In one of the more fascinating lawsuits filed over social networking, an IT staffing firm has sued three former employees and their new workplace for violating non-compete agreements by reaching out to colleagues through LinkedIn.

TEKsystems alleged that Brelyn Hammernick, a former employee, reached out to at least 20 of its contract employees and “connected,” or friended them in LinkedIn’s more uptight parlance. She also wrote more overt messages to former co-workers through the social network asking: “Hey! Let me know if you are still looking for opportunities! I would love to have come visit my new office and hear about some of the stuff we are working on!”

The company says the moves make for a breach of the non-solicitation and non-compete agreements Hammernick signed three years ago, preventing her from recruiting her former co-workers. The case will go to trial by August of next year.

“The outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications for the law governing restrictive covenants in employment, and employers should take early lessons from this case rather than find themselves on the delivering or receiving end of such a lawsuit,” wrote Renee Jackson, a lawyer at Nixon Peabody, a global firm with 800 attorneys.

Jackson said the case raised many questions: do “friendships” in social networks violate non-compete agreements and if an employee leaves, should they “de-friend” their old colleagues? Or will companies have to discourage their employees from “friending” former colleagues until the non-solicitation period expires? We’ve reached out to LinkedIn for their thoughts on the case and will update when we hear.

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