when your ex is a coworker — and a silly one

A reader writes:

I work for a big technology company. We are the market leaders in what we do, and we are looking at doing more cool stuff everyday. And I work for HR in the global headquarters.

I have a ‘frenemy’ here. We used to date – our company is ok with employees dating and many employees are married to each other – and he treated me pretty badly. I am with a great guy now, but I still hang out with my ex socially.

Me and my ex are from two different cultures, and I am four years elder to him- I am in my middle 20s ( and no, he is not under 20 years ). We have not told our colleagues that we were dating, or that we broke it off.

My ex has posted his almost naked pictures online, posted drunk updates in various social networking platforms detailing his sexual exploits and his level of sexual frustrations, etc. He has even posted on public forums that he is going to apply for a job with a few competitors and has publicly disparaged our products in the past.

My question? To what extent can and should I be concerned? Personally, I would not hire a guy who is like this ( but that is my opinion). But I want to keep my comments professional. I am not sure that many people know that he talks that way about our products online. And yes, he proclaims that he works for us in his social networking profiles. I am yet to see him use our internal feedback and discussion channels to air his concerns about our products and services though.

My dilemma is this – I know more about how he is because of my past and current proximity to him. I have been with the company for around four years and do have a good HR network. I am not sure if I have to tell people who think of hiring him that he exhibits such behavior online. Many of my senior colleagues are not very well versed in social media and are not aware of all this happening in front of a large and varied public audience.

Should I mention that this guy is behaving in this way when someone mentions to me that they are planning to hire him? Or should I keep quiet? I want to be professional, and don’t want my behavior to be any way affected by my personal equation with this guy.

Why not talk to your ex and tell him directly that this is the kind of thing that could hurt him professionally? You’re in HR so you’ve probably got some stories of how you’ve seen this hurt candidates or employees; if he’s skeptical, use those stories to clue him in. Tell him that you’re worried that it’s only a matter of time until this ends up hurting him.

In particular, tell him bluntly that if others in your company see him disparaging the company’s products, chances are very good he could end up fired.

(What is up with this guy’s judgment?)

Of course, a second option is to ask yourself how you’d handle this if it were any other employee, and then do that. And you could argue that your company is entitled to know that this guy is behaving like an ass. But he’s your friend, and it sounds like you have the info that you have specifically because of that friendship and might not have it otherwise, so why not give him a chance to clean it up?

However, if you feel like you’re in an awkward situation because you feel you have an obligation to share the info, a middle ground would be to tell him that this is the sort of thing that your job could obligate you to share, and that it’s putting you in an awkward position, but that you want to give him a chance to clean it up before it comes to that. Then leave it in his hands and see if he pulls it together or not.

What do others think?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 10 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Hi, I am the person who asked the question. I have talked to him about this many times, but he thinks that as I am old I am out of times. I have even asked our common friends to discuss this with him to no avail. The disparaging information is out for anyone to search and find – yes, even some of the photographs. Hope that a competitor would hire him and will be gone from here.

  2. Charles*

    After reading the original post I got the feeling that AAM’s advice was right on target.

    I would suggest that since she has already talked to him about his unprofessionalism then there is not much more to be done except CYA.

    To the OP – ask yourself what will happen to you and others when (not if, because it is just a matter of time before someone else finds out, if they don’t know already – a Tech company and the higher ups don’t know about this already?) his behaviour is discovered by those with firing authority. Will you or others, not having brought it to their attention, be affected? Or will they understand that you having “reprimanded” him for his unprofessional behaviour be enough to protect yourself? If you mention his behaviour to the higher ups will they see you as a loyal and professional employee? Or will they see you as a snitch?

    In addition to everything that AAM has said I can only add be sure that you maintain your professionalism at all times. I think that you being in your 20s most people will not hold it against you that at one time you had dated him. “Youthful indiscretion” has seen people do worse things than date a jerk.

    If I were in this situation I would stop where you are. You have brought to his attention that his behaviour is not proper. As you no longer date him, you are not responsible for him. His supervisor is.

    I would only go further if his remarks start being about other people (fellow employees, managers, customers, etc.) Then I would become a snitch and tell everything to a supervisor/manager explaining how I tried to get him to change his behaviour but he choose to make things worse. (what, BTW, was his bad treatment towards you when you were dating – I would suggest that you weigh that as well in what you do)

    P.S., seriously? He thinks you, still in your 20s, is old and out of touch? Well, then no wonder I am having trouble trying to find work at my “advanced” age!

  3. class-factotum*

    Hi Anon,

    I dated someone at work once, too. The company didn’t mind, but thank goodness it was before the internet and this sort of problem! I decided after that experience that the problem was not working with someone I dated, it was working with someone I used to date. FWIW. But I think you have figured that out. :)

  4. A Girl Named Me*

    I think this is actually pretty simple….

    If the original poster’s alliance is with the company, s/he needs to let someone else know what is going on. And here’s why…

    Let’s just say someone else finds out about his online ramblings. He could very well say, “So-and-so knew all about it.”

    As a manager, if I found out that the original poster knew about it and did nothing, I would assume that their priority is not the company.

    A small disclaimer…I’m the President of a small business employing less than 20 people. Big corporations often operate differently.

    One thing is not different, however, this HR professional could not mention this to perspective future employers of this person. It has become very standard to simply confirm dates of employment and perhaps salary levels with a release from the employee. If the employee was excellent, there can be ways of working that into the conversation, but if the employee had issues, I give just the facts and I honestly think that gives the perspective employer exactly what they were looking for.


  5. Kimberley*

    His online actions WILL be discovered. I recently – and totally by accident – came across a group on Facebook for disgruntled employees of Company X. Company X is my client. I was on the phone to the HR manager in seconds to tell her about it.

    If he doesn’t care about your warnings, it’s his problem.

  6. Just another HR lady...*

    I realize that the poster is still young in her HR career, but it is a harsh lesson as to why HR should never date or become too intimate with co-workers within their company. Co-workers dating is difficult enough, but when HR gets involved, it causes huge ethical dilemmas.

    In terms of my suggestions as to what to do here, what would you do if this was any other employee? To be bluntly honest, I don’t take social networking seriously in terms of comments people make (unless there were trade secrets being posted or something along those lines), but if I felt strongly about it, I would “remind” the employee that I and others in the company can see their postings and they should use their “privacy” settings, or tone it down.

    And from HR person to HR person, I’m sorry, but I strongly suggest you stop spending time with this person or anyone from work on a social level, it causes more trouble than it’s worth. HR’s value is in our neutrality, and that perception is gone the minute you start getting closely involved with co-workers. Your company may allow it, but it’s going to hinder your ability to do your job properly, and quite possibly cause some cracks in your career path.

  7. Anonymous*

    I agree with JAHRL here. I’m confused as to why you would hang out socially with someone you used to date and treated you poorly. Members of HR should rarely be hanging out with other employees on a social level because at some point, there’s going to be a situation where you have to talk to someone about performance or you witness something you wish you hadn’t.

    I recently had an employee come to me with questions about dating in the workplace. I told this person that the company had no real opinion on it but that my personal advice was to avoid it. It’s easy to get a crush on someone you see everyday but think about all the drama that goes around during a breakup. Now imagine having to see and work with that person every single day. It’s just not worth it.

    Onto advice: you’ve already told this person about their behavior and you’ve asked others talk to him as well. I don’t quite understand why you still care so much. If he’s writing disparaging comments about the company, I feel you should bring this to the attention of his supervisor, or YOUR supervisor. Get out of this mess and let someone else who is more objective look into it – and stop hanging out with him completely.

  8. Anonymous*

    Hi all, me again.

    When I was dating him – and now – we are professionally separated. I have no professional say in anything related to his hiring or day to day work. The team, and the extended team I work with has couple of thousand employees and I do maintain professional relationships with them.

    A bit about the company culture. It is expected – and encouraged – that you maintain your friendships – yes, I am using the word here deliberately – with your colleagues. At the same time, there is the implicit trust that you will not use it favor one person over another. I am not saying if this is right or wrong, this is the company culture and I have to adapt to it to succeed.

    Treating me badly: I guess I can say he behaved like a mega jerk – there was no physical abuse – and that is why I ended it. We have many common friends, none of whom know that we were dating, and hence we still hang out in a large group.

    Did I alert some people in the company? Yes.

    Do I want to keep on alerting people? No.

    Ultimately, it is the work of the hiring manager and HR to make sure that such incidences do not happen. People have asked me my opinion of him as a company asset, and I have presented both the risks and advantages involved in having him as an employee. He is not the only person they ask me about, and always, I reply in a similar fashion.

    Let me also say that even though I am in HR, I do not do any hiring.

    What I offered to do yesterday in our big HR community newsletter was to train some of my colleagues on social media and how to check up on employees on line.

    Many have taken up the offer, let us hope it brings us great employees.

  9. Tessa*

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  10. Anonymous*

    Hi all, its me the person who asked the question.

    I did talk to people in our PR department general and told them that it is just good practice to check online about what people are talking about us.

    He got fired – dismissed – last month because of disclosure of company information in violation of his NDA.

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