The British HR executive is now seeking hundreds of thousands of pounds from his former employer, gas exploration firm BG Group.
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph Flexman’s manager contacted him while he was on holiday overseas and was told to remove his CV from LinkedIn.
BG Group said that Flexman was violating new company policy on conflicts of interest, one of which banned employees ticking the "career opportunities" box on LinkedIn. His profile included specific details about how he had reduced the company’s staff attrition rate.
He was then told by his manager to remove the details of the work he had done for BG Group except for job titles and dates, which Flexman did not agree to do.
The former BG Group’s HR executive said that 21 of his other colleagues, one of them being the manager of the disciplinary process, ticked the "career opportunities" box as well but have not been disciplined.
John Flexman ceased to be an employee of the company in June, leaving his annual salary of £68,000 behind. On Flexman’s LinkedIn profile he says he is now working for Construction firm Buro Happold.
A spokesperson from BG Group said: "We welcome the opportunity to present our case at the tribunal, the appropriate forum."
The dispute sheds light on the growing implementation of companies using social media and the boundaries in which companies can have a measure of control over employee social media accounts.
The 2008 case in which a UK court ordered an employee to hand over his LinkedIn account to an employer reflects that cases like these may be on the rise, with companies looking to incorporate social media policies and ownership rights.
LinkedIn is a social networking site for professional purposes. Nevertheless, it is a personal account that the account holder can use at their discretion to create and manage professional relationships.
Being forced to leave a job over adding a CV or showing interest in career opportunities may be on the harsh side.
The career opportunities box does not necessarily mean that an employee is looking to find another job and there are millions of employees on LinkedIn who have the box ticked.
It is very likely that policies will be put into place for employee social media usage but it also means that potential social media guidelines should protect employees from situations like this happening.
One important question to ask is: When does it become okay for employers to control employee social media accounts?
Kate Hodgkiss, Partner at DLA Piper, says the case raises some interesting questions.
"[The case] highlights again the grey area in which social media operates. Employers have every right to seek to protect confidential company information by restricting LinkedIn and other profiles," she said.
"Employers may regard information such as pay rates, details of customers, and business plans as confidential and may not want these to be posted on a public forum where competitors could see them. Employers commonly place restrictions on what employees can disclose outside the company and restrictions on a LinkedIn profile are a logical extension of this."
Hodgkiss added: "Aside from the protection of confidential information, another issue which the LinkedIn case raises is whether employers can legitimately prevent an employee from indicating on a LinkedIn profile that they are open to career opportunities, and whether it is legitimate to sack or discipline someone for doing so.
"Employees cannot be prevented from looking for a new job, provided they are not using confidential company information and placing a CV on LinkedIn is no different from, for example, an employee exploring job opportunities via a recruitment agency."
"Cases like these demonstrate the complex issues which arise from employee use of social media and are important as their outcome may help to demonstrate how established legal rules may be applied to new technology," Hodgkiss said. "Although employers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to manage the impact of social media at work, what is already clear from existing litigation in this field is that those that take a reactive, rather than a proactive, approach face higher risk of damage to their business resulting when social media and the workplace collide."
This article is from the CBROnline archive: some formatting and images may not be present.