Who Owns Employees’ Social Media Accounts?
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There is a new type of lawsuit in town: Employers and employees are fighting over ownership of Twitter handles, LinkedIn connections, Facebook pages, and more. In one case, a company sued, claiming that an executive’s Twitter followers belonged to the business and had a value of $2.50 each (for a total of $340,000). Similar lawsuits focus on the ownership of Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. Whose property are the followers and connections that employees create in the course of their employment? To what extent can non-competition or non-solicitation agreements prevent these former employees from announcing their departures and then inviting their followers and connections to move to a new account?
Another sticky wicket for employers involves former employees who have received glowing recommendations from managers, vendors, and others, which they will use against their former employers in litigation or to compete against them.
To minimize your exposure, I would recommend adding this language to your social media policy (we have added this language to the Sample Social Media Policy on HR That Works):
“Ownership of Social Media Accounts
“Any social media accounts created or supported by the company are the property of the company (“Company Account”). If an employee wants their own private accounts for non-work related reasons, then they should maintain it separately from the Company Account. Employee understands that at time of termination that any Company Account remains the proprietary property of the company, and that other company policies or agreements apply, including any of those related to trade secrets, non-competition, or non-solicitation where allowed by law. Employee agrees to provide access during and after employment for the account passwords of any Company Account social media site(s).”