In my presentation last week to the HRA of Greater New Haven (which i discussed yesterday), the hottest topic that people wanted to discuss was LinkedIn Recommendations.

People had several questions:

  • Should a company bar its employees from doing such recommendations?
  • Should a HR department "police" LinkedIn to ensure compliance?
  • What is the risk of allowing employees to post recommendations or receive recommendations?
  • And, does anyone actually rely on these recommendations?

This issue may take on some renewed prominence as LinkedIn has begun an aggressive series of steps to grow and expand its business.   

I discussed the issue of LinkedIn recommendations back in July after a article suggested that management-side lawyers were advising clients about the "hidden dangers" about LinkedIn.  At the time, I indicated that there were no reported cases about the use of LinkedIn.  Six months later, that remains the case. (You can even look it up yourself on Google Scholar.)

That does not mean that LinkedIn is without any risk.  Of course there is a possibility of a supervisor giving a recommendation to an employee that is inconsistent with a formal performance evaluation.   But that risk existed before the advent of social networks as well.

Each business will have to evaluate the risk as well but one suggestion that we discussed is that companies could prohibit current supervisors of existing employees from posting any recommendations on LinkedIn. That prevents the risk of inconsistency. Once that supervisor/employee relationship is ended (perhaps a new job for either of them), it seems that the restrictions could be lessened. 

But here’s the other truth that we discussed: People aren’t paying close attention to these recommendations because there are no controls in place. Nothing prevents friends from writing recommendations for other friends. And the "quid pro quo" recommendation — I’ll recommend you if you recommend me — are all too common. (This point was raised by the World of Work blog in a great post several months back.) 

In addition, are supervisors of bad employees going to be giving recommendations anyways? Probably not, says Molly DiBianca of the Delaware Employment Law Blog.

So what’s the right course of action? 

Well, for specific industries that have restrictions on the use of recommendations (such as financial advisors) the answer will be clear.  For many others though, this issue will remain murky.

But right now, employers frankly have much larger issues that they should be focusing on than regulating LinkedIn recommendations.  So, as an employer, discuss it if you must — but don’t treat it as a major concern for liability exposure because so far, that hasn’t been the case.