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Social media and the law – again – latest case comment

We know, we're going legal again but here are some thoughts from Kate Hodgkiss, a partner at DLA Piper, on employment issues relating to social media:
 
Yesterday's reports that an ex-employee from a US company is being sued ownership of his Twitter account and today's story following the dismissal of a UK employee in relation to usage of LinkedIn highlights again the grey area in which social media operates.
 
Employers have every right to seek to protect confidential company information by restricting LinkedIn and other profiles. Employers may regard information such as pay rates, details of customers, and business plans as confidential and may not want these to be posted on a public forum where competitors could see them. Employers commonly place restrictions on what employees can disclose outside the company and restrictions on a LinkedIn profile are a logical extension of this.  The Twitter case in the US also focuses on the protection of information with the employer claiming that the followers of its ex-employee's Twitter account constitute a customer list, property which it claims to own. 

Aside from the protection of confidential information, another issue which the LinkedIn case raises is whether employers can legitimately prevent an employee from indicating on a LinkedIn profile that they are open to career opportunities, and whether it is legitimate to sack or discipline someone for doing so.  Employees cannot be prevented from looking for a new job, provided they are not using confidential company information and placing a CV on LinkedIn is no different from, for example, an employee exploring job opportunities via a recruitment agency.
 
Cases like these demonstrate the complex issues which arise from employee use of social media and are important as their outcome may help to demonstrate how established legal rules may be applied to new technology. Although employers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to manage the impact of social media at work, what is already clear from existing litigation in this field is that those that take a reactive, rather than a proactive, approach face higher risk of damage to their business resulting when social media and the workplace collide.

3 replies on “Social media and the law – again – latest case comment”

Regarding Twitter, our view is that the accepted business practice will become that people have a business twitter account and a personal account… much as today you have a work email address and a personal one.
We are already seeing this with journalists where they often have professional accounts that have the brand of their employer in their twitter ID (e.g. BBCRoryCJ and JonSnowC4).

I am not sure I agree with that as a way forward.
To a large extent social networking blurs the boundaries between work and home, this is a good thing. I use my twitter account to comment on both personal and business issues. A good friend told me the other day he has learned a lot about what I do for a living from what I say on twitter in the same way that business colleagues may get a small insight (if they are even remotely interested) in what I do outside work.
If I am to be encouraged to maintain two accounts I suspect I may end up doing neither.
We have corporate twitter accounts (which I can also update) but my own account allows me to make observations that are my own and that would have no place on the corporate account.
Mark Garnish
@MarkGarnish @Tikitgroup, @TikitTFB

I think I'm with Mark G here – too many accounts & passwords to manage already without 2 Twitter accounts. We're already seeing an element of synergy with mobile phones – it is the user's private & business line. I also feel Mark G hits the nail on the head with the fact that if your twitter account covers both the day job AND your private life, it gives contacts a more rounded impression of the person – in the same way as face-to-face meetings where social pleasantries as well as work matters are discussed. And lets face it, tweets that are purely work oriented are bloody boring. The future is with a single Twitter identity. CC

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