You're Stealing Our Contacts!

A Manager of a recruitment business who is sick of consultants who leave the company and ‘take’ contacts with them via LinkedIn recently asked me what they could do to prevent this.

This is a pretty common question and an understandable concern, not just for Recruitment companies but for any organisation that is encouraging its sales staff to use LinkedIn in their role.

For what it is worth my thoughts on this are as follows;

This is what you can do

* When you recruit a new consultant or sales person ask them to download to a spreadsheet a list of all of their first tier connections (this is done via the contacts menu - see below right). Declare in a signed document that you agree that these connections are ‘owned’ by the consultant. * Encourage, support and train your consultants to use LinkedIn for both client and candidate generation purposes during normal working hours. * When the consultant resigns ask them to repeat the process of downloading all of their 1st tier connections onto a spreadsheet. * Insist that all connections made whilst in the employ of the company are disconnected with (spreadsheet 2 minus spreadsheet 1). Ensure this is done to your satisfaction before the consultant leaves. * Ensure that the above is clearly stated in their contract of employment.

This is what you should do

* Accept that connections are very different from contacts and relationships, a connection may be just a gateway to other users and not necessarily a relationship that in any way threatens the company. * Encourage, support and train your consultants to use LinkedIn for both client and candidate generation purposes. In other words, get the most out of their LinkedIn activities as a company whilst they are in your employ. * Encourage all consultants to ask their connections to follow the company and incentivise clients and candidates to follow the company page. * Ensure that any restrictive covenants in place are explicit in their definition of ‘contact’ including reference to LinkedIn messages. Make it very clear in exit interview that contact via social media and LinkedIn during the restricted period is a breach of contract. * Wish them well and stay on good terms.

LinkedIn are very clear in that they state that an individuals connections always belong to them, this is irrespective of when that connection was made or what type of account upgrade or corporate licence they are operating under.

If anyone tries to persuade you that the infamous Hays vs Ions case is a precedent that protects you then think again. My understanding of the circumstances of that case was that there was a clear audit trail of evidence showing that contacts were taken from the company's database to the individuals new company database via LinkedIn. This is very different to the vast majority of situations.

I know this is a difficult and frustrating issue but the bottom line is that good quality consultants & sales people build strong lasting relationships with clients and candidates. They did before LinkedIn and they still do now! Restrictive covenants aside, you really can't prevent those relationships from continuing after they leave your company.

If you really want to ensure security and retention of client contacts then perhaps you should employ lower quality consultants....then your problem is solved!

Please note, I am not a lawyer....nor do I wish to be so any actions you undertake should always be checked with your qualified legal advisors first.