It’s natural to think that your LinkedIn profile belongs only to you. It’s contains so much of your hard work
and personal knowledge, it seems out-of-the-question that anything else
could possibly be the case. However, as business begins to recognise the
value social media brings to the bottom line, the issue of ownership of
social activities is coming to the fore. So, if you tweet for work, use
Facebook for search, or LinkedIn to network, this post is for you.
Recruiters, you’re the lab rats
Recruiters, as early adopters and often super users of tools like LinkedIn, are in the front line of the coming conflict between employer and employee. Whatever is going to happen in this tug-of-war for social network ownership
will happen to us first. As such, the recruitment industry which is a
real time laboratory to see how this might all play out for everyone
else. I’m sure no one will hold it against me for saying it, but for
now, recruiters are the lab rats.
For an individual recruitment agent, the benefits of networking tools like LinkedIn
are obvious – it is a portable CRM, a constantly expanding database of
candidates and a self updating business development tool. The
traditional downside of leaving an employer – the loss of a network of
carefully cultivated contacts and therefore, sales opportunity – is
largely eliminated by the portability of a LinkedIn
account. What is to stop a recruitment agent joining a firm, building a
network of contacts and then simply moving on with that enhanced book
of business? He becomes a much higher value employee in the open market
due to his expanded contact
book, and is likely to command added market value as a result. What’s
more, he’s free to repeat again and increase his value with further
moves down the line.
Restrictive covenant clauses don’t cover it
The Restrictive Covenant has
been the traditional employer defence for this type of behaviour. They
are standard in recruiter employment contracts and they are designed to
provide a degree of legal redress for employer; however, such clauses
typically cover only those contacts deemed as ‘clients’ or invoiced
customers within a specified time frame. The number of these contacts,
even for a phenomenally successful recruiter, is likely to be a small
fraction of the overall network that he has access to.
The danger for the employers is clear. Consultants can sign up, hoover up contacts, plug them into their LinkedIn
network and move on. In a survey I conducted from a random sample of 10
national recruitment companies, 7 out of 10 confirmed that they were in
the process of amending their restrictive covenant clauses to cover
social media activity. If adopted throughout the wider economy, it will
have enormous ramifications on how we as individuals manage and use
The gist of these contractual clauses is an employer is entitled to
consider the tools it provides for employees to be returned to the
company when the employee leaves. It’s widely accepted that when you
resign, you agree to leave behind your company email, telephone number
and various hardware items like laptop, mobile phone and whatever else
the company has provided you with to do your job. In short, you agree to
leave behind your corporate identity when you resign from post. And here is where we run into a major controversy when it comes to social media.
Who owns your account, your connections, friends or followers?
On a poll I cast recently on one of those networks, there was disagreement on this issue with 76% of respondents holding an
unalloyed belief that their LinkedIn
profile belonged to them and not the company who employed them.
Interestingly, of the 24% who disagreed (that is to say, thought that
the employers had a case), all were legal professionals
specialising on employment law or HR professionals who were
investigating precisely this position with their current companies. When
there is a big disconnect between what the people believe, and what
expert legal opinion say, there reason to worry. What’s more…
There is already a legal precedence.
In 2008, UK recruiter Hays successfully argued that an ex employees LinkedIn connections belonged to it,
particularly during that period where he was employed by the company.
The individual concerned was deemed to have breached his restricted
convenant by utilising his LinkedIn
network after he had left his employer and was forced to give up his
account, and ‘hand over’ his connections, although it was still unclear
how the latter was enforced. The implications of this ruling, for recruiters,
and for anybody else who uses social media for their work, are ominous.
Building your network as a corporate employee might lead you to leave
those networks behind when you leave that company. Imagine, for a
moment, how it would feel to leave behind your hundreds of LinkedIn connects, your thousands of Twitter followers and have to start over again in your new role.
In today’s world where your online visibility, personal brand and degree of connectedness are key tools in your job security, rulings
of the type exemplified by the Hays ruling in 2008 put employee and
employer interests in direct conflict. The first major legal case is
surely not far away.
What you need to do for the time being
1. Set up an alternative email to link with your LinkedIn account – don’t leave and lose access to your account by leaving your work email as the default.
2. Pay for it yourself – that’s right, refuse any company offer to pay for
or subsidise your account. Pay out of your own pocket, so that it’s
clear that it is a personal tool you voluntarily use for company
3. Scrutinise your employment contract and escalate the online ID clauses to the same level of priority as you would do for salary and benefits
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