Five years ago there was a significant ruling at the High Court concerning the use of LinkedIn contacts, writes Theresa Mimnagh, associate director of recruitment law firm Lawspeed.
In the case, Hays Specialist Recruitment (Holdings) Ltd & Another Vs Ions & Another, it was found that as the contacts had been uploaded to an individual’s personal account they could constitute company property when the employment ceased.
Since that 2008 ruling there has been a noticeable lack of further case law in this area.
But this silence has now come to an end, as a recent High Court case (Whitmar Publications Limited Vs Gamage and others) has confirmed that LinkedIn contacts can constitute confidential information belonging to an employer.
Accordingly, the Court has granted injunctive relief to the employer preventing a former employee from using LinkedIn contacts in groups maintained by his former employer to further a business he had set up in competition.
This 2013 ruling is important as it confirms that if the employer owns and maintains the LinkedIn group, the courts are minded to find that the contacts in that group belong to the employer. Where an ex-employee uses them this will amount to the theft of confidential information, as such the court granted an injunction preventing the employee from using the contacts.
Unfortunately, the judgment does not provide a detailed analysis of the use of LinkedIn accounts and it will take further case law for the position to be clarified. In the meantime, strong social media terms, as part of a well-drafted employee contract and/or policy, should address the use of company confidential information including valuable LinkedIn client contacts.