Wednesday, November 22, 2017
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Are they my contacts or the company’s?

The Law Society

As social media becomes ever more prevalent and in many cases a very necessary tool for conducting business, more questions arise as to ownership.

Take the example of an executive who sets up a profile on a particular social media platform and uses their position within your business to gain contacts, friends, followers and so on. You could argue that the majority of those contacts are only there because of that employee's position in your company. Were it not for your business their profile would not be what it is. So imagine they leave your company. Do they take all those priceless contacts and nurtured relationships with them? Is there even a way to stop them taking a business relationship away, after all that 'connection' is due to their personality surely?

These questions are having to be given some serious thought. Guidance issued by the Law Society for example, says that policies covering social media should be explicit in who actually owns the contacts and content that is developed. As ever, having a clear and thought out policy from the outset is the best approach to most problems and so it really is important that employers do consider this as a serious issue. The issue is more important the more senior an employee is as this suggests the quality of their connections are stronger, however, it might also mean that it is more difficult to argue that it is not through their personality that they have gained the contacts they have. Where does one draw line? Could a restrictive covenant be used? The recent Court of Appeal case of Ranson v Customer Systems plc highlighted the need for such things to be expressly mentioned in an employment contract if they are to have teeth.

The Law Society's guidance raised the point that were details of contacts to be removed from a company database this would lead to a myriad of consequences. For example, there would be issues surrounding data protection and even theft. Whether or not the same could be said over the contacts of an individual's LinkedIn account might be different however. It's an interesting subject and one which we will surely see debated more so in the future.

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