Employment law continues to wrestle with the wild west of social media.
For what is thought to be for the first time in social media history, the High Court in England has issued a judgement ordering an employee to surrender their personal LinkedIn login details to their employer post termination of employment.
The recent case of Whitmar Publications Ltd v Gamage and others featured three employees who had allegedly attempted to set up a new company and solicit business away from their current employers a year before their resignation. In particular, it was argued that one of them had been using the LinkedIn groups set up by their current employer to market their new company. Despite the account being set up personally by the individual employee, the courts still held that it was the property of the employer and therefore she was ordered to deliver up their login details and effectively transfer the control of the accounts to the company.
So does this mean that employers may retain ownership of their employees’ personal LinkedIn accounts after they resign? This may very well be the case if the account was set up over the course of their employment as a tool for business promotion and there is an inherent risk that the employee may use it to solicit business elsewhere. However, it is doubtful that this new ruling will have any impact at all on the slightly more anarchic world of Facebook and Twitter.
Even though this decision supported the employer, it is important that employers are not complacent. Employers should still err on the side of caution and ensure that their social media policies set out clearly the employer’s rights on termination of employment to things like business contacts.