Following the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated rise in remote working, the use of virtual networking platforms such as LinkedIn has boomed and it seems that the LinkedIn profile is the new business card.
But with the ‘Great Resignation’ ongoing, it’s worth asking: what happens to LinkedIn contacts when you move jobs? Are LinkedIn connections owned by the employee or the employer?
LinkedIn would tell you that all personal accounts belong to the employee. But that’s not the end of the story.
Courts have been prepared to find that connections made during employment are owned by the employer.
The reason? Where a significant part of the employee’s role includes using LinkedIn, and where well-drafted employment contracts are in place, the courts consider it appropriate to protect an employer’s client relationships.
Employers should therefore ensure that employment contracts, staff handbooks and social media policies are up to scratch. If they are, then:
- Restrictive covenants, also known as post-termination restrictions, will prevent former employees from soliciting and dealing with clients – provided the restrictions are reasonable. A LinkedIn post from a former employee announcing their new job, for example, could amount to solicitation.
- Confidentiality clauses will prevent departing employees from using client details, including LinkedIn contacts. This ensures that the employer’s contact database is protected.
- Garden leave provisions, providing they are appropriately drafted, will ensure that employees cannot contact clients via LinkedIn (or any other means) whilst on garden leave.
- Social media policies and clauses will make clear what a former employee can and can’t do with their LinkedIn account.
If an individual does leave with their employer’s LinkedIn contacts, there are a number of steps the employer can take. These include applying for an injunction against the ex-employee and bringing a claim for damages.
In some cases, it will also include obtaining access to the employee’s LinkedIn account to remove connections belonging to the employer.