Recruiter ‘wrong’ to have left with LinkedIn business contacts

Where does the law stand with LinkedIn contacts made at a previous employer's business?

A legal recruitment consultant who refused to delete the LinkedIn contacts he had built up at his previous firm when he set up his own recruitment business was found to be wrong to have resisted doing so, a High Court ruling has found.

James Wilson built up significant contacts during his employment at Clayton Recruitment, Preston, which had lasted until March 2022. According to Simon Bloch, partner at legal firm JMW, which acted for Clayton Recruitment, Wilson “had around 3,500 business connections on LinkedIn, the majority of which were made during Wilson’s employment”.

Further, Wilson had access to LinkedIn Recruitment, a platform with usage paid for and controlled by Clayton Recruitment.

When Wilson resigned from Clayton, he refused to delete the business contacts that were stored as LinkedIn connections. “He further used LinkedIn to circulate the news of his new venture,” Bloch said.

Wilson had resigned from Clayton and subsequently founded Wilson Mannion (Legal) Recruitment with business partner Ian Mannion, with registered offices in Thornton-Cleveleys, Lancashire.

Clayton Recruitment, the claimant, issued proceedings in the high court for breach of contract and confidence, and applied for various interim injunctions. However, the case did not go to trial. JMW said: “Once the hearing commenced, the parties reached a compromise of the injunction application, as well as the underlying proceedings.”

The judge, Sir Anthony Mann, found that Wilson was wrong to resist deleting his LinkedIn connections as per the claimant’s demands. Also, it was held that Wilson was wrong in not providing a written statement confirming that he had complied with his contractual obligation to delete his connections.

“That being said, upon the claimant achieving the deletion of the 3,500 connections, Wilson was merely complying with what he was required to do,” JMW said.

The judge also questioned whether Wilson’s LinkedIn connections were “personal” as alleged and found that most of the connections were likely made in the course of his employment with Clayton. In addition to this, Bloch noted, the judge commented that despite Wilson operating the account, it clearly functioned as a business account as references to the employer were made, and his company email address was cited in the details section.

Furthermore, Sir Anthony rejected Wilson’s argument that he was simply complying with the user agreement between himself and LinkedIn, which stated that ultimately “the account belongs to you”. The judge held that compliance with a generic user agreement did not override the obligations which Wilson has under contract with the claimant.

Claimant Clayton recovered 55% of its costs, and Wilson was ordered to pay £13,750, according to legal intelligence source Legal Futures.

Asked what underlying guidance the result offered, Bloch responded: “As most businesses utilise LinkedIn for marketing or other purposes, this case highlights that contacts made in the course of employment should not be utilised for employees pursuing new business ventures.

“Furthermore, it is essential that employees comply with their contractual obligations which may include restrictive covenants. To avoid situations such as these arising, it will be beneficial for employers to have water-tight policies in place.”

Image credit | iStock

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