Published: 08 November 2013
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas
LinkedIn killed my job
The line is blurring between work and the personal. What you need to know about the social media minefield to protect your job.
More and more, bosses are putting the brakes on what a worker says on social media, because it may reflect poorly on the company. While that topic has been discussed a lot, it is still a difficult call to say how much control an employer can expect to have over a staffer’s private time.
On the other hand, some bosses are now directing their staff to use personal LinkedIn and Facebook pages to find new clients and win new business. In one sense, the boss is warning you to be careful with social media, while at the same time encouraging you do use it more, but for their benefit.
So in those cases, whose LinkedIn page is it, and who “owns” the content, especially if the worker leaves?
Let’s look at a couple of recent court cases.
Earlier this year, a worker was sacked for sending a group email on LinkedIn. He’d used the email to canvass for private work from people including his boss’ clients, and his boss took the view that he was stealing potential work away from the company.
Although the worker protested his innocence, even pointing out that his employer’s company was highlighted on his LinkedIn page, he was sacked. When the dismissal was challenged legally, the Fair Work Commission upheld his dismissal (see Bradford Pedley v IPMS Pty Ltd  FWC 4282).
LinkedIn had killed his job.
The problem becomes more vexed when you consider that sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook are designed for personal AND professional networking. Once a profile is created, which can often look like a CV, professional groups can be joined and jobs searched for.
Let’s imagine that your boss tells you to import a client list into your LinkedIn account and then to use your site to build contacts for the company. Are you then restricted in any way in how you may use your own account? Whose interests prevail? And what happens to your LinkedIn account if you leave the job?
Some light was thrown on this topic recently in a British court decision.
A group of workers who had left their jobs to start up another company refused to hand over to their former boss the access details for the company's LinkedIn pages. The dispute eventually reached the English High Court where an injunction was upheld forcing the workers to hand over the “keys” to the pages on the basis that they had taken their boss’ confidential information (see Whitmar Publications Limited v Gamage & Ors  EWHC 1881 (Ch)). In an out of court settlement, the workers also agreed to pay a large amount of their boss’ costs in taking legal action against them.
So using LinkedIn can be an expensive exercise if things go wrong. LinkedIn has also been used to determine if a worker is an independent contractor or a member of staff. (See, for example, Jacqueline Welfelt and Ben Goodman v Cantina Mobil Pty Ltd  FWC 4668 at  and Robert Schufft v Veterinary Manufacturers and Distributors Association Ltd  FWC 75 at ).
Ideally, your employer will have a detailed social media policy that will spell out more clearly your rights and responsibilities as well as the employer’s.
In the absence of this, here are three practical steps you can take:
1. Get to know your contract and your boss’ policies about the use of LinkedIn and social media.
2. Be clear about what information is yours and what belongs to your boss when you use social media for work reasons.
3. If your job ends, get advice if you plan to use your old work contacts for any purpose.
They may not give you total security. But they might just save your job.