Who owns your contacts on LinkedIn?

Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Blog | 4 comments

Who owns your contacts on LinkedIn?

Who owns your LinkedIn contacts? Is it you or the business you work for? And can you be sacked for using LinkedIn to look for job opportunities?

By guest blogger Katie Nash, employment law solicitor.

Senior HR professional John Flexman uploaded his CV onto LinkedIn and ticked the box which stated he was interested in other career opportunities.  On the face of it, there may not appear to be much wrong with that. However, his employer BG Group took a different view.

His bosses asked him to remove his CV and invited to a disciplinary hearing for ‘inappropriate use of social media’. Although this may seem harsh on Mr Flexman, it appears that there was also information on the CV which portrayed BG Group in a bad light, suggesting that there were bad practices within the company. According to BG Group, his actions were in breach of its policies which precluded him from ticking the ‘career opportunities’ box on LinkedIn.

Unfair dismissal

As a result of the dispute, Mr Flexman resigned and issued a claim of constructive unfair dismissal; essentially claiming that he was forced to leave his job as a result of the actions of the company. This is thought to be the first case of its kind involving an employee resigning over the use of a LinkedIn account.

The tribunal held that Mr Flexman had been unfairly dismissed as BG Group was guilty of a ‘serious breach of contract’. The tribunal said this was due to their unacceptable delay in dealing with the disciplinary case and their failure to address a grievance raised by Mr Flexman.

What many were hoping to see as a result of this case but didn’t, was whether the employer had been right in the first instance to commence disciplinary action over the uploading of the CV and the information contained therein. We may have to wait until another court case to get the answer.

LinkedIn penAnother issue to think about is contact lists. In a recent High Court decision, it was ordered that a former employee of Hays Specialist Recruitment had to disclose his LinkedIn contact list. Hays suspected he had taken contacts belonging to the company and copied them to his LinkedIn account.

However, the interesting point to note from this decision was the fact that the Court decided that the list of LinkedIn contacts actually belonged to the employee and NOT Hays, despite the information being gathered during the course of his employment (which is the usual legal test when considering who owns work that is created in the course of an employee’s employment).

What can employers do about social media issues?

Many employers will not have considered what will happen to an employee’s list of contacts on termination of employment. Historically, employers have relied on post-termination restrictions in tightly drafted employment contracts to ensure this valuable information goes no further.

However, now that professional social networking allows employees to create their own personal list of business contacts, employers should ensure that their contracts and policies deal with these tricky situations. The best way to do this is to ensure that there is a coherent social media policy, dealing with issues like inappropriate use, ownership of contact lists and obligations as regards confidential information.

Katie NashKatie Nash is an employment law solicitor with Fishers Solicitors in Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire. . Fishers have just launched ProActHR – an employment law and HR service. For more details click here.

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like to learn more about affordable social media policies designed by Status Social and top barristers, click here.

 

Status Social run ‘LinkedIn for Solicitors‘ workshops hosted by Swindell & Pearson in Derby. For full details and to book your place, check out Services, then Training on our website menu.

4 Comments

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  1. Liam @ Zaddle

    Great blog post – how does uploading a CV to LinkedIn differ from sending your CV off to a recruitment consultant? I struggle to see how either would be different (and therefore a disciplinary offence)?

    Also when it comes to contacts it takes 2 minutes to upload to LinkedIn and then download to a CSV file at home therefore keeping track of who owns the contacts (I think) would be almost impossible to do.

    Certainly employees and employers alike need to consider all implications when it comes to Social Media as I guess we are in fairly unchartered territories at the moment.

    • Katie Nash

      I agree Liam, it is certainly unchartered territory at present, it will be interesting to see what other cases come through the courts to add clarity or cloud the issue!

      I guess an employer would say that the process of sending your CV to a recruitment consultant is private and there is not a lot they can do about that, whereas on LinkedIn your business contacts would be able to see if you were looking for another job- it was also a factor in this particular case that the employee had made the employer look bad by commenting on some of their internal practices.

      Having a clear social media policy and disciplinary policy is a must these days!

  2. Carl Haffner

    Good blog and informative for employers.
    And this is why we retain you as a HR lawyer to advise us potential future hiccups like this.

  3. Wesley Archer

    This is a very interesting topic and something I have come across before. I worked for a recruitment company relatively recently and they had, what I thought, was a strange policy on the use of LinkedIn. During the first few days of my new role, I was asked by one of the Directors whether I would want to continue using my existing LinkedIn profile and hand it over should I leave the business, or create a new account and then leave that with them should I leave the business.

    As I was an avid user of LinkedIn (I used it to help me get the said role I had just started at the time, but also the previous one) I was reluctant to effectively hand over my account to them (and the contacts I had made in the times before I was employed by them) should I leave the business. I therefore opted to create a new account whilst parking my previous one.

    However, when I left the business I was quickly told to hand over my log in details to the new LinkedIn account so they could take it down – which I thought was fair considering I had agreed to sign up to a new profile when starting work with them. However, several weeks later my profile was still on LinkedIn. By this time, I had reactivated my “old” profile that I had chosen to park before I started work with them, but this meant there were two versions of me on the site! I contacted my old employer and requested they removed my profile because I would be using LinkedIn in my new role, but after several more days this had not happened.

    To make matters worse, I was even contacted by my old employer with a threatening letter stating that I was using “their” contacts for my personal gain and was also claiming that I still worked for them (I requested to take my notice period as time off, which they agreed to, so I technically was still employed by them at the time I was claiming).

    I responded by explaining that I was now using my “old” profile, which had nothing to do with them and reminded them that I had agreed to do this when I started. I also reminded them that they were, in effect, using my details to their benefit and that I had already asked them to remove it, which they had failed to do. In the end, I contacted LinkedIn and explained the situation and they ended up removing the duplicate profile (I did get another threatening letter after that too believe it or not).

    It was certainly interesting the way it played out and it taught me to be wary of when using social media at work. By the way, I felt I was right in my actions and I believe that my old employer was a tad overzealous with the way they dealt with it.

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