Does Your Employer Own Your Social Media Accounts?

If you work in a profession where your social media accounts somehow relate to your job, what happens when you get fired or decide to leave? Who owns the accounts? 

Check Your Contract For An Intellectual Property Agreement

If your contract with your employer includes an intellectual property agreement, your employer might claim that they own anything and everything that you wrote while you worked for them. That includes every email, blog post, and status update that you've written during that time.

Intellectual Property Agreements are often put into employment contracts because the company has an invested interest in retaining ownership over whatever it pays employees to produce. Without such agreements, for example, a scientist working for a drug company could use company resources to develop an anti-cancer drug on his lunch break and leave with it to develop and market it on his own once it's complete. Some agreements also specifically prohibit you from challenging the agreement.

However, overly broad Intellectual Property Agreements may not be enforceable. For example, if the agreement seeks to control every thought or idea that you have while employed - even if totally unrelated to your job - the courts may void the contract if you challenge it.

Check Your Contract For A Non-Compete Clause

If you work in a business (like the media or for an insurance company) where every contact that you have on your social media accounts is a potential customer or source of income, your employer may claim that you would be violating a non-compete clause if you keep them.

Non-compete clauses usually specify ways in which an employee is prohibited from going into direct competition with their former employer, but they also aim to keep employees from luring away customers to a rival. Employers can argue that allowing you to keep your social media account is no different than letting you walk off the job with a database full of customer information.

You Can Use The Vagueness Of The Situation To Your Advantage

Because the rules regarding social media accounts are less than clear and still being argued about in court, you may be able to negotiate with your employer about your accounts. In a recent situation, an editor for a nationally known newspaper was able to keep 75,000 followers through an agreement with his former employer when he left the job.

In his situation, he agreed to find a new online ID that disassociated him from his former employer as part of an otherwise undisclosed termination agreement. Depending on your situation, you could consider leveraging your social media following into an increased severance package and agree to turn over the account for a fee.

Regardless of your situation, you should consult with an attorney, like the ones at D.B. Clark Law Office, if you think that there might be any issue regarding your social media accounts when you leave your job. Take your employment contract with you, so that the attorney can carefully review any agreements that you've signed.