Who Owns Social Media Contacts: Employers or Employees?

 

This post is the first in our 3-part employment law series.  Recent cases have again focused the spotlight on this vexing issue: when an employee leaves, do they take their social media contacts with them, or check them at the door?  Once upon a time, social media was something that employers asked you not to do while on the job. Now, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram feeds are not just idle time-burners, they might be part of your job description. In the UK case of Hays Specialist Recruitment (Holdings) Ltd. v. Ions, an employee was ordered to disclose his LinkedIn contacts when he left his employer, and a 2011 case in the US (PhoneDog v. Kravitz, 2011 WL 5415612 (N.D. Ca.; Nov. 8, 2011)) is grappling with this issue, where an employer claims $340,000 in damages from an ex-employee.  Lessons for business?

  • Check your own employment policies to see whether this is covered, and if not, consider introducing effective policies to manage social media issues;
  • Employees who are hired specifically for social media marketing are the obvious ones to look at, but salespeople, managers or executives should also be considered;
  • Theft of trade-secrets is often claimed, but commonly fails on the grounds that the social media contacts are often available for all to see.

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