we have to notify our employer about any clubs or organizations we belong to, including churches

A reader writes:

I have been working for the past seven years for a nonprofit in Florida. We got a notification this morning that we had to send an email to HR revealing any other employment we have as well as if we belong to any clubs or organizations, including church. They said this information is to be placed in our HR file.

Is this legal for the employer to gather this information? The demand was followed up with “if you don’t like it, you don’t have to work here anymore.”


My hunch here was the act of asking about memberships in outside organizations doesn’t itself violate any laws, but it’s incredibly unwise from both a management standpoint and a legal standpoint: It’s bad management because it’s going to make employees really uncomfortable if they don’t care to reveal private affiliations, and it’s legally sketchy because if it were combined with additional information, it could look like discrimination or even an attempt at union-busting (depending on the organizations someone belongs to).

But to say for sure, I turned to employment lawyer Donna Ballman, author of Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired (which you should buy; it’s excellent). Here’s what Donna says:

Certainly it isn’t unreasonable for an employer to ask if you have a second job, and require you to disclose it. The reason for this would be to make sure there isn’t a conflict of interest and that you aren’t doing your second job on company time. When it gets into organizations, they may have a legitimate reason such as trying to show that their employees are involved in the community or concern about conflict of interest or doing the outside activities on company time. I’d say this inquiry is pretty invasive, but may not cross the line.

Asking about churches, though, is something I think could cross into illegal territory. The fact of the question being asked isn’t necessarily an instant lawsuit, but what they do with the information could be. I think it’s really stupid for them to ask. For instance, if they find out you’re a Wiccan, an atheist, or a Mormon and then they deny you a promotion, discipline you, or fire you, you’ll have a good argument that you were subjected to religious discrimination.

Going back to organizations, what if you’re a member of a cancer survivor group or a support group for people with a particular disability? Or you go to AA? Or maybe you belong to a group for people with a particular genetic defect, of a specific ethnicity or other protected category. If they take adverse action against you after you disclose this information, you might have a discrimination claim.

Overall, I think the organizations and church membership questions are stupid on the employer’s part but asking isn’t an instant lawsuit. What they do with the information, on the other hand, could give you ammunition for a discrimination suit down the line.

So, where does that leave you, letter-writer?

Personally, I’d reveal only what you’re comfortable with. Not about any second job — as Donna points out, they can have legitimate reasons for asking that, and it’s reasonable to require you to disclose that. But memberships in various organizations? I don’t think it’s any of their business, it’s opening the door to potential discrimination down the road, and well … maybe you have an awfully bad memory the day you fill out that form.

My bigger concern is actually their statement that if you don’t like it, you can find another job. That’s not the way a reasonable or well-managed organization communicates with employees, and unless there’s way more context to that conversation that wasn’t shared here, that’s a huge red flag. Good employers are as transparent as they can be, particularly when making requests that could be viewed as invasive or odd. Slapping someone down in a such a nasty way for asking what I assume was a reasonable question posed in a reasonable way — that’s a sign of deeper trouble.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

{ 288 comments… read them below }

  1. Chocolate lover*

    UGH. This gives me the creeps, and like Alison, I’m particularly concerned about their statement to go work elsewhere. What a poor way to treat people. In my case, I could honestly say I’m not in any, but if I were, I’d conveniently “forget” them.

    1. Karowen*

      Because I’m not in any real organizations, I’d almost want to do the opposite. “Well there’s book club, and pub trivia, and my WoW guild is Creeps Almighty. I watch Jeopardy! every night with my fiance, so we’ll call that the Jeopardy! Alliance. I have cards for: Bi-Lo, ShopRite, Kroger, FoodLion, A&P, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, two libraries, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, PetSmart, Pet Supplies Plus, and Ulta. I have memberships with AAA, Amazon Prime and Netflix. I am part of the community in the following subreddits: /r/jokes, /r/askwomen /r/askreddit. I follow the following pages on Facebook and could be said to be part of their fan clubs, so I’m sure you want to know that I like: Scrubs, Beauty & The Beast, Sherlock and How I Met Your Mother.”

      1. Not So NewReader*

        One thing that could enhance that is to do weekly updates: This week I dropped the A&P and added the knitting group. I also gave up on one library and added another.
        Bury them in useless information.

        1. Karowen*

          Absolutely. And once they’ve gotten to the point that they are deleting all of your emails immediately, start including real ones (but still hide it in the middle of the BS).

        2. chicken_flavored_deodorant*

          In addition, the description of each organization could include a large copy&paste from the applicable Wikipedia entry or corporate “about us” webpage. It wouldn’t be hard to produce an 80+ page document by doing this. And, in the middle, you could truthfully bury the other stuff (Wiccan/College Republicans/NAMBLA/etc.) Remember, when it comes to stupid requests from manglement, malicious compliance is the *best* sort of compliance

      2. So Very Anonymous*

        “How far back do you want this to go? Because a few years after college I joined the Quality Paperback Club, and I was a member of Blockbuster for a really long time, except that I kept moving and changing phone numbers so I lost track of the card, but then I just joined Netflix, which is kind of like a club, isn’t it? And then my mother always says I’m in a category by myself, so I’m kind of in the Club of Me. Oh, and my mom was a church organist who played at most of the Protestant churches in my home town, so do you want me to just list those right here as well? Does it matter if they’re in alphabetical order or do you want them chronological? …. Why are you looking at me that way? I just want to be sure I’m giving you what you need…”

      3. nyxalinth*

        Win. I also play WoW and am an avid fan of the Elder scrolls games, so I can imagine doing this myself, adding “I also am a follower of these fan pages on Facebook: Emerson the Cat, the Best Little Cathouse in Florida (cat sanctuary), Elder Scrolls fan pages Dreugh (he used to be Sload, then he changed his name) , Alucardo, and Mankor Camoran. Then you have my own page, and I’m also in the following game guilds. Oh! I write a lot of TES fan fiction so you might want to read that, too. Oh yeah, and here’s my Steam games list and all the achievements I have. I’ve been playing too much Fallout: New Vegas lately, so as you can see I’m trying to balance it out with more Oblivion. I hope that the fact that i have achievements for both Caeser’s Legion and the NCR won’t be a problem*.”

        *Not really, it just sounds good.

        1. Violet Rose*

          I’m glad I’m not the only Elder Scrolls fan who genuinely likes Oblivion :P “My Oblivion character is a member of all four major factions. My Morrowind character is a member of the Blades, the Mages Guild, the Thieves Guild, House Hlaalu– oh, wait, I have to explain what those are!”

      4. Michele*

        Several years ago, the security at the company I work for went all power hungry and tried to create some sort of dossier on all of us. We were supposed to fill out these forms with hair and eye color, height, weight, and a few other things. As far as they are concerned I am 4’2″ with flaming red hair, one blue eye (the other is missing), and I weight 1200 lbs.

      5. Robert Columbia*

        While I agree that that is excessive, it does hint at an important question. Where is the dividing line between a group of people who do things (and wouldn’t need to be reported to the employer) and a formal “organization” that would need to be reported under such a policy? For example, at what point does a group of friends who occasionally play pool together become a Billiards League? Can you keep your group a non-organization by refusing to give it a name? Is there a membership count over which organization status is automatic (e.g. under 100 members – not an organization, 100 or more members – reportable organization)?

  2. Enjay*

    There’s zero chance I would disclose any of that information, to include an outside job that did not create a conflict of interest.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Secondary employment policies are pretty common, though. It’s not crazy to want to know if your employees are working elsewhere, especially if it’s in a remotely related industry, or if there are possible scheduling conflicts. More than once I’ve had employees who did not perceive any potential conflict with their secondary employment, but they didn’t think through all the possibilities. It’s not my goal to make it hard for people to earn extra income, but part of dealing with conflicts of interest is acknowledging and discussing them.

      1. De Minimis*

        For us it’s a legal requirement to disclose it, but that seems to be par for the course for government employees.
        I think we not only have to disclose it, but I think we have to ask for permission before even taking a second job.

        1. Nerd Girl*

          I think this is true. I have a friend who works as a mechanic in a government position. He had to get written permission to do side work out of his own home garage for cars other than his own.

          1. De Minimis*

            Of course in reality there aren’t that many situations where it wouldn’t be allowed, only in cases where your outside employment could create the appearance of a conflict of interest.

      2. Development professional*

        In my last job, we were required to disclose outside employment only if it was above a certain threshhold of income (I think $15,000 per year or something).

        1. maggie*

          We had the same at my last job (financial services). They are also now requiring employees to disclose any politicians that we donate our time or money to. Oof.

    2. LBK*

      Every place I’ve worked required you to disclose a secondary job, that doesn’t seem odd to me at all. It’s not necessarily just about conflicts of interest in the sense of working for a competitor, it’s also about scheduling and energy. When I was working a 9 to 5 plus picking up shifts at a coffee shop, it was important for my manager to know because a) during our busy I couldn’t stay until 6 to finish up work because I had to be at my other job by 5:30, and b) if I was constantly tired from working so many hours and it impacted my work performance, that would be relevant information for him to have about why.

    3. Muriel Heslop*

      My husband is an attorney and is expressly forbidden in his contract from doing any work outside his job, and that includes any volunteer legal services.

      1. JTD*

        But does he not have CPD in his field? It’s very common in Europe and parts of the US to have lawyers volunteer a certain amount of pro bono time, and in many cases it’s required for their continuing professional development. Or does his employer arrange that for him?

        1. Leah*

          In the US, it’s called CLE for lawyers. Volunteer time is not required but it would be great if it was. Some states are requiring that you complete a certain number of pro bono hours before you can become licensed but otherwise its mostly webinars or attending panel discussions.

    4. Student*

      I once had a job where they were very aggressive about requiring disclosure of other jobs, and would fire people with other jobs or threaten to fire them unless they quit the other jobs. They really, really wanted everyone to be available at the drop of a hat, and able to work 50-60 hour weeks on short notice. One of my co-workers got read the riot act for tutoring college students.

      The kicker: This was a $20k per year job.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Sounds likely they were violating minimum wage laws on top of being possessive crazy jerks.

  3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    Yeah, this sound to me like a (dumb) way to determine if there are potential or actual conflicts of interest. Nonprofits often have to declare, in various and sundry ways, the existence of potential or actual conflicts of interest that their staff and board may have. However, just being a member of a group isn’t generally problematic – COI more often means that you have the potential for some benefit for loss (usually financial) from that other group or business. That normally means you are an employee, owner, or board member.

    Also, things like church and club membership change for people all the time – you join a knitting club, and then you move on and become a soccer coach, or whatever, so it’s silly to think you can maintain a 100% accurate list. It would be more useful to educate employees about potential conflicts of interest so that they understand the logic of it, and then to ask them to declare any potential conflicts that arise.

    1. Chocolate lover*

      My institution does require us to complete conflict of interest statements. However, they don’t unilaterally demand that we inform them of all groups. They give explanations of potential conflicts, ask if we’re involved in any organizations that fall into the conflict category, and IF so, then ask you to explain further.

    2. Knitting Cat Lady*

      I only know COI from scientific, especially medical, journals.

      Where it basically means: This is where I got my funding, people.

      You’ll find a section with the article that states: ‘Declaration of interest: Prof. Y was funded by Company X, government programme U and university L’

      1. TL -*

        In research science, not uncommon for conflict of interest for second jobs, especially if it’s in or related to the same field you’re in (can get tricky when looking at intellectual property).

        But if you’re working full-time as a professor and part-time as a Wal-Mart greeter, they wouldn’t care.

    3. Artemesia*

      I had to fill out COI forms in my previous employment and they are very clear about the kinds of information they need. It is specifically linked to financial benefit of self and immediate family in doing business with the organization.

      There is no COI issue in belonging to the atheist study group, the church of weirdness, the political action lead that differs from the bosses political ties, or any other private organization that does not do business with the agency.

    4. Anonathon*

      I’ve worked only for nonprofits and never signed a COI policy or anything. In my past and current jobs, those were only for Board members (since they have fiduciary responsibility).

      Agreed, re: membership being fluid. I go to temple (sometimes) for major holidays or events, but I’m not an official member or anything. So does that count? What about my book club where, um, we rarely read the books?

      1. Chinook*

        “re: membership being fluid. I go to temple (sometimes) for major holidays or events, but I’m not an official member or anything.”

        Don’t be so quick to assume that you aren’t a member. I don’t know how it works for your faith, but Catholics are considered members if you have been confirmed even if you are no longer practising. Your home parish is then considered the one within boundaries laid out by the diocese for your permanent residence (which is only really important for things like electing pastoral councils or taking head counts). You may be on your local temple’s membership roll even if you are only casually attending.

        1. Chinook*

          I should add that I would be severly weirded out if my employer wanted to know which religious organization I belong to (if any). The only time I can see this as relevant is when I am working for a Catholic school or other similair religious organization (and then only to clarify if I they should consider me a member of their community as well or “just staff.”)

          1. nonegiven*

            I found out I was still on the membership rolls at a church I had not attended for half my life. I asked how to get off the list and they said the only way is to join a new church or to withdraw in writing. I withdrew my membership in writing just on general principles. My membership began and ended (in my mind) when I was a minor so it had never occurred to me that it meant anything at all to anyone, it just creeped me out to be still on the list.

        2. Notfunny.*

          In my experience, if you aren’t paying for membership at a shul, then you probably aren’t considered to be a member.

          1. Felicia*

            That is my experience too (and why though i’ve been to many a shul for high holidays, i am not a member). Only those paying membership to the shul are members .

        3. Caroline*

          Judaism is different, to become a member of a congregation, (at least in the US), you join and pay dues. So you can definitely go occasionally and not be a member. That’s quite common.

          1. NoPantsFridays*

            I’m in the US too, and it’s the same in my faith — if you join and pay dues, you’re a member. Otherwise, you’re generally not considered a member. It also makes it easier to leave the faith by officially leaving the congregation / no longer practicing. Of course, leaving the congregation doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve left the faith, it could just be that you’re leaving the organized portion of it or are moving and will be joining a new congregation — but it does provide some “official” severance from the faith.

            1. Chinook*

              This is why like the AAM community – I like being able to learn how other religious organizatinons deal with something like membership. Being raised a Catholic, the joke with us is that when you sign up for anything, it is for life (including if you volunteer to do something just once). Knowing that it isn’t the same in other faiths is enlightening (but not a surprise).

    5. inkstainedpages*

      This is my thought too. My non-profit organization has all employees fill out a yearly “activities disclosure” form. The reason it’s this instead of a COI form is because no one on the board or staff has a clear grasp on what a conflict of interest is. So this is a way to cover our bases and make sure we have all the info we need. I’ve never considered that it may be problematic before or violate privacy – interesting.

      1. inkstainedpages*

        And I think this is probably the case with this organization too – they probably aren’t doing it to be nosy. But the “if you don’t like it, leave” comment is odd.

      2. Megan*

        I guess the line for me would be, what happens if I fial to disclose something accidentally?

        1. Megan*

          Or, possibly, misspell something on the list when I submit it? :-D (I should proof-read my comments).

    6. Hlyssande*

      My company makes us take a mandatory online course every year AND fill out a form certifying that we have no conflict of interest.

      Why can’t this company do the same/something similar? It seems much easier and less problematic to have people sign something certifying that they have no conflict of interest in every area than to demand that they provide info for every single thing they’re doing in their personal lives.

  4. Ann Furthermore*

    Ewwww. This would really tick me off, because what are they going to do with that information? I’d start looking for a new job right away. It’s legitimate to want to know if people have second jobs, but beyond that, this has a disturbing Big Brother vibe to it.

    Every so often my company circulates an email asking everyone to submit their license plate numbers, ostensibly so they’ll know who is/is not in the building in the event of an emergency. Sounds reasonable, but who’s going to maintain that information? Update it when someone gets a new car? Since I drive my husband’s car to work once in awhile, do I have to provide his license plate number too? I always ignore the emails.

    1. JB*

      Not to mention, that’s not a terribly accurate way to determine who is in the building. That only shows whose car is in the parking lot. If they really want to know who is in the building in an emergency, that are better ways to keep track of that.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Bummer for the people who take public transit!

        I drive, but even though I drove today, my car is missing. I lent it out, since I’d be inside at work all day. It should be back soon. I hope the building doesn’t catch on fire in the meantime.

    2. BritCred*

      I can understand for car park issues and for secure/monitored car parks…. but for emergency counts? silly. That is what timecards/log in tabs are for….

      1. Us, Too*

        We have to report our license plate AND have a special parking pass displayed. Parking is very limited (and I pay for it) so if the security guard sees a car without a tag and/or not on his list, it gets towed.

        I’ve already registered and got passes for both my car and my husband’s. When I drive a rental car to work or some other car, I always go register it with the front desk so it won’t be towed.

        Having had some jerk park in my spot in the past, I’m more than happy to comply with the request to register license plates and use passes.

    3. Remy*

      There was a car parked in our work lot in the same spot for months on end. I finally reported the number to HR when the tags expired, and let them handle it. (I think they towed it. But I’ll admit I had been keeping an eye on it and had wanted to inquire earlier because I was concerned it might have been owned by an employee who had suddenly been let go and then just seemed to disappear off the face of the earth.)

    4. NoPantsFridays*

      We are technically supposed to provide our license plate numbers too (to the building’s security), but it’s an unwritten thing that you don’t have to provide it. But the stated reason is so that the car is tethered to the employee, i.e. they know whose car it is. So if you’re parked in a reserved spot or left your lights on, door open, trunk ajar, etc. then security will call you at your desk or send you an email to let you know that your car, model/make ABC and license plate no. XYZ, has its lights on. In practice, because few people have provided their license plate no., security ends up sending out a mass email to the whole building every time there’s a door ajar.

      1. EvaR*

        Our office has this as well. And our parking is somewhat limited so I think it might be so they can work out any potential issues related to people parking in the lot who don’t work in our building.

        The only thing that gets to me is that our company has a lot of rules that are very strict like this that only get enforced on a haphazard basis and are almost never followed. It feels like there has to be a better way of dealing with actual problems than making rules against everything and not enforcing them.

    5. Emma*

      This is not even remotely abnormal and I don’t quite get why you wouldn’t comply. Do they say that they request the information in order to know who is in the building, or is that your guess? As someone else mentioned, there are (obviously) several better ways to know who is in the building. But, there are plenty of other good reasons for wanting license plate information. Often it’s requested in the context of issuing a parking sticker, and then the number of the sticker becomes the identifier (and proof that you are allowed to park in the area.) Companies which have more open parking policies might not issue parking stickers but will also request it simply so they know who owns any given car – and yes, it makes sense to give the information for any vehicle you might take to work.

      What if there is an accident and someone rams your car in the lot? What if a tree falls on it? What if you left the lights on? What if you accidentally left your dog/child in the car? There are plenty of reasons for a company to want to know who owns which car.

      1. Emma*

        (This was in response to the first poster who brought up this issue, not to the poster directly above my comment.)

  5. BadPlanning*

    Other than the general badness of asking for this information — I don’t think asking for this will even get whatever information they think they want. Clubs can be so general! Do they want you to include book club that you have with some friends? Knit night at the coffee shop? Stopping by the VFW for some drinks? Playing pool everything Thursday night? In person meets-up with online groups?

  6. Laurel Gray*

    The clubs and organizations part is very suspicious to me. It is somewhat reasonable for an employer to want to know about other current employment (scheduling, conflict of interest etc) but being a part of clubs and organizations is not mandatory and that makes them hobbies. An employer demanding to know my hobbies or I “don’t have to work here anymore” is very suspicious. I can’t imagine the out of the blue need for this information is for something positive.

    1. PEBCAK*

      There are employers who VERY STRONGLY ENCOURAGE you to be involved in at least one community group (Rotary or Junior League or the symphony junior board or something), but then they ask, you write down what it is, and everyone moves on.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        Yes, there are many employers like this and many of them show this side of them in the interview process and are very clear about why they care and how it fits into the company culture/mission. Asking me after I have been an employee be it months or years, without an explanation and telling me if I don’t like it I can kick rocks? Suspicious.

      2. Chinook*

        “There are employers who VERY STRONGLY ENCOURAGE you to be involved in at least one community group (Rotary or Junior League or the symphony junior board or something), but then they ask, you write down what it is, and everyone moves on.”

        I am curious as I have never worked for an employer like this – do they have a bias for or against certain groups or do they just want you to get involved? I am currently President of a local chapter of a national Catholic women’s group and while I would never deny belonging, I also don’t advertise it at work because I know that there are false stereotypes out there about the type of women these attracts (think very pious, grey haired and pearl clutching as well as homphobic harpies) which is very much not me. I always worry if that type of information about me would harm my job prospects if someone thinks that is what I am like.

        1. PEBCAK*

          My experience is that it’s usually people in sales roles, or consulting roles where the consultants are expected to bring in business, which is to say, they want to see that you are out in the community networking.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          I worked for a company that had a way for us to track our volunteer hours. There were some limits to what could be counted: completely religious was out, but chaperoning for our church youth group could be allowed. They essentially wanted to say how much their employees volunteer in the community, and provided incentives so that we would report that. But it was voluntary reporting.

        3. Yetanothermouse*

          My (UK based) organisation encourages volunteering to the extent we can do a certain number of days per year without it coming off vacation time. They just want us to get involved in things – my boss does woodland conservation work, the ceo is a school governor and so on. It’s not a usual thing, but I rather like it!

          1. NoPantsFridays*

            Us too! (I’m in the US) We have a few days a year where we can optionally volunteer for certain organizations and it won’t come off vacation time. Those who choose not to volunteer can just work a normal day, no issue. We also get to volunteer with our coworkers rather than total strangers, plus I’ve met a few employees from other departments who I’d normally never meet. And they are usually food bank type charities, not religiously toned at all.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Ours does too–they want us to be involved in charitable activities and they are too. But it’s not mandatory and no one asks what you’re doing. They provide opportunities to do it through work, such as collecting donations of goods, having pancake breakfasts to raise money, etc. I used to be more hands-on, but these days I prefer just to make donations, so I’m glad they don’t require us to physically volunteer for stuff.

    2. MK*

      Not to mention that these things changeball the time. Are the employees supposed to notify the company any time they change hobbies?

  7. Sharon*

    It might be fun to claim you are a member of a group like NAMBLA and see what the reaction is. Of course you’d have to be SUPER brave, have another job lined up and have an attorney on speed dial to do that just in case they immediately show you the door.

    1. Rex*

      Except the thing is, in the U.S. at least, an employer *can* legally fire you for being a member of NAMBLA (or having blond hair, or for looking at them funny, or, for that matter, for lying about being a member of NAMBLA), so I’m not sure what this approach gets you except a lot of legal bills.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        +1 I’m confused on that approach. And I didn’t know what NAMBLA stood for so I had to Google it.

        1. Former Professional Computer Geek*

          Why, it’s the National Association for Marlon Brando Look-Alikes!

          (cf. South Park)

    2. Zillah*

      I think that discriminating against people who think NAMBLA is a totally great idea is something I’m actually not super uncomfortable with. I mean, really? And, as been pointed out, it’s totally legal to do so.

    3. Amy*

      I actually wondered if that was their reason for asking. Maybe they’ve had issues with employees being involved in unsavory groups/churches (like the KKK or WBC) and they want to protect their image.

      That doesn’t make the request a good idea, certainly, but I think that might explain. Also the “if you don’t like it you can leave.”

    4. anonagain*

      I don’t know if this was meant as a joke. Whether the comment was a joke or whether you earnestly meant to recommend that someone do this as a joke, there isn’t anything I can find to laugh at here.

  8. Nethwen*

    Then there’s the matter of how to define membership. I regularly go to a specific church, tithe, and participate in church activities, so I’m a member in action but I’m not a member in the sense of having filled out a membership card and been declared an official member.

    1. puddin*

      Conversely, I am a member to a church I have not been to in 2 decades…does that count?

      Regardless, church membership information is waaaaay off limits.

    2. BadPlanning*

      I was thinking about this exact example. Are you lying if you say you belong to that church because you’re not an official member? Or you are lying by omission if you don’t list that church because you attend and tithe?

  9. Artemesia*

    I can see a non-profit development office wanting this information as part of using networking to fund raise and have not thought it out. But threatening your job makes it seem less thoughtless than downright abusive.

    I hope everyone who is good at their jobs at this non-profit, takes up the invitation to ‘not work here anymore’ and finds jobs with other agencies.

    1. Vivalakellye*

      I work for a nonprofit and can confirm that we’re encouraged to comb through our contacts (be it via organizations we participate in, our personal/family connections, etc) to boost funding and secure tangible program incentives. I’ve never personally been required to tell my organization about groups I’m in, but we are pressured to use our outside contacts for the benefit of our organization.

    2. I'm a Little Teapot*

      I never thought of the fundraising angle, but you’re right…they might be hamhandedly mining their employees’ social networks for donors.

  10. Joey*

    I disagree with what Donna is implying. I chalk it up to lawyers giving out the most risk averse advice. Merely asking or knowing someone’s affiliations doesn’t mean you have a good chance at a discrimination claim if you experience adverse action. You’d have to tie it back to the protected category. And as more time passes that becomes harder and harder without somebody having a smoking gun (ie a pattern, strong evidence) or a first hand witness.

    That said its certainly an invasion of privacy that a lot of people aren’t comfortable with. But there’s no need to be scared that it might be the basis for a lawsuit anymore than knowing someone’s nationality or age.

    1. Helka*

      I think it comes down to something of a cost/benefit analysis. Is it likely that someone will manage to actually win a discrimination lawsuit based on this information being collected? Not likely. The risk that they will try and bring one (and therefore cost the organization time and money) is higher, though, and the benefit seems insubstantial. So when it comes down to it, the benefit wouldn’t be worth the risk, even if the risk is not “smoking gun” level of danger.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      It’s not really about whether the plaintiff will win the lawsuit or not, but asking about a religious affiliation and then later denying a promotion or firing someone certainly makes a lawsuit (winnable or not) more credible (i.e., not frivolous), which means a lot of time/money/energy sucked out to defend against the suit… instead of the suit not appearing in the first place.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        P.S. I’m glad you mentioned “age,” because it’s the same deal. If you happen to know an employee’s age, that’s one thing; going out of your way to ask the employee’s age (and then denying a promotion or firing) is the exact same situation.

      2. Joey*

        my boss knows my faith since we discussed what we did on the weekend. That doesn’t make a lawsuit more credible by itself unless I could tie it back to that. And mere speculation doesn’t go far legally.

        1. Helka*

          You proactively mentioning it to your boss is different from your boss saying “Okay, you all need to tell me your church affiliation” though. People who feel that they are likely to suffer discrimination often won’t discuss their faith in the office.

          1. Nashira*

            Yeppers. With some of the things I’ve heard my coworkers say, especially the client’s super Catholic employees, there’s no chance I’d let them find out I’m an atheist.

            1. Chinook*

              “With some of the things I’ve heard my coworkers say, especially the client’s super Catholic employees, there’s no chance I’d let them find out I’m an atheist.”

              Nashira, on behalf of those who are members of that group who detest those who offended you, I apologize and what to say we are all not like that. I have had some amazing conversations about diverse topics with bosses, colleagues and classmates who have been atheists, Buddhists, various flavours of Christian and Muslim. Unfortuantely, we haven’t figured out a way to disown our idot brethren (who often make us cringe with what they say).

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                Don’t worry about it too much, Chinook…we atheists have intolerant jerks among our ranks, too. :)

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Donna’s point is that it opens the employer up to liability down the road. Now, if there’s good reason for the company to need this information, that might trump those concerns. But if that’s the case, the employer should explain that. By not explaining it, they’re creating the conditions for someone to suspect discrimination if they’re later subject to an adverse employment action — whether or not it’s really true. Which can turn into a huge headache for the company, which is why they should be being more transparent if they do have a legitimate reason for this.

      1. Joey*

        if you ever talk about what you do on your personal time to your employer the risk isn’t much different.

        1. JB*

          It’s a little different because the employer asking about it indicates that they care about the information. Maybe they only care because they want to know where they might have networking opportunities, but the failure to explain the reason for the request leaves employees (and jurors) to fill in the gaps with their own explanation.

          1. Artemesia*

            Exactly. People sitting around chatting about their churches is one thing, but the office wanting to know everyone’s religion suggests the question ‘why do they want this information.’ Can anyone think of a legitimate reason that does not involve religious discrimination.

              1. LBK*

                Don’t they, though? I think in your scenario you’re also presuming that the employer will have clear and believable documentation of their legitimate termination process (PIPs, write ups, evidence of poor work, etc.). If no such documentation exists, a record of someone’s religion that you can’t justify with an understandable business-related explanation (ie a “good” reason) is going to be pretty damning.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Right, they don’t legally need a reason, but not having one opens up the door for someone later thinking it was used for discriminatory reason. As LBK says elsewhere, it’s the same reason you don’t ask questions about religion in job interviews — doing it isn’t illegal, but using the info in your decision is and by asking without reason you open the door to people believing you’re discriminating.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          It’s kind of like asking a female employee if she plans to get pregnant. The question itself isn’t that bad. But if you ask that question and then happen to fire her, it looks bad. Really bad.

          1. Joey*

            it only sounds bad when you leave out the context. What if you asked her a year ago and you just fired her for the same attendance problems as other folks you fired?

            1. LBK*

              The point is collecting this information when there’s zero context (and, frankly, no legitimate business reasons I can think of that you would need to know it) may plant the seed in the employee’s head that discrimination occurred even if it didn’t, and that opens the company up to having to field a complaint or a lawsuit that will be time consuming and expensive even if they win.

              There’s a reason EEO law doesn’t apply to smaller businesses – because dealing with discrimination claims is a huge drain on resources, whether they’re valid or not. Do whatever benefits you think you’re getting from recording someone’s religion really outweigh the potential cost of lending yourself to a discrimination claim?

              You’re right that there’s nothing illegal about doing this in and of itself, but that doesn’t mean it’s smart. It’s the same thing as not asking questions like this in interviews – it’s just easier to avoid the appearance of potential discrimination, especially since in most cases the info you get from asking those questions isn’t useful anyway.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Right. And how can you then prove that you DIDN’T collect this random information for anything other than discrimination? If you have no other context for it, that might be really difficult.

            2. Green*

              That’s not how these cases usually go…

              There’s also a phenomenon with initial filings in legal cases (the complaints) going viral, that contain just the allegations. That can be damaging enough to an employer. You can also combine a few bad facts and string them together and it looks like a pattern or lays out a stronger case.

            3. Melissa*

              She can still sue you. And even though she might not (and probably won’t) win, it can still bring a lot of headache your company.

        3. LizNYC*

          Yes, but if you talk about it, meaning you are volunteering the information freely and with the knowledge of who is hearing it, that’s a bit different than being required to list it in an email.

          It’s one thing if I talk about my weekend and voluntarily include that I went to church. It’s a completely different thing for my employer to say, “I need to know everything you do in your spare time, including religious and community-oriented activities.”

          1. Joey*

            You’re talking about something different. I haven’t seen a law that prohibits employers from compelling you to divulge that info. as a condition of employment Can you point to one?

            1. Colette*

              Is anyone arguing that it’s illegal? It’s not a good idea (at least the way this seems to have been handled) because requiring employees to provide personal information that could be used to illegally discriminate without explaining why you need it opens you up to potential lawsuits (and likely will make your best employees start job hunting), but that’s different than it being illegal.

            2. Green*

              It’s not illegal but it increases liability and looks bad, which is why the lawyer would so don’t do it.

            3. aebhel*

              It’s not illegal, it’s just stupid.

              The fact that something isn’t illegal doesn’t make it a good idea.

        4. Anonymous Educator*

          You seem to be confusing knowing something with actively seeking to find something out. The two are not the same.

        5. Helka*

          “Tell us everything you’re involved in, including protected classes, or we’ll fire you” is way, way different from “Oh yeah, so btw when I was at X Church the other day…”

        6. Snafu Warrior*

          Records that the employer is keeping (on paper? on a database?) are infinitely more auditable than watercooler talk, though, so I think Donna has a point with this one.

        7. AW*

          if you ever talk about what you do on your personal time to your employer

          Yeah, well I don’t and neither do a lot of other people.

          I don’t understand why you keep trying to insist an employer demanding information is the same as the employee volunteering it when 1) it’s not and 2) not all employees volunteer this information.

        8. Swarley*

          Joey said “if you ever talk about what you do on your personal time to your employer the risk isn’t much different.”

          This is different in that your manager probably doesn’t force you to state what you did over the weekend or lose your job, which is basically what OP’s employer is requiring. These are much different cicumstances.

        9. Mike C.*

          Sure, if your boss demands to know what you did on the weekend under threat of being fired. Otherwise there’s a huge difference.

        10. aebhel*

          Not really. If an employee thinks that they might be discriminated against because of their religious affiliation, they wouldn’t be likely to disclose it at work. If an employer demands to know what church (if any) they attend, they’re taking that choice out of the hands of the employee.

      2. Robert Columbia*

        If the disclosures are really required to check for Conflicts of Interest, one possibility could be for the employer to have all employees disclose their organizational affiliations to an attorney hired by the company, would would keep the affiliations themselves private and only disclose to the employer whether or not a conflict existed. So if you are a member of an embarrassing but non-conflicting group, the employer only gets a “no conflicts” green light on you.

    4. Well*

      In general, you’re right, I think context matters. But in this case:

      1) HR is doing the asking as part of their official capacity. This is not breakroom “hey, what did you do this weekend?” chatter.
      2) They’ve said specifically it’ll go into the employee’s file.
      3) When pressed, they said the alternative was quitting (or getting fired). They are treating sharing the information as a condition of employment.
      4) They offer no reason or context [at least, not that the OP notes, anyway – perhaps that’s just omitted] but specifically mention “including church.” (This is relevant because religion is a protected class, whereas – for example – membership in the local country club is not.)

      I agree that you can ask about this information in ways that don’t necessarily put you at risk of lawsuits. But when the person asking is HR, when they specifically state it’s going to be part of the employee’s file, when they threaten firing if you don’t comply, and when they don’t often an alternative reason, I think that they’re definitely taking on a lot of risk.

      Simply knowing someone’s nationality or age is certainly not the basis for a lawsuit. But if HR in their official capacity asks you for your nationality, tells you that it’s going in your employee file, also tells you that it’s a condition of your employment, and fails to provide any further context for why they’re asking, you’re just asking for someone who is fired a few months later to think “wait a minute, this all started when I told them which synagogue/mosque/church/etc I attend…”

      1. Joey*

        That’s not what causes people to speculate. People speculate when they feel they weren’t treated fairly, with respect, or with dignity.

        I know all sorts of protected info about my ee’s, but I can almost guarantee you as long as they feel they’ve been given a fair shake and treated respectfully protected categories won’t ever come up.

        1. Helka*

          Did you demand that protected info from them and threaten to boot them if they didn’t give it to you? That’s what this is about. Not the OP’s employer having the info, but demanding it and backing the demand up with threatening language.

        2. Elsajeni*

          I think the problem is that saying “Tell us what clubs and churches you belong to, and if you don’t want to, maybe you should look for work elsewhere” is exactly the kind of thing that makes people feel like they’re not being treated fairly or with respect.

          1. Joey*

            That’s true, but people rarely file discrimination cases based on one single slight. It’s either got to be a figurative slap in the face or a series of slights.

            1. Melissa*

              The point that people are trying to make is that the problem is not right now. The problem might be 6 months down the road, when John is fired and starts to wonder if it’s partially because he disclosed that he belongs to a masjid on that crazy HR questionnaire. And confirmation bias is a real thing – if a person wants to believe something, they can find the slights and occurrences that make that thing “real” in their heads.

        3. Mike C.*

          And being told, “tell me all this private information about you or leave the company” isn’t fair, respectful or dignified.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          People speculate when they feel they weren’t treated fairly, with respect, or with dignity.

          Or if they’re bored, or vicious gossips, or you looked at them the wrong way in the lunch room, ad infinitum. You can’t guarantee anything when it comes to people.

          People are panicky, dumb, dangerous animals and you know it. — K

    5. Sue Wilson*

      I think you are severely underestimating how easy the complaint hurdle is to get over, and how much time effort and money you must put in before the harder hurdle of the summary judgement.

      1. Joey*

        Nope. A lawsuit is step 20. You’ve got to get through an EEOC investigator before you even think about a lawsuit. And the EEOC investigators I’ve dealt with are pretty reasonable in terms of their judgement on the legitimacy of claims.

        1. Melissa*

          …but then the company has to deal with an EEOC complaint.

          Also, you don’t have to go through the EEOC if the complaint involves age discrimination or gender-based pay discrimination that you want to sue for under the Equal Pay Act.

  11. Sarah Nicole*

    I’d just not tell them. If I went to a church, attended club meetings, or had a book club or whatever else…all of that is my business. How would they even know? Have you ever seen them at any of these activities before? If not, you may be in the clear that no one important will even notice or be able to prove it. And if they did find out and asked me, I’d say this: “I don’t belong to this group. I just go to hang out sometimes/ go to this church once in a while/ dropped in to learn more about others in the community.” They can’t tell you where you can and can’t go to hang out after work. I’d simply ignore the request, or place a benign affiliation, like a book club, in there to throw them off of wanting to follow up with you about your lack of disclosed groups.

  12. Jamie*

    The main problem here is the inflammatory “If you don’t like it you can find another job”. That’s completely out of line. I’m on the board of a non-profit and if anyone in my organization was using language like that I’d be on fire. Be upfront about your reasons for requesting the information, make the request in a respectful manner, and people are MUCH more likely to comply, and comply honestly as opposed to conveniently “forgetting” some of the organizations. It blows my mind that people do not understand this.

    1. Swarley*

      I love this point, but I respectfully disagree with the idea that the main problem is the inflammatory ultimatum given by the OP’s employer. I think the main concern is requiring this information in the first place. Outside of asking about secondary employment, there’s not a valid reason to need this information. What an employee does outside of work is their business, and this (along with the outrageous ultimatum) is a sign of a hugely dysfunctional workplace.

      1. beckythetechie*

        The reactions on this page give the best examples I can think of to illustrate why asking all this is such a bad idea. Everyone has A Homelife Thing they don’t discuss at work. So if you’ve got Edna the 70 year old cleaning lady in the Dirty Gerties Elderly Kink Club, Rodney not willing to admit he’s in the NRA, Imogen not talking about being in Moms Against Gun Violence, and Anthony afraid to admit he’s a member of the NAACP because he thinks Sherman in the next cube is in the KKK, telling them all to tell HR all that just dropped a giant flatulent elephant in the middle of the room that would normally be off the radar entirely. Adults in a business setting usually know what *not* to discuss; I wish I could understand why HR suddenly *doesn’t* in this case.

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          Exactly! It’s not necessarily unprofessional to be in any of the groups you mentioned. There may be other faults with them, but unprofessionalism isn’t the issue. On the other hand, it is unprofessional to discuss those groups at work. The same goes for any other politically or religiously charged group, even something totally normal (and usually innocuous) like membership at a church or other house of worship. Part of professionalism, as I understand it, is to explicitly avoid discussion of certain topics while in a professional/business/work setting.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I saw this as the main point, also. They demand/get this information. Until they actually do something with it there is not much recourse. Ball is in their court.

      BUT. All the employees see the strong arming technique involved here. This could (notice, “could”) be a sign of things to come. And that is a ball in the employees’ court. Employees can choose to ignore it, choose to question “why the muscling on this one?” or they can just choose to quietly start looking for new work if they wish. And that is the part they CAN control, that is in their court.

      OP, if this is not characteristic of your company then maybe you’d want to try to salvage the situation. If your boss does not welcome questions maybe there is a coworker that might have some clues. Has your company been in the news lately? Has there been auditors around? Those are two things that will trigger weird behavior in some companies. I have also seen insurance risk assessments drive bizarre behaviors.

      If this strong arming manner of speaking is common in your workplace then that is your answer. This is a group of people that think you manage by threats. And this is just more threats.

        1. Melissa*

          Probably. I don’t think there’s any legal prohibition against compelling people to disclose membership in community organizations. I actually don’t even think it’s illegal to fire people based on membership in certain organizations; the problem is if the person’s organization membership is on the basis of a protected class (like the NAACP, Dirty Gerties, maybe Moms Against Gun Violence) and the employee decides they want to pursue some kind of complaint.

  13. RVA Cat*

    Is this non-profit religiously affiliated? That is the ONLY way that church membership might be at all relevant, and there are somewhat different rules for what they can and can’t do.

    You have every right to maintain the boundaries they are pushing here. You could respond with an honest but short list of groups that you don’t think they will act on (unless they have some kind of seething hatred for knitting or chess, etc.) and leave off anything overly personal. That said, since they specifically mentioned churches, I wonder if that means they may penalize people who are NOT church members/goers (and to an “approved” denomination/congregation)? Yet another red flag.

    I wonder if this may be a really botched way of dealing with them finding out an employee was involved with something offensive like a hate group — but then a bigot would probably act out on the job and be dealt with like any other performance/conduct issue.

    1. Helka*

      I wonder if this may be a really botched way of dealing with them finding out an employee was involved with something offensive like a hate group — but then a bigot would probably act out on the job and be dealt with like any other performance/conduct issue.

      Actually, if you look at it from that angle, I could see it as an attempt to find out if someone is a member of a hate group (or similar) before they have the chance to act out and possibly cause a huge problem for the organization — which isn’t an unreasonable consideration. But it still doesn’t justify this level of ham-handedness.

      1. Snork Maiden*

        Yes, I am thinking of the recent case where some police officers were found to be members of the KKK, which is definitely something I’d be concerned about in my workforce.

            1. Snork Maiden*

              (Next WTF Wednesday: someone writes in to ask whether their KKK membership goes under “Volunteer Activites” or “Other Interests” on their resume)

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I bet they aren’t. Could the company be using that to be able to say “you lied on this paperwork, you did not say you belonged to the KKK when you were asked about groups you belong to”?

            It seems like a very awkward way of tackling this problem, though.

      2. ism*

        Yeah, RVA Cat’s comment made me think that possibly this non-profit got a report that SOMEONE is involved in SOMETHING bad, and this is their attempt to figure out who. Taking the “treat everyone the same/fairly” thing a little too far maybe if that’s the reason.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I would tend to think that if someone was in a truly horrible organization, they’d at least know to omit it, but maybe bigots and pedos are dumber than that! :D

            1. Kelly L.*

              True…but you’d think they’d at least have some awareness that others will take offense, even if it was only in a “Rawr, the world doesn’t understand me!” sense and not any real moral qualms. But maybe I give assholes too much credit!

        1. Melissa*

          I appreciate the work that the SPLC does, but they have the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and the Nation of Islam on their list, as well as a few others that I’m unsure about their participation in violence and terrorism. While I agree that these groups can be construed as hate groups and I don’t agree with their beliefs or policies, they also don’t participate in violent acts (as a group) or terrorism (some of their members might, but they don’t do it as a group). Mere membership in one of those groups isn’t really an issue professionally, as icky as it might be to me personally.

    2. De Minimis*

      I think if it were a religious based non-profit they probably would have asked the church questions prior to hiring. I’ve seen job ads for those kind of organizations where they want references from religious leaders in your application materials.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Good point. It could also be that the non-profit is politically-oriented and they are concerned about a potential “mole” from the other side of the aisle – but then again, in that case political affiliation would have come up in the hiring process.

        Regardless, LW, I would say get out of there as soon as you possibly can. Honestly I don’t see how you managed to put up with these clowns for 7 years. It is unacceptable for them to be that threatening and hostile to any employee, but downright stupid to do this to your experienced people. If this is not a sudden shift in their management style (which is itself a red flag), you are probably worn down by the abuse and may want to look into counseling while you put this toxic madhouse behind you.

        WTF Wednesday FTW….

        1. Helen*

          A mole would also be way smarter than to be like, “Oh, it’s funny you should ask, employers at Planned Parenthood! I’m a lifelong member of the National Right to Life Federation!”

    3. DeeGee*

      I was coming on to ask the same thing. Here in San Francisco, there is a big controversy over the local archdiocese requiring the Catholic high school teachers sign a “morality clause” that prohibits them from making public statements contrary to the church’s teachings, plus a provision that would make them all ministers and thus exempt from certain anti-discrimination laws. And it seems aimed squarely at our large LGBT community. I wish the possibility of a religious nonprofit (and the different rules applied to those declared “ministers”) had been addressed in the OP’s letter and possibly the answer.

      1. sunny-dee*

        As someone else pointed out, most of the time stuff like that is done upfront for religious organizations. (I remember a recent article about a woman filing a lawsuit because she had a applied for a job teacihng at a Lutheran school and one of their requirements was that she be an active member of a Lutheran church.) It’s important enough for those with religious missions that they generally use that as an ealry filter.

        And it would most likely be limited to religious associations — not general clubs or civic groups.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          A large religious organization here does that with their employees. They say upfront that they strongly prefer their employees to also be members. They also say employees cannot dance, smoke, drink, swear, or be LGBT. I guess they get away with it precisely because they are a church, but it makes it easy to avoid applying to them.

          I had applied at a different church for an office position and they told me they prefer that their staff NOT be members. So it varies.

    4. Amy*

      “I wonder if this may be a really botched way of dealing with them finding out an employee was involved with something offensive like a hate group”

      That’s exactly what I was thinking.

    5. beckythetechie*

      Or they’re responding to a status-based discrimination complaint by trying to figure out who the godless, leftist, socialist, commie, lesbian Obama supporters are and keeping him away from those particular staff-members instead of telling him to stop being a pain in the neck or pack his things. (Aka: not exactly how “protected status” is supposed to be handled…)

  14. louise*

    I was asked this in an interview once and they framed it beautifully: “It’s really important to us to hire people who are already involved in the community. Can you tell us about any groups or clubs you’re a member of or volunteer at and how you participate with them?” The interviewer even indicated that there are opportunities to participate in some of those activities on company time. In that context, it made sense, but with the attitude of “if you don’t want to tell/don’t like this, you don’t have to work here”? No way.

    1. ism*

      Not totally related but… I was asked a similar question in an interview. The only clubs/organizations I belonged to at the time were specifically for protected classes of individuals and in one case, pretty taboo. It’s not something I talk about where I work, in a pretty conservative place. I had to tell the interview I was uncomfortable revealing that information because it could be used to discriminate against me, while trying to describe my club activities in the vaguest way possible. I held a leadership role. I advanced our cause with the help of my fellow members. And that was really all I could say. It sounded sketchy as hell to my interviewer and didn’t get a call back. It was all around very uncomfortable. If only I was interviewing with/living in a more progressive location.

      1. beckythetechie*

        Would a way around that in the future be “I’m involved with a political action committee that I prefer not to name, but as an officer there, I keep meeting minutes and blah blah blah.”? If they persist, #1 you know they’re not going to respect your desire for privacy as an employee so you’ve got that info before you even get an offer, and #2 you attribute it to a personal policy of not discussing religion or politics at work because “people can get very passionate and easily derailed from the focus of a work day”.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes, I worked at a non-profit that handled it very similarly. They encouraged employees to be active in the community and they liked to track involvement with other charities/volunteering. Thankfully, they didn’t require disclosure and allowed employees to be as vague as they wanted to be.

  15. Stephanie*

    Ick. Did they even say why they needed this info? Not that that necessarily makes the request better (especially asking about church affiliation), but omitting the rationale behind the request plus the pissy sign off makes this particularly bad.

  16. lowercase holly*

    the only reasonable thing i can think of for asking the question is for ethical concerns. like where i work, a museum curator cannot ethically have a side job as an art dealer among other things. i *guess* maaaaybe there could be similar concerns for clubs and orgs, but i can’t think of any good examples. so i agree, side jobs makes sense, clubs/orgs/churches, no. i wouldn’t list any.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      You are making me think. Even with the volunteer work I do I have to disclose where else I am working – either for pay or for free. My state is really cracking down on this stuff. HOWEVER, the question is general and does not specifically mention churches. I wonder if someone totally misunderstood what information they are supposed to be asking for.

  17. Case of the Mondays*

    I can think of two reasons that come up in the legal world. One is conflict of interest/malpractice risk. If you are a lawyer and on a board the organization considers you their lawyer rightly/wrongly. My employer, which provides my insurance, wants to know what organizations I belong to so it can know where I’m potentially assumed to be giving legal advice. My employer is reasonable though and limits the disclosure to leadership positions in clubs/organizations I believe.

    The second, is in some salaried jobs your employer “owns” you for lack of a better word. They want to know how many commitments you have that will limit your time doing billable work. We don’t have set hours. We just get our job done. The firm income, however, comes from billable hours though so they love when you spend your nights and weekends billing. My employer only cared when my board commitments started to cut into business hours. Other employers I know of care if your club/organization commitments impact your ability to work nights/weekends. Others expect anytime not with friends/family to be spent working for them. Generally, my activities haven’t conflicted w/ work but I know when someone is waiting for an assignment and they get it Tuesday because Sunday I was working at the animal shelter then they might get a little annoyed.

    I disagree with this “we own you” culture/lifestyle but I have heard about it at many firms.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I had an employer that did not want to hear it when I said I wanted time to go to church on Sunday. Either you can do the job or not, that was their stance. After I spoke up, I got scheduled for every. single. Sunday morning.

    2. A Spanish Teapot*

      The legal profession is not the only one with issues regarding “independence”. CPAs also have to be independent in both fact and appearance; there are some very strict rules governing what work they can accept as public auditors.

      It sounds like the OP works for a religious organization though – its the only reason I can think of for a legitimate inquiry regarding church/temple/mosque membership.

      1. Leah*

        Who says it’s legitimate? There are a lot of strange and awful people out there who own or run businesses in their own strange world.

  18. Steve G*

    At a past job that required some employees to do field work, it turned out that a lot were freelancing during 9-5, so it would have made sense for the company to survey staff about secondary sources of income…..because many weren’t secondary anymore….

    I like to talk about my outside stuff at work, but not every coworker/manager is mature enough to handle those conversations. I used to do Catholic catechism classes, I was a junior teacher to a more experienced teacher. I know a lot of the Bible stories and liked gathering interesting exercises/pictures/data sheets for the kids for the classes. Anyways, whenever I told people at work about it, 70% made a thing about it that went sort of like “you???” and then some version of “but you’re not perfect so how can you teach religion.” It was super annoying. Yes, I am grumpy at work when I have to do lots of OT to fill in for other peoples’ gaps, or do higher-paid employees’ work because they whined about how hard it is….and yes, I get firm with people because business sometimes warranted it, but that doesn’t mean that deep down I am not a good person and am not qualified to teach catechism. And after all, 5th and 6th grade classes aren’t that intense, they are about the material, not general morals or life-coaching type classes, for which I would probably not be equipped yet. But, my long-winded point is, having those conversations with coworkers was always very painful, and I felt that some of the times I was put in a position where I had to be “rude,” (others would say “business minded”), the other person was like “but you’re supposed to be nice, you teach religion.” Well, even Jesus yelled in the temple when things were being done badly there…sometimes you have to point out what is bad even if it doesn’t make you look “nice”

    1. KJR*

      All one needs to do is to look at those Jesus chose to be his apostles. Not a perfect one in the bunch! I think your imperfection gives you credibility!

    2. IndieGir*

      If someone had to be perfect to teach religion then all the religions in the world would disappear overnight. And nice does not necessarily equal good, righteous, or right.

    3. Chinook*

      “felt that some of the times I was put in a position where I had to be “rude,” (others would say “business minded”), the other person was like “but you’re supposed to be nice, you teach religion.” Well, even Jesus yelled in the temple when things were being done badly there…sometimes you have to point out what is bad even if it doesn’t make you look “nice””

      Best quote I ever heard in reference to “What Would Jesus Do?” type comments – Remember that overturning tables and driving people out with ropes is an acceptable option.

      But Steve G., you hit the nail on the head on why I wouldn’t feel comfortable disclosing some of my evening activities even thoguh I am proud of them – other people often have sterotypes in their head that don’t allow others to be considered whole people. I can sing in the church choir AND swear like a sailor when I get frustrated (just not at the same time). Plus, some people think we are mindless drones and don’t realize the subtlties in our faith around morality and ethics, so they often paint us as narrow-minded bigots before we even open our mouths.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yeah, one of my volunteer activities is teaching junior high sexuality at my church. I’m proud of it, but I definitely don’t talk about it at work. It touches on sex and religion, which are two subjects I avoid at work. It can also get into politics quickly, when people want to know why it isn’t covered in school (because our state legislature requires abstinence- only). A triple play of subjects best avoided at work!

    4. Not So NewReader*

      “but you’re not perfect so how can you teach religion.”

      There are people out there that believe unless you can do X perfectly you should not do it at all.

      I see this a lot with trying to eat whole foods. “Well, yesterday, I saw you eat x food.” So that means I should just throw the entire idea away because I blew it yesterday???
      Again, if everyone waits until they can do it perfectly, no one would do anything.

  19. ism*

    Very interested to hear a followup from the original question asker about what the employees choose not to disclose even after this mandate. And if the management has any answers to our burning questions here.

  20. Iro*

    Are you perchance working for a credit union? I know there was recently legislation requiring that all financial institutions >$X dollars meet a certain amount of “community reinvestment” and I know that employees personal volunteer time could count towards that requirement.

    I also once worked for a manager who had a “you can leave if you don’t like it” attitude towards everything. It wasn’t reflective of the company’s culture though, just his power hungry attitude. He wasn’t good at mediation or problem solving so he liked to shut these conversations down with “you can get quit!”

    1. Artemesia*

      My employer wanted to demonstrate that the organization ‘gave back’ to the community and so solicited information from employees about things they did in the community — scout leader, or working on boards or whatever. No one batted an eyelash because the uses of the information were clear and there was no requirement to list ‘every activity you do’ but rather a focus on community service or contribution. No one had to list their church or their atheist study group.

  21. Observer*

    Their comment about not working there if you don’t like is says “We know we are over the line of decency but we don’t care. Might makes right, and we hold all the cards.”

  22. Anon for this*

    Gross. I’d rather find a new job than disclose such personal things. Including that I’m queer and LGBT people aren’t a protected class here.

    Good luck, OP.

    1. Anon for this*

      Wasn’t clear on this. I’m involved in some things that are for LGBT people. Naming them would “out” me.

    2. OhNo*

      See, that’s what I thought of first, too. A lot of the groups I’m technically part of (including my book club, craft group, and a couple other things) have the potential to out me when I don’t want to be. I am at least lucky enough to live where that’s a protected class, but still. Do not want.

    3. Laura2*

      Similarly, although I’m not a member of an LGBT organization, I am a member of a left-wing political organization in the U.S. and I would be really wary of disclosing that information to HR.

      1. Polaris*

        Yep. And not listing organizations can be a problem too. Wakeen doesn’t belong to a church! Why doesn’t Jane belong to an animal rights group?

        1. Ama*

          Yes, it wouldn’t be a problem where I live now, but not belonging to a church would totally be an issue in the Bible Belt where I grew up. To be fair, it was never a formal or required question in place that I worked (and as soon as I said I was a Catholic they usually left me alone), but I had plenty of bosses ask.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Gah hit submit too soon….meant to add that it’s none of their business whether I am or not!

              I usually just say, “I like to sleep in on Sundays. God’s fine with it.” They don’t know how to reply to that so they don’t.

              1. Cath in Canada*

                From The Simpsons:

                [God appears in Homer’s dream, ripping the roof off his house.]
                Homer: God …?
                God: [points finger at Homer] Thou hast forsaken my church!
                Homer: Well, kind of, but –
                God: But what?
                Homer: I’m not a bad guy. I work hard and I love my kids. So why should I spend half my Sunday hearing about how I’m going to hell?
                God: Hmm, you have a good point there. Sometimes, even I would rather be watching football. Does St. Louis still have a team?
                Homer: No, they moved to Phoenix.
                God: Oh, yeah.
                Homer: You know what I really hate about church? Those boring sermons.
                God: I couldn’t agree more, that Reverend Lovejoy really displeases me. I think I’ll give him a canker sore.
                Homer: Give him one for me.
                God: I will.
                Homer: So I figure I should just try to live right and worship you in my own way.
                God: Homer, it’s a deal. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to appear in a tortilla in Mexico.

    4. Tau*

      Chalk me up as another person who’d have to disclose some seriously personal and uncomfortable information to answer that question. I’m a member of one LGBTQ group and two disability support groups – for different disabilities. To me that demand sounds like “hey, tell us what we can discriminate against you for!”

      1. Mander*

        I sometimes volunteer with a mental health charity, which could lead to unwarranted assumptions about me. Generally speaking I’m extremely open about my experiences but I can understand why other people would not be!

  23. Allison*

    Since the employer is specifying they want information about club, organization, and church membership, this looks really fishy, and it’s super sketchy that they’re being vague about why they need it. Most employers don’t actually ask for this information, and I don’t buy that they just want to have it “on file.”

  24. SCW*

    Well, to put another side on it, we got this reaction when the library I worked at asked, as an organization, if any librarians/managers belonged to any groups that they might think could benefit from hearing about our services or for which we would be good partners with. For instance, if they are part of the local arts council, they could attend the meetings on work time and if applicable share library resources, or partner on programs (for instance one person was member of a healthy community group and they are going to host a sign up at the library). This was all voluntary and with the proviso “if you think they would be interested, if you are interested.” But people really thought this was an invasion of privacy that we would even think of asking! I totally understand people not wanting to share, but if there is no consequence for not sharing (other than–please try to think of a group that you would like to reach out to if you don’t belong to one) I don’t think it is rude to ask!

    1. Helka*

      That’s pretty clearly not the OP’s situation, though. The response from HR boils down pretty obviously to “cough up this info or get out.”

    1. Senor Poncho*

      Alternatively, keep joining weird orgs and updating the company until they fire you or ask you to stop updating?

      1. fposte*

        That’s an amusing one to contemplate. “Today I got ordained in the Church of the Internet.” “Today I’ve joined Moms against Bad Things and Dads against Moms against Bad Things.” “Today I joined OKCupid.”

        1. Traveler*

          I’m not entirely sure OKCupid doesn’t count as some sort of hate group, because good lord, do you have to hate yourself to join it and put up with that nonsense.

      2. LBK*

        Or for each organization you join, also join one with contradictory motives so they can’t tell where you actually fall on the issue. Joining the HRC? Also join the WBC!

  25. Lurker*

    I had to do this at an ex-job. The official reason was to make sure there were no conflicts of interest. The secondary reason was because some of the executive staff were frequently lecturing and receiving honoraria but not paying it to the organization (or having the honorarium paid directly to the organization). The question became whether they were lecturing as individuals or as representatives of the organization (and thus, who should receive the funds).

  26. BadPlanning*

    My imagination is running rampant on this one. Like the OP’s bosses read about a non-profit that helps abused women finding out that one of its employees belongs to a sportmans club where the employee participate in a trap shooting competition (shooting those clay pigeons with a rifle). Somehow, at this non-profit, this blew up into a scandal about guns, violence, abuse, conflict of interest, etc. The OP’s bosses freak out and decide they’d better comb through their employees in case someone is in a group that could be seen as counter to the non-profit’s purpose. The panic makes them slap on the “Or Else!” clause onto the demand and send it out before they could take a deep breath and sleep on it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, this sounds like what is happening at OP’s place. Someone got a hold of some information, wildly misinterpreted it, and now there is a five alarm fire going on where it is really not necessary.

  27. JM*

    Alison, I’m curious if you think this is a situation where it would be helpful to push back as a group? I’m assuming OP’s coworkers probably find this as odd as we all do, so wouldn’t it maybe be beneficial for them to approach HR as a group to ask for clarification about why this information is necessary (and/or to push back on certain parts of this request?)

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say, as a group, that you have no issue disclosing information such as second jobs or other things that might be construed as a conflict of interest, but that you aren’t sure how a church or other private affiliation would be relevant.

    I can’t help but feel like this company is getting at something specific. I wonder if there’s an appropriate way to ask HR, “are you curious if I have ties to something specific? Can you ask me about those specific concerns outright?”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, absolutely. I’m a big fan of pushing back as a group when an employer is being unreasonable / refusing to explain something that will concern reasonable people.

      1. Eva*

        I would love to hear stories about people’s experiences of pushing back as a group and how it went. It seems like something that should be easy in theory, but potentially drama-filled. I imagine there must have been times when an ostensibly united front crumbled when push came to shove – and if the employees do manage to stick together, I imagine there must have been some bosses who didn’t like it. Anyone got a story to share?

        1. Iro*

          I’ve got a story! And Alison et al I would love to know how to do this effectively.

          We as a group of Analysts at Big Bank decided to push back about Y responsibility. We met in person to discuss as a group several times. I was tasked with crafting an email and I then brought said email back to the group which we critiqued and signed off on. Everyone agreed “yes send this exact email at 2pm to all our bosses and CC us”. No one dissented during any of the 5 + meetings discussing this.

          Well …. I sent the email which started with, “We have come to a concensus as a group and …”. Then one of the analysts IMMEDIATELY replied to all and said “I really don’t think Y activity is a big deal. It’s our job to get this done.” The other two analysts got phoned by the boss(es) and were like, “Um. Well. Uh. You see, I just agreed because I thought Iro was so passionate about it.”

          I was completely flabbergasted and royally pissed at my co workers and got formally reprimanded to boot. We were then told that we were no longer allowed to meet as a group without a manager present, which was a real pain because we met regularly as a group to delegate a huge amount of shared work on a monthly basis, it just so happened that we also discussed ways to push back about a new responsibility that was making it really hard for us to complete the rest of our work.

          So yeah whenever I hear or see “push back as a group” I immediatelly think “NEVER AGAIN!”

          1. Eva*

            Oh wow – that’s exactly the kind of story I was imagining (thank you!) – how awful for you! What was your relationship with your coworkers like after that?!

          2. Observer*

            “Not allowed to meet as a group without a manager present” is almost certainly illegal, though.

            1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

              Maybe if it’s outside the office and you are discussing wages it working conditions, but your emonitor can certainly tell you who you can and can’t meet with.

            2. Iro*

              yeah this was definitely a no meeting at work together without a manager, so I’m pretty sure it didn’t cross a legal line.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            More often than not I find that this is what happens. After being burned a few times, I don’t take on anything that I cannot handle by myself. It takes a bit to put together an effective argument. That is what family and friends are for, I can find supportive people there. But it does go into my decision making about taking on the battle in the first place. Unless I am 75% sure I can put together a good case, I don’t bother. It’s too painful being that lone voice in the wilderness.

          4. Anon Accountant*

            Wow. This didn’t end very well. How well did your group work together after this, if you don’t mind sharing? How did your group overcome this?

          5. Iro*

            This has a (pseudo) happy ending.

            Relationship with management? Poisoned beyone repair.
            Relationship with co-workers who crumbled? Well one called my cell crying and apologizing. But I just didn’t understand not being brave enough to stand up for someone. I don’t hate them by any stretch, I just lost all respect for them as people. I worked professionally with them but it was awkard.
            Relationship with who sent the email? I never trusted him again. I documented all our conversations and had to take other protections against this person as he would also do stuff such as change his report on the server, which I use to build another report, MONTHS after it was completed and then blast an email to managment with “Iro – why didn’t you grab the correct number for this report???! You should grab this number from my reports so you don’t get it wrong!” But since management thought I was the trouble maker, even my pointing out he had clearly changed the report (since I had saved an original copy with time stamp on my PC off server and could prove the changes occured hours before the email was sent out due to the time stamp on the server….). This person was exceedingly bitter. He was 10 years older than all the other analysts on the team. He had repeatedly applied to a supervisor role and had been denied and is a classic definition of a pot stirrer.

            Well, the happy ending?

            My direct manager left along with her boss, the division manager (they were attached at the hip). The department head (division manager’s manager’s boss) reviewed all our analysts work and was super impressed with my work. He hired two new analyst managers, and put me as the sole analyst in a new group and transisted all but the pot stirrer analysts to different teams. He put a new division manager in place who I happen to know by overhearing some of the poisoned managers conversations “never took their complaints about me seriously”.

            Well I was only in this new role for two months with an awesome manager and I saved the company over $500 million dollars by renconciling the coding in a system no one had looked at since the 90’s. I got immediately promoted to a higher visibility department, and was really successful there for another year before moving to a new company. I never had to interact with any of these people again.

            Pot stirrer is still in his old role and is the only one of us that hasn’t been promoted.

            I had workplace PTSD from this for a year, but I learned a lot of valuable lessons from it. The iro today wouldn’t be such an easy target for pot stirrer. I’m now in a new company that I love with a boss I adore and mostly really awesome co workers. So happy times!

            1. Iro*

              I also want to own that if I had been a less difiicult employee prior to this, I probably wouldn’t have had it crumble quite as much around me.

              I was in a difficult reporting situation. There were a lot of leaders (including the analysts) and unclear lines of communcations so it was so easy to step on someone’s toes. A lot of work was just tossed to the group with a “get it done” mentality, and since communication was already strained on various levels, this was just fuel for the fire. Regulations regarding our trade were changing rapidly and people were frequently on different steps. Even the Iro today would find this challenging to navigate, but the younger, stupider, more stubbon version of me unwhittingly stepped on every land mine there was. This was my first corporate job and experience in an office setting.

              That being said, I still hold management accountable for their blatent disregard for what pot stirrer was doing to me. None of my prior missteps should really have come into play here. Even if my professional communication needed polishing (and really whose beside’s Alison’s doesn’t!) , that doesn’t mean that pot stirrer should have been allowed to get away with data manipulation and then trying to make it seem as if I was at fault. What it boils down to is management was content to assume the worse of me from any situation pot stirrer brought up, and I would be judged before management even got my side of the story.

        2. Anon Accountant*

          Eva- here’s my story about pushing back as a group. We had an employee who regularly didn’t show up, didn’t call in, and wouldn’t complete assignments. He took off the month of January (we are in public accounting) and didn’t have approved leave and wouldn’t take our calls. No one knew where he was- not even our boss.

          Three of us would have his work reassigned to us and were fed up so we took it to the boss to push back. He was livid that we found an issue with this. The most outspoken of our group held firm and acted as our spokesperson and kept it to “here’s how it’s affecting getting other work done and clients are angry he won’t show up for scheduled meetings”. Our boss screamed “I don’t want to hear it! I’m sick of everyone complaining about Wakeen.” Our response was “these clients are upset because of ….. and we are finding it difficult to absorb more of Wakeen’s work”. He was very angry and shouting he didn’t want to hear it and then was passive aggressive to us for weeks.

        3. Not telling*

          I’d love to share my story. Just last Thursday.

          A coworker’s (I’ll call her Jane) mother sent a cake to the office for the coworker’s birthday. At the end of the day I passed by the Jane’s office and said happy birthday and to tell her mom thanks for the cake. Jane said she thought it might be nice for all of to take a group picture and hold up a ‘thank you’ sign that she could email her mom. As it was mardi gras, she said she had some beads someone could wear if the wanted, and pulled a string of beads out of her office drawer. The beads were adorned with confederate flags. She said we’d have to do by Friday ‘because we have a black person starting on Monday.’ I was shocked. Jane went on to relate stories of past coworkers wearing this set of beads around the office.

          The next morning I related the situation to a few coworkers who all agreed that they would not wear the beads if asked and would not take a group photo with anyone else wearing them. And then they proceeded to do that exact thing….posing right in front of our company sign in the lobby. Which Jane shared with her mother over FB. And then several coworkers carried on the rest of the day making rude and disparaging comments passing by my desk about how I wasn’t a team player for refusing to join in the photo.

          Management criticized me for objecting to the way other people were expressing their viewpoints (while at the same time doing the exact same thing to me). And I am working on my resume tonight.

          1. RVA Cat*

            Egads. Good luck on getting out of there – meanwhile I hope you can be an island of sanity for your new coworker who starts on Monday, because Daaamn…. It’s awkward enough for you to deal with these racist douchebags. And really, posing with the company sign with the confederate flag beads and putting it on facebook?! I bet you will be glad you were not a “team player” when this goes viral and the boycott begins…

          2. Anon Accountant*

            That’d be a time it’d be a good situation to NOT be a “team player”. Hopefully my sentence makes sense. That’s awful that anyone made rude comments at you for not participating in the photo. Absolutely ridiculous. And I feel bad for your new coworker who starts Monday. The poor individual probably doesn’t know what s/he is walking into. Wow.

        4. misspiggy*

          Got a few, actually – including one where staff negotiated a successful compromise to proposed changes to the redundancy compensation policy. But I’ve only ever worked in places where either unions are recognised and active, or there are clear participatory processes in place for staff to influence decisions.

          Even in those very supportive environments, you get some of the most vocal people dropping out at the last minute ‘cos they’re worried about it affecting their career progression. The reverse was actually true in my field, but I certainly learned that cowardice is more widespread than it ought to be in the world of human rights and humanitarian aid.

  28. Cupcake*

    I would have a real problem here. I am an introvert and reticent by nature and do not belong to any organizations. I have family and friends, but I belong to no church or service organizations. If my company asked for this info, they would likely assume that I have a secret to hide or am being intentionally contrary.

    1. Cupcake*

      Oh, and I disagree for most of the reasons stated for requiring notice of other jobs. Certainly, second jobs that could be considered a conflict of interest should be disclosed, but if I work weekends at the local grocery store to put my kids through college is no one else’s business. IF I appear to be coming into work tired or distracted, or IF I am late to work, or leaving early to make it to another job, then those facts should be addressed. Until they have reason to complain, though, my out-side work activities (whether more work, or just fun) should be my own business.

      1. Judy*

        In the corporate world, it’s not unusual to have to annually sign a conflict of interest statement where you have to list any outside jobs, and also certify that your household members are not working for competitors or vendors. If your household members are working for a competitor or vendor, you have to disclose it.

        As an engineer, it’s is not unusual to have to sign an IP (Intellectual Property) agreement as a condition of employment where anything you invent on your time or theirs belongs to them. That’s why I’m listed as an inventor on patents, but do not own those patents.

        1. BananaPants*

          Yup. For 3 years I had to disclose on my annual certification that my husband was employed by a supplier of my company. He was in a non-sales role and I had no purchasing power or even knowledge of how his employer’s services were procured by my employer, so it was a total non-issue once I explained the details.

          I have several patents but do not own the rights to them, my employer does. I think my IP agreement says that if I invent and try to patent something on my own time they “may” own the rights to it if it’s in any way related to the business of the company or any subsidiaries. I signed it a long time ago and honestly even if I invented something on my own time IP law is mind-numbing and patent attorneys are expensive – I have neither the time or money to deal with trying to patent it on my own, especially if my employer could turn around and claim it’s theirs. At some point I signed a non-compete but those are virtually never enforced (and quite difficult to enforce in most cases).

          1. Not So NewReader*

            And if you cannot produce what you have patented on your own, what good is it? It only blocks other people from getting a good idea out in the market place. This consideration might weigh in heavily for people who design medical devices and other life- essential products.

            1. Stephanie*

              Yeah, that’s a common argument against patents with regard to pharmaceuticals: the patents restrict the production (via dealing with licensing fees and such) and drive up the price.

  29. Nope Nope Nope*

    Oh the fictional sh*t they’d get from me if asked for this info. If people let employers do what they want, employers will do what they want. If the people as whole actually stand up for themselves this would not happen.

  30. RVA Cat*

    I also wonder how this employer would take it if someone listed protected-class organizations that could potentially go to bat for the employee if discrimination occurs (NAACP, NOW, ADL etc.)….

  31. BananaPants*

    Ick. There are ways to check for conflicts of interest that do not involve quizzing employees on all of their clubs or organizations, or religious participation/affiliation.

    My (very large) employer requires an annual “certification” which asks questions about potential conflicts of interest inside and outside the company. Completing your annual certification is mandatory for keeping your job. It involves around 10 questions regarding potential conflicts of interest or ethics violations and if you answer yes to specific questions and the written explanation is not satisfactory, an ethics/compliance manager will follow up with you in person.
    One question asks about outside employment but elaborates with something to the effect of, “You need not report or seek approval to participate in a private club or in a recreational, cultural, political, charitable, fraternal, or religious organization.” Basically, they want to know if you have a second job somewhere and if so, what you do, or if you’re on the board of directors or have a large ownership interest in a supplier or competitor. They don’t even want to KNOW that you belong to the ACLU, Toastmasters, Knights of Columbus, Girl Scouts, First Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whatever.

    1. Doreen*

      My government employer requires some employees to either disclose or seek approval for holding certain positions at non profit organizations – because while there is no COI simply because I am a baptized Catholic , there may be one if I am involved in a state contract going to Catholic Charities.

      1. doreen*

        Whoops- that was supposed to end “there may be one if I am involved in a state contract going to Catholic Charities and I am on the board”

    2. Hlyssande*

      We have the same thing. Ours is an online course + questionnaire that we have to do annually. The course explains everything about the conflict of interest laws and how things related to them and gives short quizzes to make sure people understand what they’re reading and don’t just breeze through.

      It’s a little annoying to do every year along with the export/trade compliance, ethics, and anti-trust courses, but it doesn’t take long and is important to the business.

  32. IrishGirl*

    Alison, do you think it acceptable for an employer to require disclosure of memberships of political organisations?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not unless there’s some specific reason for it that’s explained to people — for instance, if you’re a political campaign, you could reasonably want to be sure that you weren’t going to be embarrassed by a media revelation that your political director belongs to some offensive group.

      Similar thing for reporters — you need to ensure nothing is going to create the appearance of bias.

    2. Swedish Tekanna*

      There are some public sector organizations in the UK that won’t employ you if you are a member of a certain right wing extremist political party, the thinking being that it would contravene their inclusive and equal rights employment practice. You have to declare on the application that you are not a member.

      (I am not a member of any political party as it happens, but I have filled in a few of the government application forms).

      1. Mike C.*

        Here in the US, there are still places where you have to disclose if you’ve ever been a member of the communist party.

  33. Lefty*

    I’d list them all, especially my Southern Baptist/Mormon/Jewish religious affiliation. Maybe see if there’s an org I could join that is especially controversial. Then I would sit and wait for them to deny me a promotion, cancel my vacation, give me a lower raise, tick me off really good, etc..and then sue their ass off.

    These people have it coming.

    1. Swarley*

      Unless you can prove that your disclosure was directly associated (a pattern of behavior, or direct ties to your protected class) with your denial of a promotion you’d lose in court. You might harm the employee’s reputation, but you’re going to waste a ton of money in court fighting a losing battle (assuming you get that far). It’d probably be better to claim that you belong to no groups outside of work and aggressively search for another job.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, these things are surprisingly hard to prove sometimes. I do love the idea of belonging to three denominations simultaneously, though.

      2. Not telling*

        It is incredibly difficult to prove discrimination was the reason for something that didn’t happen, for sure.

        But most companies don’t spell it out for you like LW’s company did. Most people suing for discrimination don’t have a letter that basically says ‘tell us all of your personal details that are protected statuses, or you’re fired’.

        1. Lefty*

          I’m just thinking that because THIS company did request information that is directly related to areas for which it is illegal to base employment decisions, that it would not be difficult to bring a case that the information is the reason for the decision. If everything is humming along pretty well and then one day things change – it would not be that hard for me to argue that before management knew I was a Muslim/Jew/Atheist LGBT Communist, they liked me just fine and now they know they want me out. If I file a complaint, and it is discovered that they demanded this information, it looks a lot like this might be what they wanted to use it for.

          If nothing else, it seems the local news station might enjoy running with it. They love having a cause to defend.

  34. Lily in NYC*

    I wish everyone would mess with them and list ridiculous clubs.
    1. Founding member, Juggalo Nation
    2. Treasurer, Charles Manson Fan Club
    3. Member, Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (it’s a real club!)

    1. Iro*

      Ohmygosh pet obesity. I had a vet who was Obsessed with my pet’s weight. Wanted my adult tom who’s 16 inches long to weight 12lbs or less. Well after much hard work we got him there, then I moved and my vet is like, your tom is a little underweight, he could stand to gain a pound.

      Also for non cat people out there tom = male cat.

  35. Former Cable Rep*

    I’m a bisexual Pagan, and this is basically my nightmare. I don’t even ask for religious holidays off or go to local pride events! I keep my personal life very separate from my work life, everyone gets to pretend I’m one of them and there’s no stress or drama. I’d like to say I wouldn’t work for a company or a non-profit that wouldn’t have people like me, but I have to pay rent and live in the real world just like everybody else. Of course this means I don’t get to brag about redesigning the website for Area Pagan Group or tout my volunteering with the food bank for them, but it’s a trade off I’m willing to make just for my own peace of mind.

    I’d probably flood the form with every knitting and craft group I’d ever been a member of, as well as any animal shelters I’d ever given money to. “Church? Oh gosh, who has the time, you know?”

  36. beckythetechie*

    I would be likewise worried that participation in certain activities, depending on the general company environment and local politics/thinking, would be taken as a negative. In my area, for example, it’s seen as acceptable to Wonderful!!!!!! to be a member of the NRA. But on the other side of the state, that affiliation garners different and quite negative comment. People handling the data probably can’t help but read it as they’re processing, especially if familiar names or acronyms pop out at them. If Millicent processes in this data and just lost a young nephew to gun violence, she may find it hard not to change her thinking about me. Thus, I would probably leave off anything very political/religious, and cite “Oh, I forgot that one, didn’t I?” if someone hits the skids about it. But, I do list the pit bull rescue for which I’m an officer on my resume under “volunteer activities” and have had people comment– both in the positive and the negative– about it. You can’t please everyone, so in this case, it seems, you should try to protect yourself until you get a better feel for the intent of the data mining.

  37. Kat M*

    I would definitely be nervous about being forced to declare religious affiliation either way. I’m Catholic-I can either benefit from belonging to a denomination of the dominant religion of this country or I could end up with someone who either thinks we’re all idolatrous pagans or that I personally am responsible for all the truly horrible things of our history as well as present day controversial topics. But that doesn’t even begin to equate with the discrimination that someone who identifies as Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, pagan, atheist or other minority religions/beliefs might face. It’s hard enough on people without being forced to disclose. Also, I have quite a few political beliefs that one could go either way on………I make an effort to not bring my politics into work (except if my work involves politics) and I really don’t want to be forced to explain myself when it’s not relevant.

    I don’t have much advice. Just commiseration.

  38. Slippy*

    I would google every teen movie going back 5 years and put that I was part of the main character’s fan club. Also would include being part of the Jimmy Hoffa fan club.

  39. so and so*

    As an atheist living in the Bible Belt and working for a for profit, locally owned distributor of an international brand that proudly proclaims to be a Christian Company, I keep my religious affiliations quiet. It’s getting harder considering our yearly “inspirational meeting” (aka a protestant church service + company rah rah) had been scheduled during a work day rather than on the usual Saturday next month. Ugh.

    Don’t disclose this information, OP. Just “forget” any you aren’t willing to tell.

  40. James M.*

    I guess I’m late to the party, but I would also add the concern that HR is not going to keep that information secure and it could easily be stolen by cyber criminals who troll the web for personal information.

    Companies and individuals who purchase information about people never ask whether that information was obtained legally.

  41. Stranger than fiction*

    This would want to make me send an anonymous letter to head of company with what Alison and Donna said

  42. just a worker bee*

    On the flip side to listing affiliations, what if one doesn’t have any to list? Honestly, I do not belong to anything. If pressed, could one take the Mark Twain position on not belonging to any group or organization that would have me as a member?

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