Social Media at Work – Who owns it?

Social Media accounts may be an important part of a business model. They will be part of the way a business communicates with customers and potential customers and the image the business presents to the world. They can be a valuable asset. They can also be used to damage a business’s reputation or to steal its customers.

Who owns social media accounts as between and employer and an employee? The lawyers answer is that this should be defined in the Employment Contract. In reality that doesn’t always happen. Many employers are willing to allow junior employers to set up accounts because they know how. They may monitor them, or not. They may not systematically collect logins and passwords.

So what happens when an employee leaves and none of these in place? All is not lost for the employer. In a recent case the High Court ordered one former employee of a publishing company to hand over business cards he had collected whilst an employee, and another to hand over the access details for LinkedIn groups that she had managed. Both ex-employees had taken steps while they were still working to set up a company whose business model was similar to their employees, persuaded other staff to leave and used the cards and LinkedIn groups to contact customers of their former employer. The employee who ran the LinkedIn groups claimed they were “personal”, which was rejected as they were done at work, and the employee who had the business cards was alleged to have purchased software to download them all before handing them back.

The judge did not have any difficulty in finding that there was a strong case that the employees had breached their duties of good faith before leaving. Having done that the judge granted the employers a “springboard injunction” to restrict the employees’ activities in their new business in such a way that they gained no unfair competitive advantage from their wrongdoing. That was effective immediately, and will last until a full trial. In most such cases the parties having had a first experience of litigation settle out of court.

Such “springboard injunctions” are well established, though not cheap to obtain. Employers need to find evidence of the employees’ wrongdoings, which here was fairly easy as they hadn’t covered their tracks. That’s why lawyers, if asked, will always advise employers to cover these issues in contracts, handbooks and policies, and also to negotiate post termination restrictions for key staff.

For advice please contact Neil Howlett or Andy Hambleton.

Help for Charity Trustees and School Governors

Charities and schools depend on Trustees, many of whom give their time voluntarily and take on major responsibilities. That can be a daunting prospect for people who have skills & experience in other sectors but have not worked in charities before. This can be a particular problem for organisation, such as parent teacher associations and community groups that have a high turnover of trustees and may see several board members arrive and move on each year.

To help them the Charity Commission has published two new online tools for newly appointed trustees.  Their online Trustees Handbook informs new trustees about their duties and responsibilities towards their charities and explains how to make use of the Commission’s online services and guidance. This includes a checklist of documents and information new trustees should either receive from their charity or find for themselves on the Commission’s website, including the charity’s governing document, recent charity accounts, minutes of board meetings, the charity’s conflicts of interest policy and key guidance such as The Essential Trustee.

Governors of academies, foundation and voluntary schools who are also trustees have the same responsibilities as trustees of registered charities. The Commission has joined with the school governor recruitment charity SGOSS and the Department for Education to produce an Introduction to Charity Law for Governors of Academies, Foundation and Voluntary Schools. This summarises their responsibilities and explains where they can find further information.

Harris & Harris can help schools and charities. Please contact Roland Callaby or Tim Berry.

 

New Requirements for Gift Aid Declarations

HMRC has updated its requirements for Gift Aid declarations. It is important that you review and, if necessary, amend the wording that you use.

HMRC now require that donors confirm they have been given an explanation that they must pay enough Income or Capital Gains Tax to cover all Gift Aided donations that they intend to make that year.  Previously, donors were asked to confirm only that they pay enough tax to cover the gift to your charity.

This does not represent a change in the law but a clarification of HMRC’s requirements.  HMRC say that if charities use this new form they can be confident HMRC will not later challenge a Gift Aid claim on the grounds that the donor gave an invalid declaration, i.e., because they were not in fact paying sufficient tax.  This risk applies particularly to large donations.

You have until 31 December 2012 to change your declarations.  There are model declarations available on HMRC’s website and a checklist for Gift Aid donations.

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