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Do employers own their employee’s social media accounts – what to consider when LinkedIn connections are made in the course of employment


Blog post written by JMW Solicitors LLP


In a judgment that was handed down on 5 May 2022, the High Court found that a legal recruitment consultant (Mr Wilson) was wrong to resist deleting his 3,500 LinkedIn connections before leaving his employer (Clayton Recruitment Limited) to start up his own business. JMW acted for Clayton Recruitment in this case.


During the proceedings, the court heard how it was likely that the majority of Mr Wilson’s connections had been made during the course of Mr Wilson’s employment. Not only this, but Mr Wilson had access to LinkedIn Recruitment (which was paid for and could be controlled by Clayton Recruitment), allowing him to access even more connections and therefore granting him exposure to additional business opportunities.


When Mr Wilson left Clayton Recruitment to start up his own business, he refused to delete any records he had of business contacts that he had built up during his employment through LinkedIn’s facilities. He also refused to hand over his password in order that the company could complete the deletion themselves. As a result, the company brought claims against Mr Wilson for breach of contract and breach of confidence. They also made an application for an interim injunction in an attempt to stop Mr Wilson from using or retaining the information relating to those business contacts or soliciting, canvassing, or dealing with the company’s clients (as per the terms of his contract of employment).


Once the hearing commenced, the parties reached a compromise of the injunction application as well as the underlying proceedings, meaning that the case did not have to be decided by the Court.


The judge who sat on the hearing to fully dispose of the mater, Sir Anthony Mann, found that most of Mr Wilson’s connections were likely made in the course of his employment (despite Mr Wilson averring that they were personal connections), and that Mr Wilson should not have refused to delete those connections. JMW say that “upon the claimant achieving the deletion of the 3,500 connections, Wilson was merely complying with what he was required to do”.


Not only this, but Sir Anthony found that Mr Wilson should have provided a written statement to confirm that he had deleted his connections as per his contractual obligation to do so, and that Mr Wilson’s generic user agreement did not override the obligations that Mr Wilson was bound by under his contract of employment. Mr Wilson’s position was further weakened by Sir Anthony’s analysis that the LinkedIn account was evidently a business account, as demonstrated by Mr Wilson’s company email address being listed and references to Clayton Recruitment being made.


With regards to costs, Mr Wilson was ordered to pay 55% of Clayton Recruitment’s costs of the application.


In terms of what can be taken away from this decision, even where employers include specific non-soliciting and non-competing restrictive covenants within employment contracts, they should consider whether there is anything more that can be done to ensure that the obligations of exiting employees are clear. For example, employers could consider introducing comprehensive policies and obligations to set out the position and make it apparent to employees who ultimately owns any such business accounts and content once the employment has been terminated.


This bulletin is for general guidance purposes only and should not be used for any other purposes.

JMW Solicitors is a Limited Liability Partnership.