LinkedIn is now a well-established business tool for individuals to promote themselves and the organisations for which they work, but who actually owns your connections? Coodes Partner and Head of Employment, Jeremy Harvey, argues that the law needs to catch up and outlines what employers need to know in the meantime.
“Organisations want their staff to build up contacts for the business and on LinkedIn those contacts become an individual’s connections. Of course contacts and customers are a valuable commodity that businesses have an interest in protecting. Historically, employers have been able to protect data – in the form of customer or client databases, for example – with confidentiality agreements and covenants in employment contracts. But when the LinkedIn profile is ‘owned’ by an employee what happens to all those contacts when they leave?
“LinkedIn’s own terms and conditions tell us that the profile and all that goes with it belong to the individual, not their employer. Despite this, there have been a number of court decisions where that principle has been over-ruled. In these cases, the courts have ruled that businesses have a right to lists of employees’ LinkedIn connections and restrict them transferring them when they leave the firm.
“Although the law still has to catch up, the courts seem to appreciate that businesses should have access to any contacts –including clients and customers– which an employee cultivates while working. This acknowledges the commercial sensitivity of the data and the fact that the business shouldn’t lose out on this when an employee moves on.
“Despite the absence of a clear legal ruling on this issue, employers can–and should–protect themselves with specific terms in contracts or clearly defined policies on LinkedIn. These should set out what they expect employers to do – how their profile is written, who they expect staff to link to and how it is used to communicate with contacts. Employers should also be clear on what will happen when individuals leave. This can include providing the employer with a list of connections and the content of any messages. The employer can then communicate with connections to explain how their relationship with the organisation will be managed in the future.”
“This is a developing area of law and it can be expected that further court decisions will clarify the issues in time.”
For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Jeremy Harvey, Head of Employment Law at Coodes Liskeard office on 01579 325794 or email@example.com