Watch what you say

In business, it’s a fact of life – somewhere you’ve got competition. While it may be intimidating to some, it’s the nature of the beast. You and your competitors are all trying to get a piece of the same pie.

Most of the time, your friendly competition is just that—friendly. However, every now and then, competition can be downright scary.

Sometimes you might feel like you are being attacked by a competitor for what like truly personal reasons. This might be true, or you might be too sensitive.

For example, if a competitor targets your business by underselling very similar products and services in an attempt to drive you out of business, while this might be an attack on your earning potential, it’s part of life. If their business plan supports it, then you need to look at your business plan and marketing to see how to combat it.

If however, a competitor badmouths you to customers or clients, suppliers, vendors or maybe an association that you both belong to, or posts on social media untrue and damaging information that can be, directly or through association be, identified as pertaining to you, then that is a personal attack and may even be in breach of defamation laws.

On the internet, this is know as cyber-libel. Remember, this has to be both untrue and damaging. Such information might be posted anywhere, including social media, message boards, bulletin boards, blogs, chats, personal websites, text messages or other published articles.

As responsible professionals, home inspector belonging to this association are expected to act in a way that respects the profession, other professionals with the home Inspection arena as well as other professions they might have to deal with as part of their work. More than that, they should act in a way that does not bring themselves, the profession or other professionals into disrepute with the public at large.

As Professional Home Inspectors belonging to the Ontario Association of Certified Home Inspectors, you are bound by our code of ethics, compliance to the chosen standard of practice (CAN/CSA-A770-16) and legally to a duty of care to your clients.

Inspectors who are not members of this association may not be bound to the standard of practice and code of ethics, but this does not make them an easy target for attack on the internet or anywhere else.

Law and Justice concept. Mallet of the judge, books, scales of justice. Gray stone background, reflections on the floor, place for typography. Courtroom theme.

Unless you can substantially prove anything damaging you might say about them or their business, saying it to anyone other than them or putting it in writing can land you in court should they decide to sue.

Even if they do not choose to sue, you could find yourself the subject of a
disciplinary hearing with the association as regardless of whether the information is founded or not, you have a duty to the profession to make it better not to drag it to the gutter.

Let’s take a couple of examples. Full disclosure: We are not lawyers and while our opinions are based upon an educated understanding of what is fair and decent here in Canada a legal expert might choose to disagree with our opinions and take a different approach or come to a different decision. As with everything, take care in what you say and do.

Example #1. The message board flame war

Every now and then you will probable read a message board where opinions are exchanged and tempers get aroused. That’s normal. While it is between two people and the decisions are about a difference of opinion, all it amounts to is two people letting off steam about a subject they see differently.

Where it starts to edge its way into cyber-libel is when name calling commences or accusations that one party doesn’t know what they are doing or saying. This could then be considered defamation. The more public the message board, the more damage could be considered to be done and the more likely the legal system will frown on it.

Our advice: By all means have a difference of opinion on any subject matter, but refrain from making personal attacks on anyone or how they conduct themselves of their business. That’s your personal view and its none of their or anyone else’s business. Keep it to yourself.

Example #2 – Social Media Marketing

A lot of business are now choosing to market their services socially through social media sites such as FaceBook, Google and the like. That’s great, but remember you are professionals. Talk about your own services as much as you like but don’t compare your services to other services you don’t provide. If you don’t provide them, state you don’t and explain why your services might be better. Don’t state why there’s, in your opinion, might be worse. Again, that’s your view and you may just be wrong. Point to an “official position” if your view matches it, but don’t come out and say it yourself. Let the official position take the hit for any legal action.

Our advice: A true Professional is recognised by their abilities and willingness to help others to succeed. An unprofessional person is only able to point out why others are, in their opinion, wrong. Be the Professional recognise that your opinions are your own and may indeed be wro.

Example #3 – Defamation by Association

Regardless of the medium, if you choose to point out the faults in a particular mode of business operation, knowing full well that your competitor is the only person that uses that mode of business, then expect some blow back.

You don’t have to name an individual or business for any defamatory comments you make to be associated with your intended (or even unintended) target.

You are quite able to say that. in your opinion, or the opinion of you clients (if you can in fact back that claim up) you provide a fantastic service. You cannot however, state that a competitor provides a sub-par service or should be prevented from practicing just because you see it that way. If you do, make sure you have professional liability insurance and it covers you for being stupid.

Our advice: Point out the benefits of your services, how they help your potential clients and what might befall your clients if they don’t partake of your services. Don’t suggest something bad might happen to your clients if they use someone else’s service. It might be true, but it equally might be not.

Stick to what you know

This association has a strict code of ethics, requires you to comply with, or exceed a recognised standard of practice and abide by your duty of care.

We are all Home Inspectors and each has a way of supplementing income. Whether that be through ancillary services such as commercial inspections, pool inspections, mould and asbestos sampling, radon measurement or indoor air analysis that’s fine.

Our code of ethics forbids you from using any inspection service to provide you with a trade-related income. i.e. you can perform renovations or repairs on a home you have inspected, even if the inspection was an ancillary one.

Our code of ethics also forbids you, as a Home Inspector, from defaming another Home Inspector, Association, other professional or client or member of the public. This includes retaliatory defamation. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication” however these freedoms don’t extend to hate speech or civil defamation, and nor do our code of ethics.

Stick to what you know, advertise it, be proud of it and work with your competitors to promote business. Doing otherwise will only drive your business and your earning potential to the floor.

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