The Internet’s a great business tool, right? Well, yes and no. A new lawsuit illustrates how former employees could use social networking sites to steal your customers — and your staff.
In a case filed in federal district court, an IT staffing company sued a former employee and her new employer for trying to poach both customers and workers. The kicker: The staffing firm alleges she used her LinkedIn page to do it.
The woman, Brelyn Hammernick, is accused of violating her non-compete agreement by soliciting former clients and recruiting former co-workers through her LinkedIn account. Her new employer, Horizontal Integration Inc., is accused of helping her do so.
Nothing too earthshaking about a company suing a former employee for violating a non-compete agreement. Happens every day.
But this is the first case we’ve run across where a social network was an accessory to the alleged misdeed.
And there’s certainly no reason to think this’ll be the last time we hear about this phenomenon. Nowadays, using sites like LinkedIn is what picking up the phone was five years ago — except a lot more efficient.
No question, these kinds of sites can make it easier for former employees to mine customer lists or filch proprietary company information.
So how can companies protect themselves?
It’s not going to be easy, the lawyers say. Yes, you can make it clear in your Internet use policy that misuse or improper release of privileged information on social networks is forbidden. But monitoring employee activity on those sites could get complicated and expensive.
In the meantime, we’ll be watching how the Minnesota case shakes out. We’ll keep you posted.
Cite: TEKSystems v.Brelyn Hammernick et al.; filed in U.S. Dist. Crt., MN, 3/16/10.
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