Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of delivering the keynote address at Adnet Technologies’ Worksmart 2013. My thanks to Adnet (Christopher, Ed, Amanda, and Faith in particular) and the hundreds who attended.  We were able to sprinkle in a few Star Trek references in light of the new movie out. 

One of the issues that I talked about in the presentation and, indeed, afterwards with conference attendees, was the question of ownership of work-related social media accounts. I talked a bit about the PhoneDog/Noah Kravitz case that has been used as an example of what can happen with such accounts. 

This is something I covered more in depth in a post last year as well. 

Lisa Stam, of the Employment and Human Rights in Canada blog, sets up the issue pretty well for both U.S. and Canadian companies in a post yesterday. 

A Gen-Y employee would find it rather unseemly that their relationships with their colleagues, friends, and general network is somehow owned by one’s employer. None of us expect to stay with the employer for 30 years anymore. Compiling, developing and working hard to nurture our network of relationships is a critical tool of business that we need to take with us.

Conversely, employers have a good reason to assert a proprietary interest over its customer list.

What to do as a result? There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but for some companies, getting the employee to sign an acknowledgement of ownership or to provide the username and password for a work-related account, can go a long way to avoiding disputes if and when that employee leaves.

As I said in yesterday’s talk, inevitably, there will be that one or two employees who can cause massive headaches in the absence of a documented relationship. 

It’s unfortunate that employers need to create a policy that is really targeted at just a few employees. But as the documented cases demonstrate, the absence of something in writing will only hurt businesses in the long run.

Law firms can help in that process but such documentation need not be several pages long and full of legalese. What’s more important is to get it done. As I noted in my presentation, an “old” Klingon proverb says:

Act, and you shall have dinner; wait, and you shall be dinner.

Don’t be dinner.