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The cost of Amy Cheong’s remarks

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The rapid decision by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to fire Amy Cheong after she posted inappropriate comments on her personal Facebook page should act as a wake-up call to all Singaporean employees, social media commentators say.

Cheong, NTUC’s assistant director of membership, was sacked yesterday after her vulgarity-laden comments against the Singaporean Malay community went viral.

The posts, made on Sunday night, lashed out at the noise-levels and duration of Malay weddings and mocked ceremonies held at void decks.

“If u cant afford a proper wedding then u shouldn’t be getting married,” she wrote.

She took down her comments and posted an apology on Facebook and Twitter a few hours later, and clarified the remarks were not those of her employer. However, the initial comments had already gone viral, and several online petitions were set up calling for her resignation.

The incident has highlighted the viral nature of comments on social media, and reiterates the importance of managing the social media activities of employees.

“Like it or not, senior level employees are brand ambassadors and we should be careful on how we carry ourselves,” Prakash Somosundram, social media director for Yolk, told Human Resources.

“As for corporate policies, I believe every organisation should include within their employee booklet a social media policy and have annual reminders on proper social media etiquettes.”

NTUC’s Secretary-General, Lim Swee Say, issued a statement saying the organisation “will not accept and has zero tolerance towards any words used or actions taken by our staff that are racially offensive”.

In a statement released to Human Resources, NTUC said it has “a policy on communication in our terms and condition of employment which states ‘all staff shall observe proper decorum in their communication to the external public at large and to all forms of media’.”

It added an internal investigation was conducted to ascertain all the facts before the decision was made to fire Cheong.

Damien Cummings, regional marketing director for digital and social media at Samsung Asia, said after an organisation implements a policy they have a responsibility to “train employees in what’s expected of them, their rights and their responsibilities, both at work and in personal time”.

Somosundram said how people represent themselves online is their own prerogative, however if “personal comments [bring] harm and disrepute, then disciplinary action is definitely required”.

He added Cheong had inadvertently involved her employers in this incident, as her place of work and title were clearly stated on her personal Facebook page.

Cummings said it is important for employees to remember comments made online – even on a private or personal page – are still public.

“Comments can be copied, pasted and spread easily over the internet. And the worst thing for someone when it goes wrong is that it never, ever goes away. It will be there forever, easily searchable on Google or Bing,” Cummings said.

“Issues like the Amy Cheong incident could happen to one of your employees or to your brand. The consequences of getting it wrong can be damaging and long lasting if you get it wrong,” he said.

Cheong has since issued an apology for her comments, saying they were made in “bad judgement” and that she did “not mean to distress the Malay community with my comments”.

“I was just upset with the noise. I truly do not mean to be judgmental or critical. I am truly sorry,” Cheong wrote.

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