HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

Who Do LinkedIn Accounts You Maintain For Employees Belong To?

linkedin-logo

By Eric B. Meyer

In the beginning of the year, I wrote here about a federal-court decision which recognized that LinkedIn connections are not company trade secrets. Earlier this month, that same court, in the same case, was asked to decide whether hijacking an employee’s LinkedIn account may violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

In Eagle v. Morgan, the plaintiff, Dr. Eagle, claimed that her former employer had locked her out of her LinkedIn account for 22 weeks. Thus she was “unable to receive ‘invitations to connect, business opportunities and ongoing communications with clients, potential clients and other business and personal contacts.”

Sounds fairly vague to me. Besides, they have this thing called the telephone…

3 things to remember with social media ownership

Anyway, the Court put the kibosh on Dr. Eagle’s CFAA claim. It recognized that the CFAA permits a plaintiff to recover for loss related to the impairment or damage to a computer or computer system. However, a “loss” does not extend to potential business opportunities, especially speculative ones — like the kind that may develop from connecting on LinkedIn.

How could all of this have been avoided? By better defining at the outset — during the employment relationship — whether Dr. Eagle’s LinkedIn account belonged to Dr. Eagle or the company. With respect to issues involving ownership of social media accounts, I’ll repeat three tips from a post earlier this year:

  • Start with a written social-media-specific agreement. This document should clearly set out the rights and expectations of the company and its employee. Also, include social-media language in your other broader-based non-disclosure agreements.
  • The company should create/register the account. This will indicate that the company has some ownership stake in the account. (Easy, folks. I’m not suggesting that companies should set up personal employee social-media accounts for them — only those accounts in which the company seeks to maintain an ownership interest). Also, be sure to consider the terms of use that any social-media company has in place for end users.
  • Change the password when employees leave. Make sure that you know the account password at all times and immediately change it when employees leave your company. That will reduce the risk that your former employee will act first and lock you out.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

Eric B. Meyer is a partner in the Labor and Employment Group of the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP . He dedicates his practice to litigating and assisting employers on labor and employment issues affecting the workplace, including collective bargaining, discrimination, employee handbook policies, enforcement of restrictive covenants, and trade secret protection. Eric also serves as a volunteer mediator for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact him at emeyer@dilworthlaw.com .
  • http://www.razchorev.com Raz Chorev

    Eric, I can’t disagree with your suggestions more! The notion that a company creating and maintaining an employee’s profile is wrong from the outset.
    Linkedin, Facebook and other social and business networks make a clear distinction between personal profiles and company pages. An employee could create and maintain (at his discretion) his own personal profile. The company, or an authorised representative should create and maintain their own company page. 
    There shouldn’t be any agreement regarding ownership of personal accounts. On any network.
    I see this happening a lot in recruitment firms, where the recruitment consultants are being issued with or encouraged to use their personal LinkedIn account for work purposes. Sometimes the company even pays for the premium (personal account upgrade) to allow the consultant to reach potential clients and candidates. 
    Recruitment firms using this method often try to skim on the cost of using one of Linkedin Hiring Solutions, a premium company package, which cost a lot more, yet allows the company to retain their data. The consultants often unaware of these solutions, and accumulating large number of connections on their personal account. If that’s the company policy, they deserve to be left out with nothing, if and when the consultant leaves. Shortsightedness like this should get rewarded, by the courts or otherwise.

    • http://www.theemployerhandbook.com/ Eric B. Meyer

      Hi Raz. 

      Thank you for the comment. You make some great points and I agree with you that companies should be wary about wanting to assert ownership rights over personal pages (as opposed to company pages). Seemingly, the three tips above would come into play more often w/r/t company pages.

      Eric