Social media ownership – who do your contacts really belong to?

Posted on 06 August 2012

For employers and employees alike, making sure you have a comprehensive employment contract, understood and agreed to by all parties, is the foundation for a solid working relationship.  However, with the fast pace with which social media is moving, both employer and employee have another layer to consider which must be covered in a modern employment contract and comprehensively defined and updated as need be in company policies.

LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, are just a few of the ever evolving avenues for online social and business networking. If used properly they can assist companies in marketing their products and/or keeping their services in front of the markets mind. They can also assist network members in sharing ideas and information.  Many businesses these days encourage their employees to network with their contacts, spreading the company news and events.

However, what happens when an employee leaves their employment?  Who owns the contacts that have been made using the different forms of social networking sites?   What contacts existed prior to their current employment and what contacts were made specifically through the employer they are leaving?

The laws in relation to social media are still evolving and will continue to do so as the internet juggernaut rolls on.  What can you do to protect your company or individual rights to social media accounts and contacts made prior to and during an employment period and following the termination of employment?   The answer is once again clear communication prior to and during the employment.  Here are a few things to consider:

1. Employment contracts   -  For the employer, ensure you have comprehensive employment contracts in place covering all current aspects of social media outlining the rights of both employer and employee.

For the employee, if you come to a new job with a considerable contact list, ensure this is acknowledged.

2. Policies - For employers, ensure your policies clearly define the expectation and rights for both parties and update these policies as needed to ensure they are encompassing the fast paced changes which occur and communicate these changes to staff.

For employees, read and understand what you are signing in relation to the social media policy contained in your employment contract.  Any queries you have should be raised immediately and dealt with prior to moving forward.

Should you as an employer require assistance in updating your employment policies and contracts, or as an employee have issues with a current role you are leaving with regard to your position of ownership of social media contacts you have developed, call Dooley and Associates and one of our expert team will assist you with understanding your matter.