Bill Introduced In Texas Legislature To Prohibit Employer From Asking You About Your Social Media Password.

Having solved all the other problems in Texas, including the problem of gun violence (prayer) and the problem of uninsured citizens (cutting Medicaid) the Texas legislature has turned to the burning issue of employers requiring employees to provide access information to employee's private social media accounts.

House Bill 318 has been introduced to make it an "unfair employment practice" if an employer "...requires or requests that an employee or applicant for employment disclose a user name, password, or other means for accessing a personal account of the employee or applicant, including a personal e-mail account or a social networking website account or profile, through an electronic communication device."

This bill still allows "monitoring" employee usage of employer provided media and also allows employer policies prohibiting use of company provided resources for personal use.  It doesn't provide for a specific remedy or a damages cap and it will likely be amended substantially before it passes, if it passes at all.  This would make Texas one of a handful of states that has jumped on this burning issue.  Crisis averted.

Who Owns Your Social Media Account? You Or Your Employer?

Here's the situation:  You establish a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. account while you are employed and use the account to tweet, post, blog, etc. about your employer.  Then your employer falls out of love with you and you are no longer employed.  Who owns your followers on Twitter or your Facebook or LinkedIn account?  That's a really good question and one that the courts are dealing with right now.

Rich Sanchez was an anchor on CNN and has a Twitter account with the handle: "richsanchezcnn".  Rich was rendered unemployed because of some ill advised statements he made.  So, does CNN own the account or was Rich popular with the Twitter followers because of his good looks and sex appeal or because he was on CNN?  Should he have to change his handle?  This was settled out of sight, so we don't know what happened there.

On another front, a company called PhoneDog LLC filed a suit against former employee Noah Kravitz.  Noah tweeted while an employee of PhoneDog under the name "PhoneDog_Noah" but then changed it to "noahkravitz" after the break up.  PhoneDog alleges that Noah's 17,000 followers are worth $2.50 per month for 8 months and are asking for a $340,000 judgment against our friend Noah.  PhoneDog has, for the moment, survived a motion for summary judgment with the judge finding enough question of fact about "trade secrets" in the account to let the case go on for a little longer.

Then there's the strange case of Dr. Linda Eagle, who was one of the original founders of Sawabeh Information Services.  As is the case sometimes, all the founders were fired and Sawabeh alleges that it owns Dr. Eagle's LinkedIn account and that she has somehow "misappropriated" her own  account.  As you know, most LinkedIn accounts (as was Dr. Eagle's) are in the employee's name alone and refers to the company in the employment history and in the connections established.

We have explored the issues of who owns clients of an LLC and whether a toxic ex-spouse might have some rights in a patent in a community property state, but this is an area of the law that is developing.

In most instances, this is probably not a huge issue but employers who want to have control over these accounts (and the wisdom of this should be evaluated thoroughly), should provide guidelines in the social media section of their employment rules.  If stated clearly, there seems to be no reason why the employer would not be entitled to control and ownership of such accounts if they fall into the parameters set out in such policy.  Otherwise, it's pretty gray.

LinkedIn Reaches 100 Million Users. First Million Get Thanked Personally.

Sometimes referred to as the Facebook for the business set, LinkedIn provides a multitude of information and contacts to its members.  Last week, LinkedIn notched its 100 millionth user.  According to the metrics on my LinkedIn page, I'm connected to about 4 percent of them.  That's a lot.  I hope they don't all decide to come over to the house at once.

In a nice touch, the founder of LinkedIn sent a personal letter of thanks to the first 1 million adopters, specifically citing their order of signing up.  I didn't get a letter as I missed being in the first million by a mere 16,915,876.  If you are looking for your letter, you can determine if you are going to get one by looking at your full profile URL.  Your order in the LinkedIn hierarchy is listed after the "id=__" in the URL.

I'm probably not going to get a letter from Mark Zuckerberg either.

Does Connecting on LinkedIn Violate Noncompete Agreements?

There's an interesting lawsuit out of the federal district court in Minnesota that could have major ramifications on how employees under restrictive covenants use social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.  The plaintiff, TEKsystems, Inc., is a company that recruits IT personnel and places them in various companies throughout the country.  Brelyn Hammernick, a defendant, worked as a recruiter for TEKsystems before leaving to go work with Horizontal Integration, Inc.

Hammernick signed a noncompete agreement with TEKsystems which stated that for 18 months after leaving Hammernick could not directly or indirectly "approach, contact, solicit, or induce any individual or corporation" that is a client, regular employee, or contract employee.  While at Horizontal Integration, Hammernick allegedly "connected" with at least 16 TEKsystem employees through the business and professional networking site LinkedIn.  Furthermore, according to the complaint, Hammernick wrote the following LinkedIn message to a TEKsystems employee:

Tom:

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!

Brelyn

All of this raises the novel question of whether merely "connecting" with someone on LinkedIn or "friending" someone on Facebook could constitute contact or solicitation.  With the increasing popularity of social networking sites, companies should modify their employee agreements to more specifically deal with these issues.  The need for specificity in the agreements is especially important since noncompetes are notoriously hard to enforce.  In fact, they are generally illegal in California outside of a couple of exceptions.