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The battle over LinkedIn profiles at work heats up

Peter Harris|

There have been a couple of stories in the news lately about employers and their staff battling it out in court over LinkedIn profiles. When you update your status regularly, and indicate that you are interested in career opportunities – does that mean that you are disloyal to your current workplace? Or if you use LinkedIn to connect with peers and partners for work – does your profile then become a work tool and belong to your employer?

In one case, Linda Eagle was let go from being the head of a company called Edcomm when it was taken over by another company. Because Eagle’s assistant knew her LinkedIn password, the new management were able to take over her account and change her name and profile picture to those of her replacement as the head of Edcomm.

Eagle took the company to US court to try to regain control of her account under the ‘Computer Fraud and Abuse Act’, but a federal judge dismissed her claims. As her assistant had often updated the profile on her behalf, and was freely given the password, there was no evidence of illegal hacking. Plus this further blurred the lines as to whether the LinkedIn profile was a personal account or a business asset.

(Note to self: Don’t let anyone at work have the passwords to any of my social media accounts.)

On Friday, the UK courts ruled in favour of John Flexman who was constructively dismissed from his role as a human resources executive at the gas company BG Group. The trouble began when his manager noticed his updated LinkedIn profile, including the checked box indicating that Flexman was interested in ‘Career Opportunities.’

BG Group demanded that he remove this from his profile along with any information about the company. When Flexman refused, he was brought before a disciplinary review at work and told that his job was in jeopardy. At this point he resigned and took the issue to court claiming constructive dismissal.

The courts have agreed with Flexman’s claim of constructive dismissal and have found BG Group to be in “serious Breach” of contract. A subsequent hearing next month will determine the amount of compensation they are asked to pay.

We all know that posting confidential company information, ranting about your workplace or boss or being inappropriate on social networking sites can land you in hot water at work. This case is a little different because the employee in question was let go for using the professional networking website as it was intended to be used. For professional networking.

Then again – so was Linda Eagle and the courts ruled against her, in finding that it was legal for the company to take over her account.

These recent cases show that the lines are still being drawn between personal profiles and business tools and the ownership of information and connections. The distinction is made even less clear as more and more people update and maintain our statuses on work computers during working hours.

Be careful online, because, there’s more to come, I’m sure…

 

- Peter Harris

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