in activities outside of work that could have caused a repetitive stress injury or another gradual-onset condition that lacks a clear origin.
  • The injury is not as severe as other evidence indicates. Benefits such as partial or total disability are only awarded if the injury proves disabling, while wage loss benefits are only available if an injury prevents employment; thus, online evidence relating to the severity of the injury could be influential.
  • The worker has turned down available employment. Under Pennsylvania law, if an employer learns that an employee has declined an offer of employment that is local and physically feasible given the employee's medical condition, the employer may request a reduction or termination of wage-loss benefits.

Given these potential outcomes, injured workers may want to limit social media use while their claims are pending or while they are receiving benefits. Workers should keep in mind that once information has been shared, taking it back can be virtually impossible. Furthermore, the incorrect interpretation of online activity is always possible.

Seek advice from an attorney

Injured workers who have concerns about privacy rights and information sharing during the claim process may want to speak with a workers' compensation attorney. An attorney can advise a worker of his or her rights and responsibilities under state law and provide other assistance during the claims process.

Keywords: workers' compensation, social media