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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, including my faith/spirituality at work, but they 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

Here’s my advice to you: 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 discrimination you describe isn’t just morally and ethically reprehensible (and un-American, I might add, regardless of the ‘current ideological climate’), it’s in clear violation of any number of laws.

It’s also damaging to you professionally, and likely to harm your career.

By being made to feel marginalized at work, your attitude and capacity to do your job to the best of your ability is sure to be negatively impacted. You may want to believe you’re ‘above it all,’ and that your on-the-job performance will remain unaffected. But in the end, that’s just wishful thinking.[1] Even if you don’t notice the difference, your employer probably will—and, in what can only be considered the deepest of ironies, will evaluate your (under)performance accordingly.

So, yes – seriously consider suing.

The only problem with your case as it stands is demonstrating a quantifiable loss of income as a result of your mistreatment. This is where asking for a raise comes in.

Having requested a raise—and then having it be denied (as it almost certainly will)—you can now put a specific dollar amount on your loss. For every month, week, or day that you remain at your current level of pay, add the difference between that and what you requested to your total claim. (Keep this in mind when deciding how much $ to ask for.)

Now, here’s why you should ask for a promotion.

Given your circumstance, it really is time to start looking for another job as well. Clearly there’s no future for you whatsoever at this organization. Your ability to do your job is already being inhibited it seems, and if anything, things are only going to get worse.

Mind you, I absolutely hate giving people this advice – especially to someone in your circumstances. Why should you, who are so obviously in the right here, be the one forced to upend your life? It’s your meddlesome coworkers, your enabling manager, and your criminal HR department who deserved to be punished. They should be scrambling to find work, not you. I swear, it drives me to distraction.

That said, your current situation will make the already difficult task of landing a new job even more challenging.

You see, prospective employers will almost certainly want to know why you’re looking around – and how will you reply? By offering some wishy-washy answer about ‘needing a change,’ or ‘looking for new challenges’ before quickly changing the subject lest you blurt out the real reason? An experienced interviewer will sense this and question you further – or view your hesitancy as a red flag, potentially killing your candidacy. Having done some interviewing myself, trust me when I say these things are NOT hard to pick up on. So unless you’re a world class liar, your current narrative is a problem.

(By the way, if you’re at all tempted to give an honest account of your current predicament when interviewing, don’t. Prospective employers never want to hear complaints about a previous a job experience, no matter how justified.)

This is where asking for a promotion will prove helpful.

Having made such a request—and again, almost certainly being denied—you now have a legitimate, professionally flattering reason for your job hunt. Here’s your words for recruiters:

You know, for the most part I’ve been very, very happy with my current employer. I certainly appreciate the experience I’ve gained there, and the opportunities I’ve had to grow. In fact, I recently approached my manager about taking on a more leadership role, and additional responsibility. Unfortunately, he couldn’t offer me anything definite at the moment, so I thought I’d explore my options. Your organization seems like an excellent fit.

That’s it. Don’t mention your evangelizing coworkers, your apparent marginalization, or management’s disappointing complicity in this blatant violation of your basic religious freedoms. In fact, I’d advise you not to talk about this situation ever again in a professional context, under any circumstances. You’ve voiced your concerns to your employer, and had your say. Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears – so put it behind you. Anything you say beyond this risks earning you the reputation of a trouble-maker – and that’s not a good look for someone who’s job-hunting either.

So get out, then sue.[2]

In the meantime, there is one other thing you can still do to discourage your proselytizing coworkers.

Let me remind that you are at work when this happens. And two things hold true about work for most people: (a) they don’t want to be there, and (b) when they are there, they don’t want to do more of it. They want to do less. You can use this to your advantage.

So, for instance, the next time one of your preachy officemates starts in, quickly dismiss them by replying ‘I’m not interested in talking about this right now because I’m actually quite busy.’

Then give them something to do.

Suggest they attend a meeting they don’t need to be at, for instance. Or give them documents to proofread that don’t pertain to their job, or are outside their area of expertise. Include them on an email chain that is of no relevance to them, or their work. Whatever. Load up their schedule; fill up their inbox. Be creative. The point is to get them to associate talking to you about your religion with more work for them. Do that, and they’ll avoid you like a biblical plague. And when they don’t follow through on your suggestions—and once again, I guarantee they won’t—document that for your lawsuit as further evidence of your coworkers’ refusal to engage with you because of your religious convictions.

Got all that?

Finally, I realize that some of what I suggest may strike you as disingenuous, or even a bit underhanded.

If so, let me remind you that when you took this job you likely assumed your basic human liberties would be respected. Had you been made aware that your soon-to-be employer had no intention of protecting your fundamental right to practice the religion (or non-religion) of your choosing, and would instead allow you to be persecuted in the workplace based on that choice, you probably would not have accepted their offer. (Or you would’ve asked for a lot more $.) As this was not made clear to you until it was too late, you are deserving of any and all just compensation for the discrimination you now face.

Whether that comes in the form of a raise or a settlement is, to my mind, for your employer to decide.

 

NOTES:

[1] For a discussion of why better management practices lead to better performance from employees, and increased productivity (and conversely, why poor management hurts the bottom line), 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] It’s conceivable, of course, that you would be given the raise and/or promotion you request. Having already informed HR of your mistreatment, someone somewhere in management knows you have a solid foundation for a lawsuit, and therefore have the organization over the proverbial barrel. They may agree to your request(s) simply in the hope that it’ll keep you quiet.

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