Are employers bleeding social capital?

Piece in the FT on 15 August which follows on from recent case, highlighting trends on employer vs employee social capital:

Do I ‘own’ social networking contacts?

I run a national retail business employing over 100 sales representatives who are encouraged to use social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, to market the business and build contacts. I’m concerned that if one of my sales reps leaves, they could take these contacts with them. Where do I stand on this, given that these contacts are built-up during work time?

What is clear is that where a list of addresses is created, maintained and contained on an employer’s email programme and backed up by the employer or by arrangement made with the employer the list belongs to the employer and should not be copied, used or removed by the employee for use outside employment or after the employment comes to an end.

This may still be the case where the employee brings his own contacts list to his employer when he joins but subsequently during the course of his employment makes further contacts whose details are recorded in his employer’s email programme. Even if the list contains purely personal contacts as well as business contacts, the employer will own the list. This is because the employer’s position is protected by the general (common) law and in many cases by a set of regulations: the Copyright and Rights in Database Regulations 1997.

Do the same rules apply to lists or databases contained in social networking sites?

I think it is very arguable that you do own the ”database” of contacts particularly as the internet medium through which the sites are accessed are owned by you and the networking is done as part and parcel of the employees’ contractual duties.

>>David Ludlow is a corporate partner at Barlow Robbins, a law firm

PS: And of course this was backed up  was the recent case in the UK where an ex-employee of recruitment firm Hays was ordered to disclose details of his profile at social networking site LinkedIn. As Roderick Parks from Trampoline Systems said on this issue said at the time on my blog, these “developments represent the first signs of an impending turf war over social capital”. Of course employers may not be saavy to realise they are losing substantial social capital as individuals get away with taking their online contacts, another risk to consider as web 2.0 becomes even more embedded in the workplace. Wonder where they go for help in this regard? I suggest Trampoline Systems is a good place to start. There’s also discussion of this issue on Fresh Networks.

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