This is a common question that many employers face when an employee leaves the company.
On one hand, the company wants to protect its brand and reputation. On the other hand, the employee has a right to accurately portray their work history on their LinkedIn profile.
There are a few key factors to consider when determining whether a company can compel a former employee to remove the company’s name from their profile.
Does the Former Employee’s Profile Violate Any Agreements?
The first thing to look at is whether the former employee signed any agreements with restrictive covenants that are still in effect, such as non-compete, non-solicitation, or non-disclosure agreements. These agreements may prohibit the former employee from disclosing certain company information or affiliating themselves with the company under certain circumstances.
For example, a non-compete clause may prohibit the employee from working for or associating with a competitor for a certain period of time after leaving the company. Listing the company on their LinkedIn profile and touting their experience and accomplishments could be seen as “associating” with the company in violation of the agreement.
However, these agreements must be reasonable in scope and duration to be enforceable. Overly broad restrictions on competitive activities or indefinitely restricting the use of the company’s name are generally not reasonable or enforceable.
Key Factors in Enforceability of Restrictive Covenants
|Scope of Restricted Activities
|Must be limited to activities that directly compete with the company’s business interests
|Duration of Restrictions
|Cannot be indefinite, generally 1-2 years is reasonable
|Cannot restrict activities in places the company does not operate
So while restrictive covenants may prohibit a former employee from listing the company in certain contexts, an outright ban on mentioning the company anywhere in their profile is likely overbroad and unenforceable.
Is the Former Employee Disparaging the Company?
Another potential issue is if the former employee is using their LinkedIn profile to disparage or defame the company. This could include making false, misleading, or malicious statements about the company’s business practices, management, work environment, etc.
Defamation is difficult to prove, but if the content is untrue and published in a way that damages the company’s reputation, there may be a legal basis to compel the employee to remove it. Certain state laws also prohibit the disclosure of confidential business information, which could apply if they reveal protected trade secrets.
However, expressions of opinion (“I thought management was ineffective”) rather than statements of fact (“Management was stealing money”) are generally not actionable as defamation. And simple complaints about compensation, work hours, interpersonal conflicts, etc. usually do not rise to the level of confidential disclosures or defamation.
Examples of Potentially Defamatory LinkedIn Content
|Type of Content
|“This company’s products are complete frauds and don’t work as advertised”
|False statement of fact that harms company’s reputation
|Disclosure of Trade Secrets
|“Here is the secret formula we used for the company’s patented manufacturing process…”
|Violates confidentiality duties
|Insults and Exaggeration
|“The CEO is completely incompetent and unfit to lead”
|Hyperbolic opinion not necessarily defamatory
So only factual misrepresentations or confidential disclosures are likely to cross the line into legally actionable statements requiring removal. Opinions and general criticism usually won’t suffice.
Using Cease and Desist Letters
If a former employee’s LinkedIn profile does appear to violate an agreement or contain defamatory statements, the company can reach out to the employee directly and request that they remove the content. This is often done through a “cease and desist” letter detailing the problematic content and requesting its immediate removal.
The letter should identify the specific provisions of the agreement or law that the content violates. It should be professional and not contain any threats or angry language. The focus should be resolving the issue efficiently and avoiding the need for formal legal action if possible.
Sometimes the employee may not realize the content is problematic and will comply once notified. But if they refuse, the company may need to bring a lawsuit and obtain a court order compelling them to revise their profile.
Tips for Cease and Desist Letters
|“Your profile states that our company sells products known to be defective. This is a false statement of fact that harms our reputation. You must immediately remove this content.”
|“This disclosure of our client list violates the confidentiality agreement you signed on [Date].”
|“Please confirm in writing by [1 week from date] that you have removed this content.”
|“We hope to resolve this issue amicably and efficiently without needing to pursue legal options.”
This puts the employee on notice of the issues and gives them a chance to voluntarily comply before going to court.
Using Legal Action as a Last Resort
If a cease and desist letter does not resolve the issue, the company may need to bring a lawsuit against the former employee. Possible claims could include:
– Breach of contract for violating a restrictive covenant or confidentiality agreement
– Defamation for publishing false, harmful statements
– Misappropriation of trade secrets for disclosing proprietary information
The company would need to show it has suffered or could suffer concrete harm from the content—for example, loss of clients or sales, damage to its reputation, or compromise of valuable information.
If successful, the court can order the employee to edit or delete the problematic sections of their profile and even impose monetary sanctions like attorney’s fees. However, lawsuits can be expensive and there’s no guarantee of victory. Often a settlement may be reached where the employee agrees to make changes.
Key Considerations Before Suing
|Strength of Claims
|How clear-cut are the violations and harm to the company?
|Is the potential damage severe enough to justify the costs of a lawsuit?
|Will suing breed ill-will among other employees?
|How would the dispute impact the company’s public image?
Weighing these factors will help determine if legal action is truly the best path forward. The company should always aim to resolve issues through direct engagement as a first step when feasible.
Avoiding Future Issues
To avoid these types of disputes arising again in the future, there are a few best practices companies can implement:
– Have employees sign clearly written restrictive covenants and confidentiality agreements that are lawful in scope
– Conduct thorough exit interviews to remind departing employees of their ongoing legal obligations
– Implement social media policies that set standards of professionalism and prohibitions on sharing confidential information
– Proactively monitor former employees’ public profiles for potentially problematic content
– Follow uniform protocols for requesting removal of questionable content through cease and desist letters
– Cultivate positive relations with employees to reduce the risk of malicious incidents upon departure
Stopping issues before they start is always preferable to trying to force content removal after the fact. A little prevention goes a long way.
Trying to compel a former employee to remove a company’s name from their LinkedIn profile can be challenging.
The content must clearly violate an enforceable agreement or contain defamatory falsehoods—expressing negative opinions or criticizing the company won’t suffice.
Use care in drafting restrictive covenants. Try requesting voluntary removal through cease and desist letters before pursuing legal action as a last resort. Implementing prudent employment policies can help avoid these disputes arising in the first place.
With a thoughtful approach, companies can protect their brand without overstepping legal boundaries.