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Linked Out – recruiters forced to delete Linkedin contacts

By October 7, 20109 Comments


I’m generally a pretty easy-going chap but there are some things, I’ll admit, that make my blood boil.  Technology that won’t do my bidding or listen to reason and insist on freezing no matter how many times I press CTRL / ALT / DELETE.  David Bentley at Spurs.  Pretty much anything to do with Spurs.  People speeding up in the lane beside me when I’m trying to politely indicate and change lanes, blocking my manoeuvre.  Trying to spell manoeuvre properly before resorting to spell check.

Quite a few things, actually.

But one thing in particular really gets my goat:  Employers who believe that the way to retain and develop staff and protect their business’s interests is to watch, monitor, scrutinise and basically harass their employees until they have created an environment of pure fear and paranoia where nobody dares express an original thought or new idea.

So I was pretty miffed when I bumped into a recruiter friend earlier this week who recently changed employers and is now working for a new recruitment firm, but in the same type of role they occupied previously.  After devoting a sizeable chunk of their career to the firm in question, they decided that the time was right for a new challenge, so they resigned.

A couple of strange things happened next.  Firstly, they were required to work out their notice rather than go on gardening leave.  Fair enough, this is the company’s prerogative as they are still paying that employee through the notice period so can essentially require them to do whatever they wish.  But because they knew this person was leaving for a competitor they spent the next month watching like a hawk, monitoring every little movement and action.  I mean what is the point?  You know they won’t be undertaking  any work of real value to your business, so the only reason I can see for this course of action is to somehow deter other staff members from resigning, because they can see how uncomfortable they will be made to feel.

Way to go with your retention strategy and talent management there guys.

But the other thing that happened is what really made my blood boil.  They were presented with the restrictive covenant clause from their employment contract and underneath the actual clause, they had written their own interpretation of the clause and how it related and pertained to social media connections.  The argument presented was that any Linkedin or Facebook connections or friends that were also contacts within the company’s database were in fact relationships owned by the employer and not the employee, at which point they were told to delete those connections there and then.


And being a sweet-natured employee not wishing to rock the boat, this person complied and proceeded to delete their Linkedin connections that duplicated those in the company’s database.

Can you believe this?

What is interesting to note in this debate is that there is no legislation or case law setting a precedent around who owns your Linkedin and Facebook connections.  So there is really no reason why anyone should comply with this kind of directive.  I certainly wouldn’t.

In a US case earlier this year TEKsystems, Inc. vs. Hammernick et al this issue reached the courts for the first time.  An employee of TEKsystems left for a rival IT recruitment firm and sent messages through Linkedin to 16 IT contractors to see if they were looking for work and would they like to come see her in her new company and see what was available in the market.  These 16 contractors were all currently on the books of TEKsystems and she knew of them through her previous work at that firm.

In fact here is an example of one of the approaches made:


Hey! Let me know if you are still looking for opportunities! I would love to have come visit my new office and hear about some of the stuff we are working on!

Let me know your thoughts!


Hi Brelyn,

Indeed I am still looking. I have time, though!

Lets get together. Where are you working these days? Your profile still has you working at TEK Systems. BTW – my email address is …. if you would prefer the non-Linkedln route.



I should also mention that the over-use of exclamation marks is another thing that annoys me, but it seems to be an affliction besetting many a recruiter out there.  Add to that she is American and…well…!!!!!!

Anyway, in my opinion this kind of activity is clearly breaching the non-solicitation clause of her contract and I fully expect the employer to be found in favour in this case (the actual hearing and outcome isn’t until August 2011).  The fact she used the medium of Linkedin, rather than sending an e-mail, making a phone call, or stalking them on the way home, doesn’t stop it from being an attempt to solicit business.

But what is starkly different here to our recent situation in New Zealand, is that this was positive, active breaching of the restrictive covenants.  By forcing someone to delete connections you are assuming they will use that information to damage the company’s best interests.  But what if you just wanted to remain in contact to share ideas and information, or had developed a social relationship as well as a business relationship?  No employer has jurisdiction over that kind of behaviour.

What’s more – how about this?  What if all of the social media connections had been made during the employee’s own time, on their own computer at home?  Why would any employer have any say over those relationships?  And just because Linkedin has become the tool used for business networking, where is it written that social connections on that medium alone must be for business reasons only?

For recruitment company managers and owners worried about the recent trends in social media and how it can be “controlled” in their business, there are some helpful pointers here which basically covers:

  • Implementing a Social Media Policy – which I believe to be a good idea but it must be a fluid and ever-changing policy that can move and adapt with the times and is developed by consultation with everyone in the business in a collaborative way
  • Placing resigning employees on gardening leave – a no-brainer for me, especially in recruitment, but clearly not a sentiment shared by everyone
  • Specifically referring to Linkedin and other social media in the Restrictive Covenants of the employment contract – if I saw something like this in a contract presented to me I would leave the room laughing my head off


What employers need to grasp is that in the modern business world it is no longer efficient or effective to protect the assets of your business through command and control tactics.  We live in a world where so much information is so readily available that it is entirely pointless to try and physically prevent ex-employees from tapping into networks and contacts made during their previous employment – THIS IS HOW BUSINESS IS DONE NOWADAYS.

What employers need to be doing is creating vibrant, energised and positive workplaces that inspire collaboration and open communication and thereby engender the trust, respect and loyalty of your employees.  Don’t force them to stay working for you.  Make them want to.

That, for me, is a far more positive course of action than trying to police and control employees’ social media activities.

Jonathan Rice

Director of New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice & Co, co-founder of freelance recruiter platform JOYN, and people-centric technology firm superHUMAN Software. Recruitment innovator, agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Anonymous says:

    There is some case law from the UK which is relevant and is specific to the Recruitment industry, the court ruled in favour of Hays:

    This blogpost also offers a strong opinion in favour of the employer:
    It is a very difficult area with arguments on both sides, but ultimately if a Consultant is developing LinkedIn contacts with clients and candidates as part of his/her working duties it would seem that there is a very strong argument that those contacts are part of the business development and networking required as an employee and therefore the results of that activity remain the property of the employer.

  • Auck says:

    Another great article, well done Jon! I had something similar recently when I moved to a new company, they were all to keen to utilise the substantial network I’d previously built up at a competitor, however when I left they claimed all the contacts I brought with me as there own and enforced the restraint of trade!

    I’ve seen a situation of a colleague leave for a competitor, and not only blatently ignore the restraint of trade they signed, but stick two fingers up at the old employer at the same time. Can the company really enforce the restraint? I suppose the answer is yes – but this means dragging clients into the mix and generally your own name through the mud too…

    Sorry, a little off topic there…

    If you have spent much of company time on LI there could be a legitimate argument, however social media like FB should be kept completely separate from business.

  • Here’s an excellent blog post from 2 years ago, with lots of links, to a case involving Hays (UK) and the LinkedIn contacts of a departed recruiter.

    I think it is murky water and no doubt we will see case law evolve on this issue in Australia over the next few years.

  • Stan Rolfe says:

    Here’s my two cents.

    Say, I join ABC Recruitment Company or Organisation (Internal) and I have 500+ contacts, there will more than likely be duplicate contacts on the database. I would assume I got the job because I have a strong network and therefor the business is also buying my IP? Or am I wrong in that my network is not valued at all. What if you start a group to build your personal brand on Li, and that group gets to 1000+ what then of the group?
    As Li is not date stamped with regards to connections unless your vigilent in archiving, how does the employer prove that these relationships/contacts were made during work hours whilst in their employ? Same as Facebook.
    I certainly agree that blatent breeches such as solicitation whilst employed should be dealt with.
    How do you get around this? Simply, don’t sign employment contracts with these silly clauses, have the employer start a Corp Account with Li or get Li Recruiter (yes its expensive – but you then own the IP) as this will belong to the company.
    The recruitment industry really needs an attitude adjustment and stop making it look like some kind of protectionist-communist industry group and more like a forward thinking, professional group of people.
    Sorry I get a little passionate about recruitment, its such a great industry providing so many opportunities and people and organisations like these do it no service!!!!!!

  • Regan George says:

    Restrictive covenant clauses are always pretty hard to enforce, if you feel you are being unfairly inflicted fight back, in my experience over-zealous Recruitment Agency owners are just “trying it on” and will back down.

    As an R2R Consultant you now have a good target company to head-hunt from Jon – I’m sure everyone watching what happened will now be backing-up their LI contacts!

    Happy hunting


  • Justin says:

    Interesting article.

    And an issue we will no doubt hear much more about in the future.

    Go easy on the Spurs comments though.

    C’mon you Spurs

  • Lara says:

    Great article, and interesting to see how short sighted companies can be regarding their employees and social media

  • Thanks Jonathan, this is a really interesting article (and a very entertaining read!).
    Employers who worry about employees taking lucrative relationships with them when they leave should focus on effective succession planning, never having too many eggs in one (consultant’s) basket and using garden leave to introduce and transition clients to their new consultants. Paranoia does no-one any good!