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, including my 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

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 capacity to do your job to the best of your ability is sure to be negatively impacted. You may think you’re ‘above it all’, but that’s just wishful thinking.[1] Your performance will suffer – and even if you don’t notice the difference, your employer will. Then, in what can only be considered the deepest of ironies, they’ll evaluate your diminished performance accordingly even though it is the workplace culture they’ve created that’s responsible.

So, yes – seriously consider suing.

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

The first is to demonstrate 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 been denied (as it almost certainly will be)—you will be able to 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.)

Next, you’ll want to start looking for another job. 

Given your circumstance, it really is time to move on. There is absolutely no future whatsoever for you at this organization, no matter what you might like to think. Your ability to do your job has been diminished, and things are likely only to get worse.

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

 Unfortunately for you, however, your current situation will make the already difficult task of landing another job even more challenging. Prospective employers are almost sure to want to know why you’re looking around – and how will you respond? By replying you’re looking for a ‘new challenge’, need ‘a change’, or some similarly wishy-washy answer? Then you’ll probably try to quickly change the subject to avoid blurting out the real reason: That you’re the victim of religious discrimination by your current employer. An experienced interviewer will pick up on this and question you further. Or they’ll interpret your hesitancy to be more specific as a potential red flag, possibly killing your candidacy. So unless you’re a world class liar, your current narrative is a problem.

This is where asking for a promotion comes in.

Having requested one—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, and appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to grow there. In fact, I recently approached my manager about taking on more responsibility. Unfortunately, he couldn’t offer me anything specific at the moment, so I thought I’d explore my options. Your organization seems like an excellent fit.

And that’s it.

Don’t mention your evangelizing coworkers, their obvious discrimination, 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 voiced your concerns, and had your say. Unfortunately for you, it fell on deaf ears – so put it behind you. Any frustration you express beyond what you already have risks earning you the reputation of a trouble-maker. That’s not a good look for someone looking for jobs either.

So get out, then sue.[2]

In the meantime, there is one last thing you can do to discourage your proselytizing colleagues.

Let me remind that you are at work when this happens. And two things hold true for most people about work: (1) They don’t want to be there, and (2) when they are there, they want to do less of it. 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. Or give them documents to proofread that don’t relate to their job. 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 requests—and once again, I can all but guarantee they won’t—document that for your lawsuit as further evidence that your coworkers refuse to work with you for religious reasons. 

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 probably 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 instead would allow you to be persecuted 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.



[1] For a discussion of why good management practices lead to improved performance from employees, and therefore 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] 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 the organization knows you have a solid foundation for a lawsuit. They may agree to your request(s) simply in the hope that it’ll keep you quiet.

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