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Who Owns a Recruiter’s LinkedIn Connections?

By August 13, 20157 Comments

I received a LinkedIn connection request last week from an old candidate of mine that I’d placed many years ago into a global recruitment brand.  I was surprised, as I was pretty sure we had already been connected for quite some time.  It transpired that she was having to re-connect with every single one of her previous connections because her previous employer “owned” her LinkedIn account and she had been made to delete all her connections after resigning.

I last blogged about the futility and stupidity of this form of digital tyranny almost 5 years ago.  It looks like I was quite indignant about it at the time, but my stance is starting to shift slightly now.  Particularly in the increasing instances where a recruitment firm is paying for a Premium LinkedIn membership, or they’ve been duped into spruiking unfathomable amounts of cash on a LinkedIn Recruiter license.  I can kind of see it from the employer’s side in these instances.

Five years ago recruiters were still attending client visits, bogus salary surveys clutched in their sweaty mitts, and gushing forth about their USP being the size of their candidate database.  LinkedIn accounts were being used by the more forward-thinking recruiters who were often building, crafting, and using them as a result of their own initiative rather than their boss telling them it was essential.  I didn’t even reach 500 connections until January 2011 (shock, horror!). But nowadays, it’s a recruiter’s ability to access connections, engage with them, and place them for referral fees, that is more powerful than their old database.  So if a recruitment firm has paid for the LinkedIn account of the recruiter, who has used it to make fees and earn commission inside work hours, then surely they should have a claim to ownership.

That’s certainly the opinion of employment lawyer Laura Scampion who spoke on Radio NZ recently about this issue:

If you’re not able to listen to the above, the crux of what she says is:

“If an employee is doing this in their work time and it’s part of their work function then yes, arguably, the employer does have a claim to say you’re doing it in our time, you’re doing it on our network, and you’re doing it for our benefit as a part of your role, and therefore we do have a claim for ownership over those connections that you make during work time.”

The key word here though is “arguably” since this is really pure conjecture, it’s not enshrined in case law or legislation.  And what about the repeated referencing to “during work time”?  As all decent recruiters know, you’ve got to “always be recruiting” to succeed in this game.  It’s not a 9 to 5 (or an 8 to 6 in the big global brand cases), although those hours will be in your employment agreement.  Everything is going digital, mobile, and recruiters are making LinkedIn connections from their smartphones at all times of day and night.

The only surefire way for recruitment firms to claim ownership of a recruiter’s connections, and to impose their desire for digital genocide on a recruiter’s connections, is to cover it off in a social media policy or in their employment contract. And if they’re also paying for a Premium Account then it’s only likely to strengthen their position.

Really, though, recruitment firms should stop wasting time (theirs and their departing employee’s) on what is really nothing more than an act of spite.  It’s still super easy for anyone to export their connections in a CSV file from LinkedIn so all you’ll be doing is causing them to waste time re-connecting with everyone again (and probably during the time you’re paying out their notice too, in between them playing solitaire with your system server).  You’re not losing their connections to the competition.  You’re losing their skill and ability to engage with connections and turn the relationship into positive outcomes for your business.

Forget about “owning” recruiters’ connections and concentrate instead of building a positive culture that engenders loyalty and trust.  And take those pithy company values off your boardroom walls too.  This is 2015 for goodness sake.

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.


  • Lee says:

    Great article mate, the final paragraph is bang on!

  • Chris says:

    Then there is also the fact, alot us had these accounts long before we started at the firm. So then which ones do I delete and get to keep?

  • Rachel Brown says:

    Interesting read thanks! I think you sum it up however when you say ‘act of spite’!

  • Chris Heswall says:

    Jon, Great blog! I’ve not challenged LinkedIn “ownership” because people will deal with who they like and will reconnect regardless. Similar to restraint of trade really. Recruitment connectivity can extend over multiple media i.e. Twitter, Google, Facebook, in addition to LinkedIn, so where does any ownership argument start or stop? Like you say, far better to keep staff engaged or don’t sour the relationship further when they leave. Instead work hard to retain stakeholder engagement across at-risk relationships, rather be negatively geared around a litigious attitude.

  • David says:

    So true mate, too many lethargic, traditional, corporate recruitment firms hanging on for dear life.

  • Spot on, Jon. Where is the line drawn about pre-joining (any employer) connections and post-joining connections? In this day and age having a person delete their account seems pretty childish. Your final paragraph nails it.