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Canon employee gets fined for LGBT comment: Should the brand take action?

Earlier this year, Bryan Lim Sian Yang , an employee from Canon, took to Facebook put up a post where he stated that he wanted to “open fire” on the LGBT community. This was reported by local newspaper Todaywhich also stated that he was fined by the district court for the post being threatening.

According to the article, his post was in response to the LGBT event held annually at Speakers’ Corner in Singapore, which in a matter of hours went viral. Despite having apologised publicly, 13 individuals, including Leow Yong Fatt, the executive director of LGBT counselling group Oogachaga – lodged police reports over the inflammatory remarks.

While the issue doesn’t intrinsically reflect the employer brand, we all know how important employee branding is. Marketing has reached out to Canon for its thoughts on the matter.

In recent times, Sonny Truyen, an employee from the property portal, 99.co, was fired for his post on Facebook where he used derogatory terms in relation to Singapore for not being one of the first nations to launch Pokemon Go, despite him apologising. Also in 2012, Cheong, former assistant director, membership department at NTUC was let go for complaining about Malay weddings being conducted at void decks and made offensive comments about the Malay community. She too apologised soon after.

In all these instances, clearly saying sorry was not enough. Marketing reached out to a few industry experts to understand the effects of such statements on the image of the company and the steps required to prevent such instances.

Lars Voedisch, managing director, PRecious Communications said such instances definitely impact the image of the company the employees are from. He said:

It is tricky situation for companies to be in. But, the solution is to analyse how the remarks are in sync with the brand’s image and values and take steps accordingly.

Managing director of The Edge Partnership, Priya Bala, who was previously heading up marketing recruitment firm Font, said it is hard to expect that every employee will have the common sense not to post anything negative.

“These include rants, racial or other discriminatory remarks against minority groups,” said Bala. She added that if an individual crosses the line and makes a statement that is insensitive or offensive to others, it is more a reflection of their own character and prejudices and “not of the company they represent”. Bala added, however, that a company may choose to take action against someone who expresses negative views, because the person’s views are not in line with the company’s corporate values.

Companies must make it clear that it is their own opinion and not of their company; suspension or even termination may result from these remarks in extreme cases, she added.

As part of preventive measures, Bala said:

Brands must make it clear what the rules and expectations are from the start – just flag it up front and employees are likely to exercise a little more caution. It needs to be very clear about the policy surrounding social media at work.

“Companies must encourage their employees to promote their brand and share information on their personal social media channels and engage in positive ways. By having a social media code of conduct drawn up and educating every employee about it can help to minimise any errors of judgement,” she said.

Along similar lines, Mike Parsons, marketing director APAC, Universum Asia said isolated incidents like these would not necessarily damage the company’s employer brand.

“People are generally smart enough to see the incident for what it is,” he said. However, when an employer is seen taking a disciplinary action with an employee who is clearly in violation of that employer’s values, there is a chance that this will reflect well on the employer and it may highlight to people that they are fair and inclusive, he added.

Jonathan Sanchez, former PR lead for Unilever, and currently managing director of Hive said, “There’s no magic bullet for a situation of this nature, there will always be disenfranchised communities who feel underrepresented. However, it our responsibility as a society and indeed humanity to look out for each other and ensure people take responsibilities for their actions.”

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