Last week’s reports that an ex-employee from a US company is being sued ownership of his Twitter account and today’s story following the dismissal of a UK employee in relation to usage of LinkedIn highlights again the grey area in which social media operates.

Employers have every right to seek to protect confidential company information by restricting LinkedIn and other profiles. Employers may regard information such as pay rates, details of customers, and business plans as confidential and may not want these to be posted on a public forum where competitors could see them.

Employers commonly place restrictions on what employees can disclose outside the company and restrictions on a LinkedIn profile are a logical extension of this. The Twitter case in the US also focuses on the protection of information with the employer claiming that the followers of its ex-employee’s Twitter account constitute a customer list, property which it claims to own.

Aside from the protection of confidential information, another issue which the LinkedIn case raises is whether employers can legitimately prevent an employee from indicating on a LinkedIn profile that they are open to career opportunities, and whether it is legitimate to sack or discipline someone for doing so.

Employees cannot be prevented from looking for a new job, provided they are not using confidential company information and placing a CV on LinkedIn is no different from, for example, an employee exploring job opportunities via a recruitment agency.

Cases like these demonstrate the complex issues which arise from employee use of social media and are important as their outcome may help to demonstrate how established legal rules may be applied to new technology.

Although employers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to manage the impact of social media at work, what is already clear from existing litigation in this field is that those that take a reactive, rather than a proactive, approach face higher risk of damage to their business resulting when social media and the workplace collide.