LinkedIn Accounts Operated By Employees: New High Court Case

linkedin accounts 300x199 LinkedIn Accounts Operated By Employees: New High Court CaseA recent case in the High Court looked at the legal issues of LinkedIn accounts operated by employees.

In Whitmar Publications Ltd v Gamage three employees set up a competing business during their employment with Whitmar Publications. The ex-employees were accused of a long list of unlawful acts such as trying to poach and using confidential information.

One of the ex-employees had managed four LinkedIn groups on behalf of Whitmar. Those groups appeared to have been used after that employees employment ended to source email addresses for the new competing business. The Employee also refused to provide Whitmar with the user name, password or any other access details for the groups.

The High Court also found that this employee’s duties as an employee included responsibility for dealing with the LinkedIn accounts, which were operated for Whitmar’s benefit to promote its business. The Judge required the ex-employees to give Whitmar exclusive access management and control of the LinkedIn groups. It also ordered them not to access or do anything that would inhibit or prevent Whitmar from accessing the LinkedIn groups. This was despite the fact that LinkedIn’s terms state that ownership of a LinkedIn account is personal to the account holder.

This new case only scratches the surface of the many unanswered questions posed by employees’ use of LinkedIn and other social media sites. If an employee uses a personal LinkedIn account for both personal and business use, or if an employee starts a new role with an existing LinkedIn accounts or groups already in place then the position remains unclear. The key question for the Court in this case was if the account was operated for the benefit of the new employer.

Employers who are worried about this should put in place policies that set out who owns business contacts on social media made by employees during their employment. Some employers require their employees to set up a separate LinkedIn account for all business activities and have a clear contractual requirement they delete any of the employer’s business contacts from a personal account when their employment ends.

Employers should also consider if it is appropriate to also have contractual provisions that seek to prevent employees from dealing with or soliciting business from the employer’s customers after their employment ends.