Saturday, 9 August 2008

Employers: Underreact to Staff Social Network Case

Laurie Kaye reports on a recent case, Hays v Ions, where an ex-employee has had to reveal the data from his LinkedIn account to his former employer. The reason?

"Hays had encouraged Mr Ions to use the LinkedIn services for the purposes of his employment. However, the Court decided this did not constitute authorisation to use the information gathered and stored on his LinkedIn account after he had left Hays."
So Mr Ions was ordered to disclose:
- the business contacts on his LinkedIn page which had been requested by Hays;
- all emails sent to or received by his LinkedIn account from Hays' computer network;
- all documents that indicated his use of the LinkedIn contacts and any business obtained from them."
While employers need to be clear with employees about what is confidential and what is not, let's not rush to amend staff handbooks to deal specifically with social network services in this respect. That would infringe the 'principle' (adage) that a "hard case makes bad law".

This decision does not extend the ordinary obligation on any employee to respect his or her employer's confidentiality. It is clear from the decision that the employee was found to have agreed to use LinkedIn in the course of his employment; in the course of doing so he sent, received and stored confidential information; and then accessed or otherwise used that information outside the employment relationship. That LinkedIn was involved is irrelevant. The result would have been the same (though less topical) if the employee had used a third party email account for the same purpose.
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