Ownership of LinkedIn contacts

Social networking is now the norm and platforms such as LinkedIn are commonly used by individuals to maintain and grow their professional relationships.

Employers would be well served to be aware of the potential threat that social networking can raise - SMEs and owner-managed businesses being the most vulnerable.

It is normally the case that when an employee leaves an organisation, any material used or created during their employment - be it files, databases or similar, remain the property of the employer.

LinkedIn is independently owned so poses two key threats; firstly, if an employee updates their role title on LinkedIn, all their contacts are automatically alerted to the change (and details of their new business/employer).

If this happens before a business has informed its clients it can potentially have a detrimental effect on its relationships with clients and key suppliers.

Secondly, if an employee builds a network of contacts during the course of employment with one business then moves to a competitor, all the contacts within their LinkedIn profile would remain leaving an organisation open to key clients and suppliers being poached.

In the current climate, it is essential for businesses to make provisions to protect themselves in areas such as this. Although in the eyes of the law this remains a grey area with no such cases having been considered by the courts as yet, including the use of LinkedIn as an example within a contractual agreement can go some way in preventing the above scenarios taking place.

It is open to any employer to reach a contractual agreement with an employee that the details of contacts created on LinkedIn during the course of the employee’s employment shall be considered the property of the employer and that the employee shall not make use of such information following the termination of their employment.

This could include a provision that the employee deletes all contacts made during the course of their employment from LinkedIn at any time during their employment or immediately upon the termination of their employment.

More than four million people in the UK currently use LinkedIn and as this, and other social networking platforms grow, businesses are advised to take steps to limit any associated risk.

Alan Lewis
Head of employment
Linder Myers