advice/perspective on jobs, work and management

My religious coworkers are trying to convert me

I have colleagues who repeatedly question me about my religious views, and I can’t get them to stop. I’ve tried telling them that I don’t discuss my personal life or faith/spirituality at work, but they just won’t listen. Now they’ve started asking me ‘Why do you hate [DEITY REDACTED]?’ – even in the presence of other coworkers! I let my manager know what was happening, and ultimately human resources, but so far they have been unwilling to address the issue. The impression I get is that I can either put up with it, or find somewhere else to work. Now I feel like I’m being ignored at meetings, and that people are avoiding me more generally. What can I do? I realize that this is a especially touchy situation given the current ideological climate in this country… – Name withheld

Ask for a raise. Or a promotion.

Preferably both.

Here’s why: If what you say is true, it’s time to consider suing your employer. That might sound extreme, but the treatment you describe isn’t just morally reprehensible, it’s in clear violation of any number of laws. (It’s also distinctly un-American, I might add, regardless of the “current ideological climate.”)

Consider too that being made to feel marginalized at work is almost sure to affect your performance – and not for the better. Your capacity to do your job to the best of your ability is almost sure to be negatively impacted, and, in what can only be considered the deepest of ironies, your employer may evaluate you accordingly. That could do lasting damage to you professionally, and possibly hurt your career. You might like to believe you’re “above it all,” but in the end that’s just wishful thinking.[1]

So yes – seriously consider suing.

But before you do, you’ll need to do a couple things to prepare.

First, you’ll want to be able to demonstrate a quantifiable loss of income resulting from your mistreatment. This is where asking for a raise comes in. Having made such a request—and then been denied (as you almost certainly will be)—you can now put a specific dollar amount on that loss. For every month, week, or day that you remain at your current level of pay, the difference between this and what you requested can be added your total claim. (So keep this in mind when deciding how much to ask for.)

You’re also going to want to start looking for another job.[2]

It perhaps goes without saying, but there is absolutely no future for you whatsoever at this organization – as you probably also realize. And if you do decide to sue, things are only going to get worse. So let go of whatever professional ambitions you may have had for yourself at this company, and start looking for a way out.

In yet another profound irony, however, your present circumstance is going to make the already difficult task of landing a job even harder. Prospective employers are certain to ask why you’re looking around – and how will you answer? Some half-hearted insistence about “needing a change” before you then quickly change the subject so as not to blurt out the real reason? An experienced interviewer will pick up on this, and follow up – or interpret your ambiguity/hesitancy as a potential red flag, possibly killing your candidacy. So unless you’re a world class liar, your current narrative is a problem.

Which is why you should also ask for a promotion.

Again, this request is going to be denied. But no matter. Now you have a legitimate, and professionally flattering reason for your job search. Here’s your words for interviewers:

You know, for the most part I’ve been very, very happy with my current employer, and appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to learn and grow there. In fact, I recently approached my manager about taking on more responsibility, but unfortunately they weren’t able to offer me anything definite at the moment. So I thought I’d explore my options. Your organization seems like an excellent fit for me!

And that’s it.

Don’t mention your evangelizing coworkers, the obvious discrimination to which you’ve been subjected, or management’s disappointing complicity in this violation of your basic religious freedoms. In fact, I’d advise you not to talk about this experience ever again in a professional context under any circumstances. You’ve voiced your concerns, and had your say. To express any frustration beyond this is to risk earning the reputation of a trouble-maker or complainer – not a good look for someone engaged in a serious job hunt.

So get out, then sue.[3]

Then finally, there is one other thing you might do. Something to silence your preachy colleagues.

Let me remind that you’re at work when this happens. And for most people, two things are almost universally true about work: (1) They don’t want to be there, and (2) when they are there, they don’t want to do more of it.

You can use this to your advantage.

For instance, the next time one of your proselytizing officemates start in, remind them you’re really busy and simply don’t have time to chat with them about their personal lives or spiritual disposition, as much as you might like to.

Then give them something to do.

Invite them to a meeting they don’t really need to attend – or ask them to proofread documents outside of their area of expertise. Or simply include them on an email chain they don’t need to be a part of. Whatever. Load up their schedule; fill up their inbox.

The point is to get them to associate talking to you about your religion with more work for them. Do that, and my guess is they’ll avoid you like a biblical plague. And when they don’t follow through on your requests for help—and once again, I can almost guarantee they won’t once they realize it’s just busy work—document that as further evidence of your being discriminated against because of your religious beliefs.

Got all that?

Now I realize some of what I suggest may make you uncomfortable, or seem less than forthright. If so, just let me just remind you that it was your employer who first broke trust.

When you took this job you undoubtedly assumed your fundamental right to practice the religion (or non-religion) of your choosing would be respected. Had you known it would not, you probably would have kept looking (or asked for a lot more $$$). And since you weren’t informed of this, you deserve to be justly compensated.

Just how much you should receive is perhaps best left to the courts to decide.



[1] For a discussion of why good management practices result in improved employee performance and increased productivity, please see: Pfeffer, Jeffrey. The Human Equation – Chapter 2: The Business Case for Managing People Right. (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press) 1998. Also: Sirota, David; Louis A. Mischkind, & Michael Irwin Meltzer. The Enthusiastic Employee. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing) 2004.

[2] I absolutely hate giving people this advice, mind you. Why should you, who are so obviously in the right here be the one forced to leave? It’s your meddlesome coworkers, your enabling manager, and your criminal HR department who should be scrambling to find work, not you.

[3] It’s conceivable, of course, that you would be given the raise you ask for – or even that promotion. Having informed HR of your mistreatment, undoubtedly somebody, somewhere in management realizes you have a solid foundation for a lawsuit. They may agree to your request(s) simply in the hopes that it’ll keep you quiet. If they do, take the money and the title, but keep looking. You can use this to negotiate even better terms with your next employer.

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