Capital Clicks

IDPH worker accused of Facebook privacy violation wins jobless benefits

By: - November 2, 2021 3:29 pm

An Iowa Department of Public Health worker fired for allegedly violating privacy guidelines through a Facebook post is entitled to collect unemployment benefits, a state judge has ruled. (Photo by Markus Spiske via Unsplash)

An Iowa Department of Public Health worker fired for allegedly violating privacy guidelines through a Facebook post is entitled to collect unemployment benefits, a state judge has ruled.

Zhen Rammelsberg worked for IDPH as a full-time COVID-19 contact tracer beginning in September 2020, according to state records. She was fired on April 1 of this year after her direct supervisor, Claudia Becker, alleged she had posted to her Facebook page identifiable, confidential information about someone’s COVID-19 status.

But according to the administrative law judge who later reviewed the case to determine whether Rammelsberg was entitled to state unemployment benefits, the information Rammelsberg publicly posted was not work related.

Administrative Law Judge Jason Dunn found that the information posted to Facebook pertained to someone from out of state who had visited a restaurant after testing positive for COVID-19.

Noting that IDPH’s only witnesses at the hearing on Rammelsberg’s request for unemployment benefits had no direct knowledge of the situation, and that the agency had provided no evidence, such as a screenshot of the offending post, Dunn ruled against the agency and awarded Rammelsberg benefits.

“Accusing an employee of breaching confidentiality is a serious allegation, yet the only evidence provided by the employer was controverted hearsay from a third party,” Dunn ruled. “The employer failed to provide any direct evidence related to the allegation that (Rammelsberg) breached any confidentiality protocols.”

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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