Employers worried about client contact information leaking out their business via social networking sites – or losing star employees by the same route – should consider putting a monitoring policy in place, experts have said.
However, employers who want to check up on employees’ use of LinkedIn or Facebook should make sure that their employees have given their agreement to the policy, said lawyers at a recruitment and technology conference in London yesterday.
Intellectual property lawyer James Mullock, with law firm Osborne Clarke, said it was unlikely employers could establish ownership of social networking sites’ data base information, and the data was “easy to migrate”. But if you try to monitor employees’ use of Facebook or LinkedIn, you could be impinging on the data protection rights of the employee,” he said.
Monitoring was possible if employers had “expressed their intention to do so in a policy, employees had consented to it, and the activity was going on in your time, and on your equipment,” he said. It was possible to monitor employees’ contacts by joining their group on sites like LinkedIn, and employers could also monitor employees’ mobile phone traffic if they provided them, or employees’ calendars on the office email system, he said.
Employment partner Richard Brown explained employers basically had three options when it came to protecting data loss on social networking sites. “You could do nothing,” he said. “Or prevent the use of social networking sites altogether as a business. Or you could control their use and try to maintain ownership.” Employers could, he suggested, ensure that employees only used work e-mail addresses in their profiles, or the employer could pay the employees’ subscription to a higher level of membership of the network.
“If you’re taking these measures, it will look (to the courts) like you have taken all reasonable steps to protect your data and haven’t just given up your rights to it,” Brown said.