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Make sure details on you your personal online profiles don't conflict with your employer.

The question

I work for a company that has had some ups and downs so I decided to start a small business. I recently updated my LinkedIn profile to reflect my new small business. My bosses freaked and said that my LinkedIn profile no longer represents my current employment situation. I still have them listed as my present employer. My company has no social media policy and only one verbal comment was made about keeping my company profile on LinkedIn when my job went from full-time to part-time.

How much control does a company have over a personal LinkedIn profile? I started my LinkedIn profile long before I was with this company. My LinkedIn profile represents my entire business career and activities. Can they force me to change my profile and what is the best way to handle this situation?

The answer

The simple answer is no – your employer cannot force you to change your profile. The company does not have control over your personal LinkedIn profile. You may want to consider clarifying your job status on your profile to indicate that you now work part-time for the company and that you have started your own small business. Many part-time employees and contractors list both their current employer and their own business and business contracts/work on their LinkedIn and other social media sites.

The most important thing is to find out why your bosses are so concerned about your LinkedIn profile. Is your new business in direct competition with your current company? Did the company ask you to sign a non-competition agreement when you started to work with them? If they did and you did sign a non-competition agreement and if your new business is in competition with your employer, then they can legally ask you to change your profile in order to protect their business interests.

You say that the company has no social media policy, but do they have any conflict-of-interest, fair-business-practices, or non-competition policies? Are they concerned about you stealing their clients or working on your own small business on company time? Did you indicate to your current employer that you were planning on starting your own business when you switched from full time to part-time status?

I recommend that you meet with your current bosses and explore why they are concerned about your LinkedIn profile. Be curious and not defensive with them. Inquire about their specific concerns. Take notes and discuss their concerns so that you can be sure to cover all issues. Ask what they would be comfortable with and how you can work together to resolve each of their concerns. Indicate that you will or have clarified your new part-time status with the company on your LinkedIn profile.

Redesign your relationship with them. Say that you want to continue to work with them on a part-time basis and that you apologize for not letting them know about your new business venture. Assure them that you will not be taking any of their clients for your new business and that you will not be competing with them. If your new small business is in a related (but not competing) field, explore with your bosses how you can potentially work together to enhance both the company and your small business. Look for a win-win situation with your current employer which will be beneficial for them, and for your new small business.

Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting.

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