Public v Private

A dispute over LinkedIn has led to perhaps the first constructive dismissal case of its kind; the relationship between former HR exec John Flexman and his employer BG Group was tarnished when the individual posted ‘private’ information on his public LinkedIn profile.

Mr Flexman handed in his resignation in June 2011, following a disciplinary hearing in which he was accused of ‘inappropriate use of social media’.

The individual had uploaded his CV onto the professional networking site and ticked a box to register an interest in ‘career opportunities’. BG Group said that this had been banned under new company policy on conflict of interest. It furthermore claimed that the CV contained confidential information, including details about how the firm’s rate of staff attrition had been reduced.

What the company seemed to take issue with most were the allegedly derogatory comments made about itself within the CV, which it viewed as a strategy of Mr Flexman’s to accentuate his selling points. He was ordered to remove it from the site.

Mr Flexman argued that the ‘private’ details were in fact available in the company’s annual reports, and that 21 of his colleagues, including the manager of the disciplinary process, had ticked the ‘career opportunities’ box, without facing discipline.

As far as Mr Flexman was concerned, his CV was a public document, and should have been acknowledged as such, but the company claimed that the document contained information which was not his to publicise. Of course, the employee could have physically handed out the CV with the same information, unnoticed by his company. Perhaps it is a lesson to be learnt that the vast networking opportunities offered by LinkedIn and other sites are not boundless – a degree of sensitivity must be exercised, which seems a small price to pay for an incredibly far-reaching promotional tool.

From an employer’s perspective, the best course of action is to update employment contracts to spell out the importance of confidentiality, particularly in relation to social media. This pre-empts conflicts of the kind by instructing staff in the way of appropriate conduct for online networking, and should pay off in the long run.   

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