This article explores the ethical implications of disclosing a former co-worker’s reasons for being ostracized at work. It examines the potential consequences of such a disclosure for both the individual and the workplace.

An internet user recently asked, Am I a jerk for telling my ex-co-worker’s employer the reason why she was ostracized at the company?


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This story took place over multiple years. So here it goes. 

A little background, OP works in corporate HR. His company has a very generous maternity leave policy. It gives you 26 paid weeks off plus gives you the option of taking a month or so more if you have extra sick or personal leaves left. Or else you can take unpaid leave at the same time.

So part of OP’s responsibilities is to make recommendations for selecting employees for specific projects.

What Happened A Couple Of Years Ago?

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A couple of years ago, there was a huge project that needed a team to be created for. Being part of a project like this would normally establish one’s career in this industry. One could basically decide their own career path based on the reputation they get after completing a project like this. It would be hectic and difficult, but worth it in the end.

What Does OP Say

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OP says, “We interviewed prospective people within the company and selected a core team that would take it up. Among this team was M, a recently married female who is generally thought to be a hard worker and quite knowledgeable. Like with everyone else, we interviewed her for the spot and asked her if she wanted to be part of this project.”

Around One Month Later

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However, a month or so later, M announced that she was pregnant and that she would be taking her maternity leave in a month. She would be completely unavailable for around 7 months or so and leave the team short-staffed for the major part of the project.

They had to quickly select a replacement, get them up to speed, and have them take over. It meant more work for everyone, minor delays, etc. 

Why Was Everyone Frustrated?

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What frustrated the top management was that M knew she was pregnant when she joined the team. She never mentioned it during the interview. By not telling anyone in advance, everyone felt that she couldn’t be trusted in the future. She basically became a pariah and no team lead wanted her in any critical projects. 

Within a year, M realized she progressed much in her career in this particular company and left for another job. 

A While Ago

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Fast forward a little while ago, OP was talking to the HR guy from the company M had joined and he asked him about her. And OP told him the truth. Both that she was a good worker and is dedicated, but that she’s not really honest or trustworthy. OP told him the story in detail.

What Does OP Say

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OP says, “Now this has basically meant that M gets a similar treatment in the new company, she is considered a good employee and team player, but no one wants to select her for any critical projects. Some of my friends say that telling the HR guy about the incident makes me a jerk. It has gotten me feel a bit guilty and I wasn’t sure what the right move should have been.

So people, what do you think? Am I the jerk here?”

Some Additional Info 

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OP later edited the post and added the following information:

“Edit 1. Just to be clear, M knew she was pregnant when she was being considered for the project. She wanted to be in the project so didn’t disclose it. Her team had to stretch themselves thin to make it up.

Our company as a general rule has no issues with women taking time off for pregnancy. Even beyond the policy-mandated time. The most I’ve come across is a woman getting 15 months off. She came back to work and faced no repercussions. I should have mentioned this before, but the HR guy was formally asking me about M. It wasn’t like I was talking about her at the pub.

Edit 2: I don’t know where people got the idea she was just a month into the pregnancy when she was interviewed. Just to clarify, she was pregnant long enough that she knew she wouldn’t be completing the project. She didn’t mention it because she wanted the project on her resume. 

Our company never punishes an employee for taking ML or in general any medical leave. But in this case, team leads did not want her on their team for high-profile projects after she returned. Because they didn’t trust her to be forthright.”

She Could’ve Given A Forewarning

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“Not the jerk. She didn’t have to disclose she was pregnant but should’ve said she might not be able to fulfill the demands of this project and decline the opportunity. If what OP did isn’t illegal in their country, then I don’t see any problem answering a pointed question. 

Everyone knows that women should avoid additional stress during pregnancy, yet she decided to put herself in a precarious position. Even if she didn’t know at the time of accepting, she could’ve easily notified management that she might have to leave the project soon due to health reasons but is willing to train her replacement beforehand. Therefore management had to forewarn and adequate time to find a replacement…. Just like any highly visible project, it can make or break your career.”

You Tried To Sabotage Her Career!

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“You’re the jerk. You claim that your company never punishes anyone for taking ML when you clearly have in this case as you personally went out of your way to attempt to sabotage this woman’s career.”

What You Did Makes Sense

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“I mean, to me, what you did is fine and makes sense. M made a mistake by knowingly joining a long-term project when she was already pregnant (if she fell pregnant during the project, different story) which is, to be honest, pretty deceitful.

When a new employer calls you to ask for a reference on someone they’ve hired, you’re literally being called to tell them what that person is like. Provided OP didn’t make any specific character statements and simply stated what happened, I see no grounds for defamation.”

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