A robust network can help to open the door to new professional opportunities. Increasingly, professional networks are being created and maintained in a virtual environment. While it is becoming more common for colleagues and former co-workers to connect to each other via social media, it is vital for employers and employees to understand how various employment agreements that they are a party to may affect their interactions.
This concept is at the heart of a recent case in Illinois. A branch manager for Bankers Life & Casualty Co. named Gelineau left his employment to accept a position with a competitor called American Senior Benefits, LLC. After Gelineau began working with his new employer, he sent LinkedIn invitations to three of his former co-workers at the Warwick, Rhode Island office of Bankers Life. The trouble is that Gelineau had signed a non-solicitation agreement with his former employer. As is common with these agreements, Gelineau had promised not to solicit other Bankers Life employees to seek employment with other companies.
Bankers Life sued American Senior because they believed that Gelineau had violated his non-solicitation agreement. However, the court did not agree. The judge ruled that the LinkedIn emails were “generic” and “did not contain any discussion of Bankers Life.” Moreover, the email did not contain a “solicitation to leave their place of employment.” Instead, the email was merely intended to provide an opportunity for the former co-workers to keep their professional network as robust as possible.
According to the court, if Gelineau had included some kind of hint or suggestion that the Bankers Life employees should leave their current place of employment in favor of American Senior, then the outcome may have been different. Bankers Life was concerned that a listing of open positions at American Senior was included in Gelineau’s LinkedIn home page. Nonetheless, the court did not feel that Gelineau could be held responsible for what visitors to his LinkedIn page did once they were there.
Non-solicitation agreements are standard in many industries. With the changing communication landscape, it’s important to recognize what these agreements do and do not cover.