interviewing a job candidate who won’t shake hands with women

A reader writes:

A while ago, my group interviewed a candidate who did not shake the hands of the women he spoke with. His explanation was that he was Muslim. Of course, this is a very specific subgroup — many Muslim men have no issue shaking hands with women, especially in a professional setting. (This issue can also come up with other groups, such as certain Orthodox Jews.)

I learned this later (I’m male). Before I interviewed him, he asked for a few minutes to pray, which I was more than happy to accommodate. But in the debrief, we learned about this not shaking hands thing, and most people were turned off by it. Many people said that if he just said he didn’t shake hands at all that would be more acceptable / understandable (e.g., some people have OCD).

One of the women who interviewed him said he seemed to respect her and her role and so that was fine from her perspective. (Although with her, he just didn’t shake her hand, and didn’t explain it as being about her being a woman, and he also didn’t shake the male co-interviewer’s hand.)

We’re not a workplace in which we shake each other’s hands all the time or deal with clients very often, but I’m concerned about how it looks and how it affects others. For instance, if an employee refused to shake hands with gay people or black people, I’d have a serious problem with that.

We ended up declining the candidate for other reasons, but I’m curious how to approach this in the future. If one had a candidate who was otherwise definitely a hire, but refused to shake hands with women, and only with women, how should one deal with that?

Oooof, there’s no easy answer to this. As you note, it doesn’t feel right that accommodating one person’s religious beliefs should mean that your workplace becomes okay with treating people differently based on sex or other factors.

Fortunately for me, the EEOC has weighed in on this, so there’s some guidance from them on how to handle it.

In their letter here, they basically say:

* Religious accommodation laws would indeed require you to accommodate this unless it causes “undue hardship” to your business.

* So, what’s undue hardship in this case? They say that you’d need to look at the actual disruptions that would occur (or have occurred, if it’s an existing employee). If it encroaches on other employees’ ability to perform their jobs or subjects them to a hostile work environment, those would generally constitute undue hardship. Note, though, that showing undue hardship “requires more than speculation about negative consequences or expressions of discomfort, irritation, or annoyance by coworkers; undue hardship ‘generally requires evidence that the accommodation would actually infringe on the rights of coworkers or cause disruption of work.’”

* A religious accommodation that results in harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex would also constitute undue hardship. They say you’d need to consider “whether the new employee implements his ‘no handshake’ practice in a neutral manner or, by contrast, whether he does so in a manner that is actually hostile or demeaning to women. The extent to which this new employee is developing comfortable working relationships with female coworkers, despite his ‘no handshake’ practice, would seem highly relevant.”

It’s notable that this doesn’t address whether refusing to shake someone’s hand simply because she’s a woman is inherently hostile or demeaning. You could certainly argue that it is, and the EEOC has conveniently avoided that in their guidance.

So, practically speaking, what does all this mean for you? If this candidate had turned out to be the most qualified, you’d probably want to pay attention to other data about how he interacts with women. Did he otherwise treat the women he interacted with during your hiring process with respect? Did he make eye contact with them, address answers to them, and treat them and their input as seriously as he did the men he interacted with? Does he have a track record of working effectively with women in the past? How comfortable were the women in your office who he interacted with?

If you don’t have concerns on those fronts, then yes, it would likely be a legally-required religious accommodation.

Of course, none of this answers your well-taken point about what the law would require if an employee claimed to have religious objections to shaking hands with someone was gay or black. I’d hope the law wouldn’t require you to “accommodate” that, and while I haven’t been able to find anything definitive from the EEOC, I think you could argue that it would be inherently hostile or demeaning, and thus would create undue hardship. But why it’s not inherently hostile or demeaning when it’s sex-based is something I don’t know.

{ 1,042 comments… read them below }

  1. Kyrielle*

    Hm. But if you had hired him, as an accommodation, perhaps the employee could agree to not shake *anyone’s* hand. That was even noted as something that would be more comfortable.

    At which point, (a) he would not be shaking any women’s hands, thus respecting his religious beliefs, and (b) he would not be treating women differently than men (assuming his interactions are otherwise equally respectful, etc., obviously; if they aren’t, then you have a hardship).

    Yes, it is then going beyond his religious requirements, but it both honors them and removes the disparity of treatment.

    1. MeridaAnn*

      This was my first thought, too. I think it would definitely need to be clearly established as a choice between “shake everyone’s hand” or “shake no one’s hand”, to be clear that the company isn’t just forbidding him from shaking hands due to his religion, but at least in this case it sounds like he would have been willing to make that choice.

      1. Opie*

        This is the idea I like best so far: make it the candidate’s choice of “all or none”, presented to them with the job offer, not after.

    2. Bend & Snap*

      I agree with this. I would be completely offended to not have my hand shaken because of my gender. It’s 2016. But if there were a blanket no handshake policy for this person, all fine.

      I routinely refuse to shake hands during cold & flu season and nobody seems to have an issue with it.

      1. Joseph*

        “I routinely refuse to shake hands during cold & flu season and nobody seems to have an issue with it.”
        Frankly, given all the germs that get transmitted with handshakes, I’m kinda surprised that this isn’t standard practice. Heck, if you add in the (disturbingly large) percentage of people who don’t wash their hands after using the restroom, “no handshakes ever” might be the smartest rule of all.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          I would be deeply in favor of this policy. I am faaaaaaar from a germ-o-phobe, but I really dislike shaking hands.

          1. nofelix*

            Maybe this is weird but I kind of like shaking hands because of the human contact. I guess that’s kind of the point. Making an agreement or starting a relationship is founded on trust, and physical contact seems tied to trust in our psyche. It symbolises “I’m not a threat; I let you into my personal space, and I was in yours, and it’s all okay”.

            1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

              I suppose you’re right – I just think hands are gross and don’t really like most people. :)

            2. Kimberlee, Esq*

              There is evidence that physical contact increases trust in groups, and that people who shake hands before a negotiation both feel better about the deal in the end!

            3. a*

              I like shaking hands for the same reason. It’s also nice to be able to give a firm handshake, since I’m a short, young woman. People sometimes have a first impression of me as fragile/overly sensitive, and a good handshake helps offset that.

              1. .-.*

                Same here. I don’t like touching people I don’t know, as a personal preference, but I do like being able to impress people with a strong handshake :D

    3. EddieSherbert*


      I think this would be a reasonable solution as well. It’d be a little different, and he’d probably need a canned phrase to say when refusing,but it’d be less awkward than only shaking the men’s hands.

    4. Becky*

      Alternatively, as I said downthread, the women in the group could be offered an equally pleasant greeting. Anecdata – I’m a woman, and I’ve previously worked with Orthodox Jewish and Muslim men who would shake male hands in a group and then offer me a wave and a “I hope your day is going well!” verbal greeting. It was a kind way to let everyone in the group know that the greeter cared about us all equally, but couldn’t physically touch the woman.

        1. Chriama*

          A difference which his religion specifies. The question is whether it’s a reasonable accommodation, and I think a respectful greeting, though different, is not inherently unreasonable *because* it’s different.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            I’m so torn on this, and handshakes (or lack thereof) are only one example, across many cultures and religions.

            On the one hand, of course I believe that everyone should be able to practice their religion as it best serves them. On the other hand, it is absolutely unacceptable to me that some people’s religions (or other cultural practices) discriminate against women (who we can be with, what buildings we can enter, whether our hair or face or wrists or other parts of our bodies can be seen, etc.).

            I get stuck. There’s no clear answer. (Although, in this particular case, I do like the suggestion of requiring employees — not just this man — to shake all hands or none.)

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I agree, but I think giving him a different way to show respect is a good way to handle it. If someone didn’t want to touch my hand because of their religion, and they greeted me some other way – maybe the little bow with touching palms – I wouldn’t feel discriminated against. Now, if refusing to shake my hand is just the beginning, and he intends to ignore and disrespect me after that, it’s another thing entirely.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                This is basically how I feel. The edict against shaking hands is his personal restriction, not mine. I’m not the one who has to worry about it unless his demeanor toward me is otherwise problematic.

              2. Honeybee*

                Ehhh, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s about being singled out and my gender becoming the forefront identifying part of me. I work in tech, a male-dominated field, so I imagine a meeting where he shakes everyone else’s hand and then gives me a little bow or nod. That would make me feel uncomfortable, and I would definitely feel discriminated against, even though it’s for a technically “good” reason.

            2. Me*

              Not being allowed to touch a woman isn’t the same as discriminating against a woman. Also, handshakes aren’t exactly some sort of right. Plenty of people find them icky and annoying anyway!

              1. Sofia*

                And I think that’s kind of mentioned in the letter when the OP says that “Many people said that if he just said he didn’t shake hands at all that would be more acceptable / understandable (e.g., some people have OCD).”

                1. Amber T*

                  My question is, as his manager, how would you ask/tell/require him to shake hands with no one? Is it something you ask him to do, or something you tell him? Because if you *require* him not to shake anyone’s hands, then you’re treating him differently based on his religious beliefs.

                  As someone said above, shaking hands isn’t a right. I totally understand if people don’t want to shake hands for health/germ reasons. But true or not, even the most basic, small actions of treating one group differently can lead to the idea that that person doesn’t think that group is equal – it might make it even more so.

                  I’m agnostic/athiest, and while everyone should have the right to practice their religion on their own, I feel like it’s a grayer area in the work place mostly because of all the stories that are out there about individuals using religious freedom as a shield to be hateful.

                2. designbot*

                  How I would tell him is something like, “You previously brought up your religious views and the attendent policy of not shaking hands with women. We are committed to providing you with accomodation for this, but at the same time we are also committed to making sure that women are treated as equals in the workplace and this distinction can sometimes hinder that. Talking this through, the notion of you declining to shake hands with anyone, and therefor treating everyone equally, was put forward and it sounds like a great way to bridge this gap to me–how would you feel about that?”

                3. Chriama*

                  After hearing you frame it like that designbot I think this is something you can ask as an employer. I take back my previous stance.

          2. Temperance*

            Requiring him to not shake anyone’s hand is the most reasonable accommodation, IMO. He’s not treating women differently that way.

            1. Koko*

              I suppose for me an alternate polite greeting would be OK because it would seem to set up a clear distinction between “rules I have to follow” and “things I believe in my heart.” The effort of making a polite greeting would tell me that the belief in his heart is that I’m an equal and deserving of respect and professional courtesy; that he couldn’t shake my hand is just a rule he has to follow, and that maybe he privately even disagrees with, but his religion nonetheless requires of him and he’s unwilling to risk disobeying.

              Now, if he shook the men’s hands and did not offer me a polite greeting, that distinction no longer exists and I can only assume he is as bigoted in his 2016 heart as his 616 religious rules were.

              Perhaps some of my tolerance also comes from having studied world religions for a long time. Although I’m not religious myself, I understand how important people’s religions are to them and I have had many conversations with people about the ways they reconcile parts of their religion that conflict with their personal ideas, the compromises they try to make between slavish obedience and total rejection of faith. I’m sympathetic to that struggle having listened to so many people talk about it, so I’m more inclined to see a substitute gesture as the person making that sort of compromise.

              1. Blossom*

                Interesting. I would actually respect his stance more if it came from heartfelt belief (though the belief of “women are too distractingly irresistible to touch” is not one I have a while lot of respect for either). The idea of someone refusing to shake my hand purely to follow a rule that he did not believe in, and that nobody present was enforcing, makes me think rather little of them too.

                1. VivaL*

                  Based on what I’m reading in Koko’s comment – (hypothetically) he actually does believe in the rule (i.e. it would be sinful/troublesome for him to touch someone of the opposite sex/it’s better to avoid the appearance of impropriety), just not the *perception* that the rule gives others when enacted (someone of the opposite sex is inherently to be less respected than members of your own sex, someone of the opposite sex is trying to get you to be improper). Thus the alternate greeting ensures that his co-workers/friends/whomever know that he values them as people and as equals, but he simply believes he should be guarding his own behavior and this is how he chooses to do it. The issue is his behavior, not one of respect for persons.

                  In my head, this puts the onus and burden on him and his actions, and not on the fact of her being a woman. Though I will say I havent thought about this fully until typing this response. Im trying to make sense of KoKo’s comment.

                  I’m trying to think of an analogy (ie something you dont do based on a characteristic that others cant control such as race, orientation, hair color…) and I cant really think of one so will have to ponder this scenario a bit more…

          3. Gandalf the Nude*

            We actually went over this about 50 years ago and determined that separate was inherently unequal.

            1. Xay*

              We decided that separate was inherently unequal in the case of government funded services, not handshaking.

              1. Gandalf the Nude*

                If you want to be pedantic, yes, that’s what the judicial decision actually said. However, I wasn’t speaking on a strictly legal sense any more than civil rights activists were.

                1. Xay*

                  The difference between your statement and the civil rights activists is that there appears to be no consequence for women who do not receive a handshake for this individual than an unshaken hand, as opposed to the inadequate education, unsafe facilities and poor resources inherent in a government supported, fully segregated society. You can call me pedantic, but you are being unnecessarily reductive.

                2. Gandalf the Nude*

                  Again, civil rights activists were and are not just fighting for equal government resources. They want an end to the systemic prejudices that affect them beyond using a different drinking fountain. Microaggressions have real impacts on the collective psyche of marginalized groups, and they reinforce the larger, more obvious issues those groups face. Perhaps a handshake is not the hill you want to die on, but there are consequences to being treated differently.

                3. Xay*

                  Civil rights activists actually aren’t in complete consensus about what equality involves – whether in the 1950-60s or today. Equality doesn’t mean erasure of religious beliefs or culture.

                  Also, I am well acquainted with both the concept and experience of microaggressions. I’ve also worked with people from different cultrual and religious backgrounds and I’ve learned to view people’s actions in context. So no, considering a person’s overall background, cultural context, and how they treat people, I don’t think a handshake is the hill to die on.

                4. Turtle Candle*

                  I think whether a handshake is a hill to die on depends hugely on context. If a coworker in a private office wouldn’t/couldn’t shake my hand, I could cope. If someone shook my male junior colleague’s hand but not mine in a client meeting (I work in tech, but do occasional client-facing work as necessary), it would send a strong message that I was the junior member or even that I wasn’t an engineer at all–and to me that would be a hill to die on; it would be better if nobody’s hand was shook.

                  It really really really depends.

          4. FiveWheels*

            I would find it inherently unreasonable for a colleague to treat me one way and another colleague differently because I have ovaries and he has testicles.

              1. IM HALPING*

                when you say it that way, it highlights the unreasonable-ness even better. :) That religion probably is written in a way that would forbid him from touching anyone born with a vagina (not necessarily ovaries), regardless of their current gender or appearance. Which… sadly makes sense of some of the trans-phobia, if people honestly think they might go to hell for unintentionally touching someone their religion defines as a woman. :/

            1. themmases*

              Can you stop doing this? It’s gross and rude.

              If you think you’re arguing against sexism, it’s generally a bad idea to continually reduce people to their body parts and change the subject from people’s actions and gender to their sex.

              1. Sudeef*

                I’m not sure I follow your logic here. I thought this was a joke highlighting the absurdity of anyone claiming that there is some appreciable difference between men and women when their main point of difference is said body parts?

                1. AW*

                  The problem is that the main point of difference *isn’t* their body parts. There are men who have vaginas and there are women who have penises. Transgender, intersex, and non-binary people all exist.

                2. PK*

                  In all fairness, I would think that folks who adhere to these particular religious principles would use that particular ‘metric’.

                3. Kay J*

                  @PK But people don’t necessarily LOOK trans or intersex, and the assumption that they do causes harm. The idea that a penis earns you some sort of privilege applies to neither a passing or visibly trans woman.

          5. Yup*

            >> a respectful greeting, though different, is not inherently unreasonable *because* it’s different.
            YES. Exactly this — and the further I got into the comments, the more this point got obfuscated. Really struck by the tenor of some of the arguments, and have stopped reading. :(

        2. 42*

          That’s typical of a lot of religions, even in 2016. I was brought up Catholic (now moved on from that), so that’s my nearest frame of reference, but there are no leadership positions for women there, where they’re higher in the food chain then men. So we can demonstrate that some sectors of Christianity treat women differently strictly based on gender. An absence of handshaking because a guy is adhering to his religious tradition is a non-issue to me, and I’d say ‘ok’ and move on with my day. There are other ways of delivering a warm greeting that don’t involve touching people.

          1. Juli G.*

            But this is about bringing your religious beliefs in the workplace. Go to a church with only men in leadership roles – fine. Refuse to work for a woman because only men are in leadership roles – not fine.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              The law specifically allows you to bring religious beliefs to the workplace. That’s what the EEOC partially about. That’s what reasonable accommodation is about.
              And BTW, lest we get derailed by this, the original Greek word for belief means “put your trust in” which includes actions. They are inseparable.

              1. Juli G.*

                You’re right. What I meant and should have said that its about not impacting someone else negatively with your religious beliefs.

              2. Annie Moose*

                Yes, thank you.

                A lot of non-religious people tend to view religion as something you can just turn off when you step in your workplace–but it doesn’t work that way. You don’t stop deeply believing things just because you’re at work. If you belong to a religion where X is a sin, then X is a sin whether or not you’re at work, regardless of whether or not it impacts other people.

                That doesn’t mean that literally anything is allowable if someone claims it’s part of their religion, and that doesn’t mean that religions can’t be sexist/racist/etc. But it does make it more complicated than just “well, stop being religious”.

      1. MeridaAnn*

        But I don’t think that a wave and a handshake *are* equal greetings. Handshakes have a more formal, business connotation, while a wave or other greeting seems more casual / social. Offering different greetings that way still feels like the men are greeted as equals and business partners while the women would be greeted as social passers-by.

        1. Katym*

          This is so well put. A handshake is a gesture of respect (usually). Little kids love when you offer to shake their hands, because even they know it means you are treating them with respect.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Thank you for expressing something I was having difficulty with! Handshakes and waves/smiles aren’t the same thing; one is coded as a formal/often professional greeting and the other isn’t. And it’s not uncommon for people to shake hands with those they think are ‘higher status’ and not with those they think are ‘lower status’ (like not shaking hands with the receptionist/secretary but shaking hands with the executive, or not shaking hands with the nurse but shaking hands with the doctor, etc.).

          If a man shook hands with all the other men in a room and then waved at me and said “Hello,” I’d assume he thought I was lower status. I mean, yes, if someone explained to me, I’d get it–but it would still feel weird, and as if I was being coded ‘lower-rank.’

          1. FiveWheels*

            And you would be coded lower rank – even if it was not intended that way, the immediate impression given to everyone would be that you were lower rank, and everyone was okay with that.

        3. Lemon Zinger*

          I agree, I find waves to be condescending when the hand-waver goes ahead and shakes hands with *some* people anyway. Don’t wave at me. Shake my hand. This is business.

        4. AMPG*

          In my last position, I (a woman) occasionally had professional dealings with conservative Muslim men, and they would generally put their right hand on their heart and bow slightly. I would return the gesture, and it felt equally as formal/respectful as a handshake.

          1. Kora*

            I’m fond of this as a solution (and a greeting!) too, but I still think it works better if you apply it across the board and avoid interacting with men and women differently.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              I say we follow the Asian example and just replace handshaking with bowing across the board. Fewer germs spread, and you don’t get the people playing dominance games by trying to crush hands!

              1. Julia*

                No, but try figuring out how low to bow to the CEO, the secretary (and even the polite Japanese people often don’t bow to the receptionist) and then get out of the game of repeatedly lower bowing until your head almost hits the ground and your hip hurts.
                I am fond of bowing, but it is not without its own problems.

        5. BWooster*

          I agree with you Merida that there’s a difference, yet in a company with roughly equal numbers of men and women, I’d feel pretty ok if a religious gentleman waved at women and shook hands with men, although I wouldn’t love it.

          However, I am a woman working in IT, a very male-dominated field. Several times in my career, I’ve been the only woman working in a group of men. Even in most inclusive groups, it is hard not to feel like the odd person out on occasion, and being waved at while my colleagues all get handshakes would highten this feeling substantially. Under these circumstances, I am very much not ok with this kind of exclusion. It is imminently reasonable in this case to shake hands with no one. It would raise questions in my mind not about their religion but about their manners, to be honest.

          In sum, I am not in love with the handshakes for some, handwaves for others but my reaction to it would depend heavily on circumstances: from “No big deal…” to “no, this is not right!”

          1. Opie*

            OP here. We are in the tech world, which I didn’t mention in the letter, but I think heightens the problem. We have enough trouble hiring women that I don’t want to do anything to make the work environment worse for women.

            1. 42*

              It’s not making it ‘worse’ over a handshake or not. There is an abundance of other actions and behaviors that make work environments bad for women, and those should be closely looked at. Not a lack of a handshake.

              1. TL -*

                A lack of a handshake can absolutely add to a field where sexism is already a problem, though, which is what the OP said she was trying to avoid.

              2. Turtle Candle*

                I’ve mentioned it elsewhere in the thread, but I work in tech too, and it absolutely is the case that people assume that handshakes are for engineers and managers, and support staff don’t get them. I am an engineer and if I don’t proactively offer my hand at conferences or meetings, I am assumed to be the secretary/admin/aide and not an engineer with authority to speak and make decisions. So it’s definitely not a “it’s just a handshake, who cares?” issue in this industry.

                1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

                  Indeed. Despite generally being far less formal than the general business world, the technology field has *heavily* embraced the trend that handshakes are for equals/peers and waves are for lessers/subordinates. I suspect this is at least partly because the informal dress code that is popular in tech companies means you don’t have nearly as much visual distinction between hierarchical levels.

              3. BWooster*

                “those should be closely looked at. Not a lack of a handshake.”

                As a woman in tech, I am explaining to you that the practice of shaking hands with men but not with women would make me feel more excluded than I already do on occasion. Which actions should or should not concern me is entirely up to me. You might not feel that it is making it ‘worse’ but I absolutely do. Therefore, you’re free to let such practice pass without comment but I certainly won’t.

              4. Panda Bandit*

                You don’t get to decide which behaviors are meaningless. Handshakes are a sign of respect, which has been in short supply for a very long time.

            2. BananaPants*

              I’m a female engineer and I would be really upset if my employer thought it was OK for a male coworker to shake hands with other men but not with women. My employer’s tacit approval of discriminatory behavior on the basis of gender would be unacceptable to me.

              Someone with these religious restrictions either has to shake everyone’s hand or nobody’s hand.

          1. TL -*

            Well, for one, there is actually an established thing where men getting handshakes because they are men and worthy of respect, and women getting a hug, a nod, a wave, or ignored, because they are not worthy of the same professionalism and respect. Both in social and in professional situations. So someone refusing to shake hands with only women, regardless of the reason, is feeding into a system that a lot of women are working very hard to overcome.

            The workplace is not the place to treat people differently, for any reasons. Shaking hands with no one is fine. Shaking hands with everyone is fine. Shaking hands with men and not women is not fine.

            1. EmmaLou*

              Actually women used to get to choose who got to touch them. You never tried to shake a woman’s hand unless she offered it to you first. And she usually word gloves.

              1. Mike C.*

                Offering a hand for shaking doesn’t take away the choice of the particular person to shake their hand, male or female.

              2. TL -*

                Sure, back when middle/upper class women didn’t work outside the home that much. But since women have joined the white collar workforce, there is another history of women not being treated equal to men which includes not shaking hands.

          2. MeridaAnn*

            It’s not a huge deal… IF it’s the same for interactions with both men and women. A handshake has connotations (at least in the US) that are different than any other gesture. The clasping of hands evokes the idea of a pact or commitment – a business interaction – in a way that no other greeting really matches. A head bow is respectful, but does not have that business connotation. It’s fine to use another gesture instead for *everyone* that you interact with at work, but it’s inappropriate to use the business greeting for one gender (or race or religion, etc.) and a different greeting for others in a different category.

          3. Mike C.*

            It’s a huge deal because men and women are supposed to be treated the same in the workplace. If you mean everyone gets that treatment then fine, but otherwise it’s completely unacceptable.

        6. Becky*

          I work in the tech industry, so handshakes in general are seen as weirdly formal. Waving or high-fives, even amongst new business acquaintances, are the norm.

          What I meant was that *any* gesture that conveys a respectful acknowledgement of someone’s presence should work if the context is religious accommodation. I get that in the U.S. and amongst the non- or irreligious segments of our culture the “all or none” option seems like the best idea. And as the OP pointed out, the candidate did opt to not shake a male interviewer’s hand when there was a female present. But that accommodation may not work for the candidate. I was trying to present a secondary, reasonable alternative.

          1. Honeybee*

            I work in tech and I shake people’s hands all the time, especially when I meet them for the first time. We’re much more informal than most other corporate industries but there are still certain standards we tend to follow. Plus, I interface with non-tech workers relatively often, too.

            I’ve never high-fived someone I *just* met as an introduction. Maybe at the very end of a meeting, after we’ve established a connection.

      2. Koko*

        I agree with this. I wouldn’t be offended if the Muslim man substituted another polite greeting in lieu of the handshake, even though the substitution was based on sex. I would see that as a bona fide attempt to reconcile his religion’s requirements with his professional respect for women, and that genuine attempt would make it OK for me.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          The professional part is the attitude, not the actual gesture. There are plenty of people who can’t shake hands with anyone (arthritis, etc.) and still manage to convey respectful acknowledgment.

        2. BTownGirl*

          100% agree. I had to do a round of meetings in an Emirates country once and I wasn’t offended at all. Everyone (male and female) was warm and friendly, so the only reason I even noticed was because I researched all of the business etiquette beforehand.

      3. lawsuited*

        I had a client who would not shake women’s hands (I assumed it was because of religious reasons, but didn’t make inquiries), and he would shake my male colleague’s hand and them put his hand over his heart and dip his head towards me. I found the gesture very respectful, and quite touching.

      4. BananaPants*

        Would it be OK in your mind for an employee to use religion as the justification for giving black people a pleasant greeting while shaking hands with white and Asian people, or for an employee to give a gay client a pleasant greeting while offering a straight client a handshake? No? Then a “pleasant greeting” for women and a handshake for men isn’t OK, either.

        An employee claiming these kinds of religious strictures against even the most professional opposite-sex physical contact needs to agree to shake everyone’s hand or nobody’s hand – their choice.

        1. Honeybee*

          Yeah, this is how I feel, too. I don’t feel like religion is enough of a justification to basically treat me differently because of a part of my identity. And the insidious thing here is that the reason that the religious stricture is there is for sexist reasons, so choosing to do something different for women *is* inherently sexist. I have sympathy for people navigating these waters, and I try my best to respect all people’s religious beliefs and practices. But there’s a line, and that line is when I’m getting treated differently because of my gender.

        2. VivaL*

          I’m really grappling with this question, so understand I am responding trying to work this out in my head. I admit my thoughts may be less than satisfactory on this. I grew up religious, but dont follow that closely any more, so I feel like I understand the desire to follow your religion’s tenets, but also want to figure out how to do that respectfully for all involved.

          Your scenario assumes that the employee isnt shaking because of the person being black or gay – the rationale is based on a characteristic that the other person cannot change and that the employee believes that aspect is wrong/sinful itself. Not shaking hands with a woman isnt wrong or sinful because she’s a woman – it’s because of the situation it creates for the employee (ie appearance of impropriety). So, the employee is avoiding the situation, not the person. Does that make sense?

          As I think about this, I realize the impropriety is based on the fact that she’s a woman… but it’s also based on the fact that he’s a man in the same way. (ie a woman/woman wouldnt have impropriety, a man/man wouldnt have impropriety).

          I’m still trying to come up with an analogy…. but not really coming up with much so my logic here might fail. Still thinking about this one…

            1. VivaL*

              But that again is based on the specific factor (race), not the situation it creates (impropriety). There’s no religious ban or implication of impropriety in this specific situation. I might be splitting hairs here, but it’s a factor Im still considering.

      5. Paige*

        This is a great option. I recently had a handyman come do work at my house and he said, after I offered, that he couldn’t shake my hand (I’m a woman, he was quite obviously from the Middle East). But he did so in a very friendly manner (wave, smile, moving on quickly) and proceeded to treat me and my home with utmost respect. I have been exposed to such practices frequently due to school and travel, so I understood and was not offended. Yeah, it was a surprise and a little weird, but he more than made up for the awkwardness with his professionalism and competence. Therefore, I see the problem as being my having to move temporarily and incrementally out of my comfort zone. The horror.

        I also have coworkers who insist on women going through doors before them – treating them differently by gender, but not an undue burden. I also have friends in private schools interview prospective students where the male students (white, Christian boys) only speak and make eye contact with the male interviewers (welcome to the deep south!). This is also treating women differently, but is highly disrespectful. Like any accommodation, the point is to bridge any awkwardness and make a respectful work environment possible. Your descriptions seems like it fits that bill.

        1. MeridaAnn*

          Personally, I really dislike the through-the-door-first thing. Especially when I don’t know where I’m going and the man is leading the way, so I have to go through the door first (usually after an awkward pause where I don’t realize that’s what they want me to do), then move awkwardly to the side (often while being stared at by the people inside who don’t know me and don’t know why I’m there) to let the leader back past me again to continue leading the way and/or introduce me. It’s just an awkward-fest, and it makes me so uncomfortable. [Or it’s an elevator and the men insist I get on first, meaning I end up in the back, but then they insist I get *off* first, too, which means I have to squish past a crowd of men in front of me to reach the doorway. SO. AWKWARD.]

          1. Saturnalia*

            I too find this awkward and dislike it quite a bit. It’s taken 5 years with certain male coworkers for them to walk through the door I am holding open for them.

    5. Jax*

      But then how do you get around the fact that everyone else in the company is free to shake hands with whoever, but this employee is asked not to shake hands with anyone, because of his religion. I don’t have a better solution, but I think this is just as problematic.

      1. Observer*

        Why is this problematic? His religion forbids him to shake hands with woman. Given that reality, why would it be such a big deal for him to not shake hands with anyone?

        1. 42*

          Because it’s not respecting his particular religious tradition. You’re now adding an addendum to something that is not your business to act upon, only because this practice is not customary and common and comfortable for YOU. No bueno.

                1. 42*

                  Disagree. Now you’re forcing him to conform by not allowing him to shake hands with anybody.

                  Just so everyone’s clear, I don’t agree with this custom at all. It seems rather archaic to me. But I sure as hell wouldn’t expect nor want him to adjust his tradition _if he didn’t want to _ because it’s unfamiliar and uncommon. My sense of self and worth isn’t defined by a religion, let alone one that I don’t follow.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But there’s a broader question here about at what point it impacts the workplace in an unacceptable way. If someone’s religious tradition called for them never to speak to the opposite sex, or to not to be alone with them, or as the letter-writer hypothesized not to touch a gay person, it doesn’t matter that it’s not our place to change that religious belief — it’s our place to reflect on how it impacts the workplace and how to proceed.

                1. 42*

                  Thanks Alison. I’m taking this at face value as talking about a handshake. All the hypotheticals above to me would warrant an entirely different conversation.

                2. WorkingMom*

                  If I were the hiring manager, this person’s role in the job would be very important. If this person’s job was to meet with potential clients and close deals, not being able to shake hands with women might make for some very awkward encounters with clients, and depending on those clients, it could risk business. If the individual was not in a role of that manner, then I think the accommodation to just not shake hands at all is appropriate and they can move forward.

                3. Yup*

                  Yes! The extrapolations about a lack of handshake being sexist and discriminatory fall short of considering the *actual* impact of such a practice. If that person works with a woman just as effectively, but greets women verbally instead of with a handshake, what really is the impact? Not shaking a hand ≠ hindering women’s advancement, making demeaning comments, etc. The “slippery slope” argument doesn’t work here.

                4. Mookie*

                  I’m taking this at face value as talking about a handshake.

                  Except that’s not your call to make here, because the OP possesses all the facts and is asking about how to handle the situation in the future and how to gauge in advance whether this behavior will be limited to handshakes or will affect the applicant’s female colleagues (will the person also refuse to work with them, refuse to promote them, be wary to seek and follow their instructions, etc). You can’t write off those “hypotheticals” because the hypothetical contextual details will make all the difference.

                5. MeridaAnn*

                  @Yup: The impact is that it projects and image of the woman as different or lesser than her peers. Because a handshake is (in the US) the standard business greeting, shaking only men’s hands signals that you are only doing business with the men, while the women look like they’re not part of the business interaction. It’s along the same lines as only women being asked to take notes or clean up, even when they’re at the same or higher level than men who are not asked to do the same – it assumes that women are there to support the men and little else, instead of being there on their own right. And that marginalization is bad for women’s advancement and other aspects of the job, because even in a slight way, it’s just one more signal that they’re not as important or competent, and that can influence their reputations and how they are perceived by everyone else around them, consciously or not.

              2. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

                It is “our” call to negotiate a reasonable accommodation for his religious beliefs as required by law. However, the law *also* requires that workplaces maintain non-discriminatory behavior standards, which means you are not in fact allowed to permit accommodations which create a hostile environment for women.

            1. Becky*

              The candidate’s religious tradition is his religious tradition and he is free to practice it. Just as I’m free to practice my religious traditions and you’re free to practice your religious traditions. When those traditions meet U.S. workplace conventions, there has to be some give-and-take negotiation.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I am sure that there are plenty of other people of various faiths who have been challenged by what they see in the workplace. For decades I did not affiliate with any church and I still found plenty of moral/ethical dilemmas going on in many workplaces. I have grown to assume this will be the norm.

                I have felt that the responsibility rested with me to figure out what I will do. I would hope the candidate has suggestions of solutions. That to me would be something that would weigh in to my decision to hire, if the candidate seemed to be participating in how to navigate the differences.

          1. Edith*

            Ensuring men and women get equal treatment in your workplace is absolutely the employer’s business to act on. I fail to see how making an accommodation for an employee’s religious beliefs is disrespecting him. Asking him to treat women and men the same is completely reasonable.

          2. SignalLost*

            The religion in question is not (assuming the writer is in the US) the dominant religion of the region that the job is in, so its customs and practices are more unfamiliar to the average person here. Whether that’s good, bad, or indifferent isn’t the issue. The accommodation the employee requests is seen as discriminatory by other people in this country because it is not a standard experience. Therefore, changing the accommodation to treat all people equally is what is appropriate in this country: it meets his need to not touch women, and it meets the company’s need to not be seen as supporting discrimination against women. If this was a job being hired for in Saudi Arabia, the cultural rules would be different.

            1. 42*

              Right. Because Saudi Arabia does not allow Christianity to be practiced openly and forbids apostasy. They wouldn’t be having this discussion there.

            2. Mike C.*

              This doesn’t change anything, and don’t presume on my knowledge or experience.

              Treating someone differently, based only on their gender, when their gender isn’t germane to the interaction, is sexist. I don’t understand why this is so difficult to understand. It doesn’t matter if it stems from banal bigotry, ignorance, deeply held religious beliefs, cultural norms and so on.

              Intent does not stop something from being sexist.

              1. SignalLost*

                Oh it is, absolutely! I once had the delightful experience of interviewing a prospective housemate who turned out to be a very conservative Muslim and who had no problems interacting with my Jewish housemate but couldn’t shake hands or make eye contact with me because I’m a woman. I declined him quite quickly, and was happy to to find out that my Jewish housemate was also on board for that same reason. (I saw your clarification; I just wanted to stress that I agree with you and would not be comfortable in the situation described if the employee refused to shake my hand. Religion is quite capable of being sexist.)

          3. nonegiven*

            His religion forbids hi to shake hands with women. His religion does not require him to shake hands at all.

          4. Observer*

            No, you’re not. I don’t know of any religious tradition that forbids handshakes between men and women bet actually requires handshakes between men and men or women and women. And I also know of no religious tradition that requires anyone to make a show of not shaking hands with the other gender. Neither Orthodox Judaism nor Islam have such requirements, that’s for sure.

            In fact, from the Orthodox Jewish point of view, this might be the best choice, as ideally one would be discreet about the issue and act in a way that minimizes the discomfort of any person not familiar / comfortable with the tradition for any reason.

      2. Kate M*

        It’s not that the employee would be asked not to shake hands with anyone because of his religion, he would be asked to treat everyone equally. How he does that would be up to him – whether he wants to shake everyone’s hand (including women) or shake nobody’s hand. Or give an alternate greeting to everyone equally. It wouldn’t be the company saying “because you’re Muslim, you can’t shake anyone’s hand.” The company would be saying, “you’re free to keep your religious views, but you must treat everyone equally in the process. Your choice.”

        1. Jax*

          Okay, when it is framed that way that makes complete sense to me. I would worry that someone who wanted to cause trouble might say “hey, I am being treated differently because of my religion. Everyone else who works here can choose or not choose to shake hands but I am being told that I can’t shake hands with anyone because my religion says I can’t touch people of the opposite sex who are not relatives.” I don’t think a reasonable person would say that, but most troublemakers are not reasonable (in my experience.)

          1. neverjaunty*

            You might want to consider that outside of the dominant faith (Christianity) in the US, asking for accommodations for one’s religion of any sort is already seen as annoying and ‘troublemaking’. It’s not exactly a great strategy to try and intensify that by picking additional and needless fights, for virtually everyone.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              Even within Christianity it is seen as troublemaking and unreasonable.
              I have had several managers that took great offense that I wouldn’t work on my Sabbath, even though I was available 24/7 other days, including holidays.
              Corporate had to explain to them that unless it was a true problem they had to accommodate.
              FWIW, the most unreasonable managers also had reputations as bad bosses. They were the most rigid (and retaliatory).

            2. Engineer Girl*

              BTW I always tried to self accommodate as possible by swapping shifts, lab times, etc. Most coworkers are happy to do it if you take their 2AM lab slot.

          2. disconnect*

            “Your spiritual authority has commanded you to not touch unrelated women. Mine has commanded me to ensure equal treatment for all people. This is the best compromise we have found. Do you have a different suggestion?”

            1. FiveWheels*

              In the USA and UK alike, I believe your right to express your religion ends where you discriminate against others who do not share your faith.

              1. Gandalf the Nude*

                I don’t know about the UK, but that’s not yet true in the USA. See: continued struggle for equal rights and protections for LGBTQIA+ folks, particularly variations on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

                1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

                  To be fair, most Americans really over-emphasize the extent to which RFRAs actually enable discrimination – I really believe that the biggest issue and one that is not nearly focused on enough is the lack of active protections against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

                2. Gandalf the Nude*

                  @MegaMoose, Esq. Well, RFRAs are rather the opposite of active protections against discrimination, at least in a service sense. I do agree that lack of those protections has the more broadly-felt effects on our community because they have the greater capacity to affect people’s livelihoods. But the visibility of RFRAs and the protection they provide for discrimination do contribute to the broader sentiment against us. Kind of like how a lot of previously quiet racists were emboldened to be more blatant about their hatred because of the rhetoric that’s dominated this year’s news cycle.

          3. nonegiven*

            Religious accommodation like ADA accommodation does not require it to be the exact accommodation you want.

            You can pray quietly over your lunch at your desk if it fits into your religion. You may not lead the entire office in prayer over others objections.

        2. 42*

          Yes; and I would expect my employee that he treat everyone equally with polite discourse, a pleasant working demeanor, pulling his weight, and a spirit of collaboration with everyone he encounters in his work day.

      3. Chriama*

        I agree. I feel like it would be like your religion saying you can’t eat beef, and your company then saying you’re not allowed to eat any meat (or maybe more like having only a beef option and a vegetarian option, even though chicken is readily available and not more expensive). It’s just, I don’t know that you can start mandating how people follow their religion. I think you might need to talk to them about how they want to handle it – accommodation is supposed to be a collaborative process, right?

        So not shaking anyone’s hand in mixed groups, or offering a different, but still friendly and respectful greeting to women or to everyone, and also making a deliberate effort to show respect to women to counteract the appearance of sexism, are all nuanced ways this could play out.

        1. Kate M*

          That’s not an accurate comparison though, because whether you eat meat or not doesn’t really have an effect on how you treat your coworkers. You can mandate how people follow their religions in the workplace in certain situations. If someone’s religion thought that being gay was wrong and told them they were supposed to try to convert every gay person they met, the workplace could absolutely say “you can’t do that. That’s creating a hostile environment.” If someone’s personal religion sincerely believed that races should be segregated and refused to interact with people from other races, then the workplace could shut that down or fire that person. You definitely can mandate how people follow their religion in the workplace (or let them go), it’s just a matter of degree.

          This wouldn’t be mandating how an employee follow their religion even, they would be able to abstain from shaking women’s hands if they want. They would just have to treat all coworkers equally.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Right. The situations would only be analogous if beef wanted to be eaten and was a protected class.

        2. Pwyll*

          I agree. And to take your analogy further, if someone states their religion prohibits them from eating beef, the company wouldn’t need to remove all beef from the workplace. There’s no need to address other people’s handshaking habits as a part of this person’s religious accommodations.

        3. FiveWheels*

          Comparing women with beef is rather problematic to me. Cattle weren’t denied votes based on whether they had udders or horns.

        4. AMT*

          But I don’t understand why it’s fine for him not to shake hands with women, but unreasonable not to shake hands with anyone. Either shaking hands is 100% necessary, in which case his religion is preventing him from performing the duties of his job, or shaking hands is unnecessary, in which case there’s no business need for him to shake hands with anyone. He can’t very well say, “No, I absolutely MUST shake hands with men to do my job!”

          1. Chriama*

            The issue is about you, as an employer, making this a request or a condition of his employment. I don’t think it’s something you can ask. I think the ideal solution would be for him to do exactly that, yes, but I don’t think it’s something an employer could require or ask. That’s why I think having a general conversation about his need for religious accommodations would be better, because then you can address other potential issues right away (e.g. working alone with women).

            1. KellyK*

              But “treat men and women equally” is a perfectly valid and reasonable request to make of an employee, even if their religion has a gender hierarchy or different rules for interacting with men vs. women.

              1. AMT*

                Exactly! The law doesn’t require you to accommodate every religious belief exactly the way the employee wants it to be accommodated. There is no way the employee can complain that not shaking hands at all isn’t an appropriate accommodation unless he wants to claim that shaking hands with men is a necessary part of his job, which is ridiculous.

            2. Kate M*

              I’m really not sure why you keep saying it’s not something an employer could require or ask. His religious accommodation – not touching women – is the thing that needs to be addressed. The work can accommodate that in many ways, and while it’s good if they work with an employee on the accommodation, it’s not required that the employee agree with the final choice. Not shaking hands with anyone, i.e. treating everyone equally, would accommodate his religious need.

              1. Chriama*

                Yeah, I’m backing down from that slightly. I do think you should have a frank conversation about the whole thing and not just say ‘you have to shake hands with everyone or no one’ but I take back the part about not asking him at all.

        5. .-.*

          As someone who does not eat one particular kind of meat, I would have no problem with being offered a vegetarian option. I think reacting like “so you’re not going to give me ANY MEAT” would be really weird, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t eat pork or beef that would have a problem with vegetarian food being the non-pork/beef option.

      4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Well, in this scenario none of the women in the company are free to shake hands with whoever, are they?

        1. TootsNYC*

          Nobody should be required to allow another person to touch them without their permission. Even to shake their hands. Women especially should be able to understand that.

          So requiring that everyone allow the women to shake their hands is not cool either.

            1. bearing*

              And that’s kind of what’s going on here. The employee doesn’t want to have to have certain people touch him. So both on the principle that you shouldn’t force someone to violate their religious beliefs if there is a way around it, and on the principle that unwanted physical contact should never be forced, I don’t think making this guy shake women’s hands is the right path.

              I think the accommodation is to expressly allow the employee to decline to shake hands *and* insist that he treat men and women equally. He can do the math from there.

      5. Turtle Candle*

        The fact of the matter is that someone is going to be treated differently–either women, because men are being greeted differently in a professional context, or that employee, being asked to make his handshake policy universal. There is no solution here that results in everyone being treated the same as other employees, which is part of why this question is so tough.

        1. MeridaAnn*

          That employee would *not* be treated differently, though. *Everyone* is expected to make their handshake policy universal across genders.

      6. LawCat*

        Not shaking hands is the accommodation though. The employee is asking for a different set of norms to accommodate his religion. The employer needs to work with the employee to come up with a reasonable solution. It does not mean the employee gets to dictate the accommodation. If the employee asked for “I shake men’s hands and offer a friendly wave to women to accommodate my religion” and the company said, “No, we are not going to accommodate your religion by letting you treat your peers and our clients differently based on sex. We can accommodate by saying in professional settings that call for handshakes, you shake no one’s hands.”

        1. AMT*

          That’s a crucial point that shouldn’t be overlooked. The employer is required to provide AN accommodation. They are not required to provide the exact accommodation of the employee’s choice.

            1. Opie*

              Blech. Meant to say, good point, that the accommodation is ultimately up to the employer as long as it is “reasonable”.

      7. FiveWheels*

        He wouldn’t be asked not to shake hands with anyone. He’d be told he can’t treat people differently based on their gender, and he can deal with that how he sees fit.

    6. Observer*

      As an orthodox Jew, that would work perfectly well. I’m a woman, and don’t shake men’s hands. But, I have no REQUIREMENT to shake a woman’s hand. So, if it makes people more comfortable I just won’t shake anyone’s hand, and have done.

      1. CanadianKat*

        But, let’s say you’re at a business meeting where only women are present. Let’s say there’s a very formal introduction in the beginning where everyone shakes hands. Would you decline shaking anyone’s hand because you don’t shake hands with men? I would venture that this would make you uncomfortable to be forbidden to shake women’s hands in a context like that.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          I actually think I’d have an easier time saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t shake hands, but hello! It’s lovely to meet you,” than to explain why I was shaking some hands and not others.

        2. Rat in the Sugar*

          I don’t think it would be any more uncomfortable to not be shaking hands in a roomful of women than it would be in a roomful of both men and women, though. Seems the same.

        3. TL -*

          If I was shaking hands and someone, for instance, put their hand over their heart and bowed a little instead of shaking my hand, I would respond the same way and not ask questions (because rude). If I saw them doing it to other people, I would even expect it by the time they got to me.

        4. Observer*

          I’d far sooner not shake anyone’s hand even in a room full of only women, if it came to that, than to create an issue where there are people around.

          In practice, I do shake women’s hands, and not men, but if someone told me that it was causing issues, I’d just stop shaking hands. And, if it were an issue to such an extent that it could cause a problem, even in the room full of women, I’d just not shake hands and give a little bow and greeting. I think waaay too much is being made of this.

        5. Not So NewReader*

          This would bother me if someone behaved differently in different groups. If OP’s candidate agreed to shake NO ONE’s hand, okay. But if I found out that he was shaking men’s hands when no women were there to witness the shake, I would have a huge problem with the mixed actions.

          This can’t be, “Don’t shake anyone’s hand, wink, wink, unless of course there’s no women there. If the women don’t see you shaking men’s hands then it’s okay.”
          Everything has be above board at all times.

    7. blackcat*

      My mom doesn’t shake any hands because of her permanently compromised immune system, and she’s never found anyone to be significantly put off by a slight head bow and the occasional, “I’m sorry, but I don’t shake hands.” There are lots of reasons why someone might not shake any hands, and I think it’s the best solution.

    8. Kore*

      I’d probably recommend this. If I met someone and he shook hands with all my male colleagues but not any of the women I would be absolutely livid. I’d probably understand if he explained afterwards, but it would still make me a bit upset, if I as to be honest. If I met someone and he didn’t shake hands with anyone, I would probably think nothing of it.

  2. Gaia*

    As Alison says, oof.

    On one hand, while I fundamentally do not agree with the religions that say men and women cannot have any physical contact outside of marriage (including handshakes) and I think it is sexist…it *is* his religion and I think not hiring him (if he were the most highly qualified candidate) because of this is a bit of a bad precedent.

    I would probably look for other signs that he either respects or disrespects women in the workplace and base my decision there. If he answers questions directly to women, doesn’t defer to the men in the room and generally seems accepting of their role and authorities then I would probably let the handshake thing go.

    1. Captain Radish*


      The west puts so much emphasis on handshakes where a lot of the rest of the world doesn’t. It’s not just the religious factor that’s a bit of a cultural difference.

      1. themmases*

        Can we not make assumptions about the nationality and cultural background of this person?

        The letter says that his objection is religious, not that he is an immigrant. I get that you want to give this man the benefit of the doubt and be tolerant, but it doesn’t need to be done through stereotypes about his religion.

        1. Sparkly Librarian*

          I didn’t see that Captain Radish’s comment was suggesting that the candidate was an immigrant. It just acknowledged that in other countries and cultures, people conduct business without handshakes.

          1. themmases*

            Their comment that there is a cultural difference in play here is a complete non-sequitur without that assumption.

            1. Gaia*

              Not true at all. There are hundreds (thousands) of different cultures within the country without even considering first or second generation immigrants.

              1. themmases*

                Captain Radish specifically referenced cultural differences with “The west”. I don’t even have to scroll back up to read it… Maybe you should try.

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      Of course, depending on the nature of the work, an employee who refuses to shake hands with 50% of the population could be extremely detrimental to business. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case for OP.

    3. Finman*

      You say it is sexist and yet if it were a woman who had interviewed and did not shake the men’s hands, would you feel the same? It seems like people are calling this sexist because a man didn’t shake a woman’s hand.

      1. FiveWheels*

        It’s sexist because he wouldn’t shake hands with women purely BECAUSE they were women.

        If a woman didn’t shake a man’s hand I’d think she was out of touch with professional norms… But if she said she wouldn’t shake men’s hands BECAUSE they’re men, yes, that’s sexist too.

        1. bearing*

          I don’t know that it’s “purely” because they were women.

          It’s a collision of two factors: a felt religious imperative, and that they were women.

          And the reason that this matters is that felt religious imperatives enjoy some workplace protections that other kinds of feelings don’t. So it doesn’t help us to talk as if the man’s handshaking distinction is identical to a distinction made in order to express, say, an attitude that the women are not equal in workplace status.

          1. Kate*

            But the religious imperative is itself based purely on sex. Men can only shake with men and women with women. Not “Men can only shake with people over 6 feet tall or with brown hair.”

      2. Lemon Zinger*

        If a woman refuses to shake mens’ hands because they are men, yes, it’s sexist.

        I went to a very liberal university for undergrad, and there was a militant feminist group on campus who made it their mission to be disrespectful to men because of the long history of patriarchy. While I get where they were coming from, their actions WERE inherently sexist and inappropriate.

      3. Turtle Candle*

        I would have a problem with a candidate who shook hands with the women interviewing her but not the men, yes. I would have no problem if she shook hands with nobody.

      4. Mike C.*

        Yes. Sexism is sexism and trying to be clever by changing the genders isn’t going to change that fact.

      5. Sofia*

        I actually had this happen once where a woman who is Orthodox Jew shook all the women’s hand, but told the guys that she didn’t shake hands with men. One of the guys there was Orthodox Jew (nonobservant) and he knew her and didn’t care, but the other guy was American and was really upset about it. He kept bringing it up the rest of the day.

      6. Temperance*

        Yes, I would, although, stereotypically speaking, men have more access to power in the workplace, so it isn’t really the same.

        1. Murphy*

          This. It’s not the same if a woman didn’t do it. Women have had to fight for their place in the workforce and to be treated with the same respect and appearance of competence. Handshakes are, as mentioned above, a signal of professional respect. Denying that respect to women feeds into centuries of gender inequality and lack of access that is simply not the case for [white, middle-class] men.

          So yes, while it may also be sexist in the strict definition of the term, the power differentials and dynamics at play mean it does not have the same impact.

          1. she was a fast machine*

            It’s just like with discussions of racism and “reverse racism”. Yes, it’s not fair, but when you don’t have a history of oppression and inequality behind it it’s fundamentally incomparable.

      7. De*

        Just for the record, switching genders like that and then saying “gotcha” does not always work. Men do not have a history of not being taken seriously in the workplace, of not being seen as equals in business meetings or as being seen as “temptresses” that can lure a man into sexual thoughts just by touching. So yes, a man refusing to shake a woman’s hand in a business context comes with more baggage than the reverse.

        In this case, though, the reverse is also sexist.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yes, that’s certainly true. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that hand-shaking can be tied to optics of authority (ie, you shake the decision-maker’s hand but not the assistant’s). But that’s compounded by the fact that women are more likely to be assumed to be the aide/assistant than men in general. If someone shakes my male boss’s hand and not mine, the effect of making me look like his assistant rather than another decision-maker is worse than if they shake my hand and not his, because institutional sexism is a thing.

      8. Gaia*

        Also, trying to “catch me” in bias by switching the genders isn’t going to work. Sexism is sexism regardless of genders. It just happens to impact women significantly more than men.

      9. Anony*


        On the other hand (ha) I’m torn on this. I don’t want someone’s religious beliefs to override my right to be treated fairly as a woman, or my right to override theirs to practice their religion. I might think a rule is sexist, but I’m also not coming up with a pragmatic way to handle it in real life that doesn’t raise more problems.

        1. Alex*

          I think switching the genders in a hypothetical sense can be really useful at times in detecting sexism. I wouldn’t dismiss it as a red herring.

    4. Jesmlet*

      His right to act according to his religion should not trump a woman’s right to be treated as an equal. I think you also have to factor in why he won’t shake her hand, and also what else is different about his behavior as it relates to either sex. It’s hard because there’s no way of knowing without directly asking and you can’t exactly do that. I do feel like I would be put off if a new coworker refused to shake my hand for any reason other than extreme germaphobia.

      1. Bobbo*

        Ah, so you’re saying you can accommodate extreme germophobia, but not religious differences, even if the accommodation is the same?

        1. Juli G.*

          It’s not the same though. If someone said they were an extreme germaphobe, they would likely shake no one’s hand, not one certain class.

      2. TL -*

        To be fair, you really can’t extrapolate from this one example as to whether or not he’s inherently sexist in his professional life. The religious tenants he’s choosing to follow are indeed sexist, but that doesn’t preclude him from being a lovely respectful person – I know more than a few Muslim American men who follow Islamic tenants wrt touching women but whom I would not call sexist from my interactions with them. This is about how the behavior comes across to others, not about how this may or may be indicative of how he treats women in general.

  3. crazy8s*

    I would find it hostile if the person shook all the men’s hands and refused to shake mine in a mixed group. Perhaps he shouldn’t shake anyone’s hands.

    1. CanadianKat*

      But there’s a difference between suggesting this to him and mandating it. Requiring him to never shake hands with anybody would be weird (e.g. at a meeting with no women present?).

      1. Zahra*

        I’d be very, very annoyed to notice that men get the handshake when “just between us boys” and women never get one. It remains exclusionary.

      2. MadGrad*

        I’m seeing a lot of people make this argument – that mandating he not shake anyone’s hand is somehow not okay or overstepping.

        There’s an inherent conflict of assumptions here: if it isn’t problematic or impolite to not shake hands, then asking him not to shouldn’t be an issue. If, however, there’s more to it (implications of comraderie, respect, etc) that would make it “weird” not to, then those implications ALSO apply with women, regardless of his reasons. Ergo, it’s either not a big deal (in which asking him not to in general shouldn’t be odd) or it is important (in which the company has a vested interest in making sure that everyone – particularly women in the field OP is in where they lack representation- is treated fairly and gets equal respect).

        The argument about meetings with just men is a bit unfair as well. If I go to a meeting where there are only women and I shake hands, but you see me later in a mixed gender meeting and I don’t, it’ll stand out even more. Even if the women present don’t have a comparison, the men will likely notice, and it will carry implications.

    2. Yup*

      Many commenters are making this argument, and I just keep thinking… is there really no room for cultural understanding here at all? If the implication or effect of the religious rule were that a candidate refused to collaborate with women on projects, sit in the same room as them, travel with them, etc — then yes, that would be discriminatory. But for the simple matter of a handshake? really?

      Yes, it’s possible to find the “no touching” rule sexist. But it’s also possible to accept – even if not to understand – that someone’s faith mandates it. Cultural / religious accommodation is not a zero sum game. Assuming the rest if equal – work conditions, etc – then a bit of tolerance goes a long way.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        But as a number of people have said, this isn’t necessarily a harmless difference. I have, personally, observed that in tech–the industry that the LW has confirmed he’s in–if I don’t shake hands during a conference or a meeting with extradepartmental or external contacts, I am assumed to be my boss’s assistant, rather than an engineer. This is consistent and pervasive. If I don’t shake hands, I am assumed to be lower-status than our newest male hire, although I have a decade of seniority.

        It isn’t an issue if someone simply says that they don’t shake hands, but it is very much an issue if they shake hands with my boss and my male junior but not with me. That puts me in a separate class, and it has never once been the case that anyone has assumed that that separate class is the higher-status class. It is always the case that people assume that the separate class is the note-taker or coffee-bringer.

        It may not be a zero-sum game, but it has a significant impact on my actual life, and so I’m not willing to brush it off as “oh, just one of those give-and-take things.”

        1. Yup*

          I see, but I think you’re looking at it from the wrong end here. Let’s say the man mentioned in the letter is in the room with you, along with your boss, and maybe 1-2 other people. This man would not, in the case given, shake anyone’s hands — as that would be the likely “reasonable” accommodation.

          So *you’re* not the one who stands out here: you would shake hands with Man 1, Man 2, Woman 1, but not Man 3. And Man 3 would not shake anyone else’s hands, either. In effect, that doesn’t put you in a “separate class,” nor does it discriminate against you in any systemic way.

          Final thought: the fact that not shaking hands in the tech industry reliably casts women as assistants means that the problem doesn’t lie with the putative religiously observant man here. The sexism in this case is in the industry, its typepcasts and assumptions. *That* is what’s systemic here.

          1. Gadfly*

            You are arguing a different case. In Turtle Candle’s example, man 3 is shaking hands with men 1 & 2 but not either women. Your case only is if he accepts the accommodation to shake no hands. And that is acceptable. But if you want a case where he can shake some hands and not others, that doesn’t fly.

            It is the system that is sexist. And it is too bad for him that his religion uses something that lines up with something problematic. It happens. My vaishnava husband doesn’t wear a swastika, especially to work, and in deference to my blue eyed blondishness doesn’t decorate with them. No one is asking this man to give up his symbol, just telling him he has to not single women out for separate treatment at work in order to not make a systematic problem worse.

            1. Yup*

              1) We’re not actually disagreeing here. We’re saying the same thing.
              2) I do think that Turtle Candle’s example shows that whatever sexism she thinks would be perpetrated by not shaking hands stands out because it highlights sexism in the industry. And my point with that is that people carefully think about the actual effect of that one action (not shaking hands) when they argue it creates a discriminatory, hostile, sexist workplace.
              3) Not directed specifically at you, but I note a lot of slippage in the comments between “I think it’s sexist and I would be offended” and “it’s not reasonable” or “it shouldn’t be tolerated.” But that’s the not the EEOC standard, and it’s not the benchmark for discrimination, either. My point: there’s space between how one feels about a given practice and whether it is reasonable and workable in substantive terms. And ideally, that space could be filled with some understanding that normative behaviour is culturally-inflected, and tolerance for what is – all other factors being equal – a fairly minor accommodation.

          2. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

            No, I would argue that *both* the industry and the religion are systemically sexist.

        2. November*

          @ Turtle Candle: If your boss and male junior assume you’re a note-taker or coffee-bringer because the new guy won’t shake your hand, the blame should not be on the new guy (typically handshakes are only conducted during introductions and are not repeated in subsequent meetings). The reason he’s not shaking your hand is not that he thinks you’re unimportant, it’s that his religion tells him that holding hands with a member of the opposite gender in order to form a relationship is inappropriate outside of marriage.

      2. Mookie*

        then a bit of tolerance goes a long way.

        Tolerance is a two-way street, and women as a class have notoriously lacked it. The most tolerant, respectful solution is to suggest that the person selects a professional greeting in the workplace that, for his religion, is not gendered.

  4. Temperance*

    My firm has some men who are Orthodox, and they just don’t shake anyone’s hands when the group is mixed, but do shake when there are just men around. There are also some men who are observant and still shake hands with women.

    I would personally be very put off if I was one of the few women in the room and a man declined to shake my hand and proceeded to greet the other men. It would make *me* feel like he deemed me not important enough to know and greet, and I’m assuming many other women would assume the same.

    1. Becky*

      I think it would depend on whether or not the woman was offered an equally pleasant greeting. Anecdata – I’m a woman, and I’ve previously worked with Orthodox Jewish and Muslim men who would shake male hands in a group and then offer me a wave and a “I hope your day is going well!” verbal greeting. It was a kind way to let everyone in the group know that the greeter cared about us all equally, but couldn’t physically touch the woman.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Thanks for the input – I was hoping someone with this kind of experience would comment :)
        This is all very interesting to me (as a woman who has not been in that situation). I think that would help a lot of they were obviously friendly, but I guess I still don’t know how I would react to the situation.

      2. Consultant Liz*

        I understand that it works for you. But it would absolutely not work for me to be treated differently with a “wave”. If he wants to opt out of handshakes altogether that would be more acceptable.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yes. It’s not uncommon in my industry for people to shake hands with ‘decision-makers’ and give an alternate greeting to assistants. I am imagining a situation where I am in a room with my junior employee (male) and someone shook his hand and then waved at me, and it would not be okay with me; it would read strongly as thinking I was the assistant. (But not shaking hands with either of us would be fine.)

          1. FiveWheels*

            Exactly – and one way in my industry that I affirm my status is to shake hands with clients. It enforces that while I am junior to my boss, I am a case handler and not his note-taker.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Yes, exactly. I have been mistaken for aide at conferences in the past, and I have learned that if I hold out my hand for a handshake after someone shook hands with my (male) boss it happens far less often. It’s a subtle kind of signaling, and not one that most people give a lot of conscious thought to, but it’s real.

        2. AMPG*

          In my last position, I (a woman) occasionally had professional dealings with conservative Muslim men, and they would generally put their right hand on their heart and bow slightly. I would return the gesture, and it felt equally as formal/respectful as a handshake.

        3. Becky*

          I work in the tech industry, so handshakes in general are seen as weirdly formal outside an interview context. I forget that there are industries where they are the norm for introductions and a wave could be seen as slighting the wavee.

          1. BananaPants*

            I work in an engineering organization (albeit a Fortune 100 company, not a startup kind of culture) and there are handshakes all around when a vendor or client is visiting, or on the first occasion of meeting a new coworker or being introduced to an executive. Colleagues don’t greet each other with handshakes but they’re the norm when outsiders are present.

            1. Honeybee*

              And I work in tech and I’ve always shaken someone’s hand when I first met them, even people within my own company. Also a Fortune 100 company.

              1. SignalLost*

                Adding on to this just because I can – I ALSO work in tech, and I have always shaken hands with people when I meet them for the first time. It is not part of my experience of tech to not do handshakes. I get irritated when anyone says “My experience of X is THE ONLY experience of X”.

      3. Temperance*

        So this really wouldn’t work for me, or in my industry. I wouldn’t be okay with it, and I’m not.

      4. Crankyexpat*

        Precisely. Another variation is the hand on the heart with head bow. As the lady whose hand is not gonna be shook I can quickly transition to this gesture with a smile and now we have greeted one another. The problem is only if the gentleman is not greeting me at all – but this has never been the case throughout my work with more strict Muslims or Jews.

    2. LQ*

      Strongly agree. And once someone made the initial impression of being deemed less important I’d be paying a lot more attention to if there were other things, and I’d be much less happy with small things (answering questions to other people, etc).

      Not doing it at all is likely a better solution to this for him and the business.

    3. Anonymoosetracks*

      I am a woman and I work in a field that involves interactions with members of our community who are observant very conservative Muslims (these folks are not work collegues, though). The situation you describe where a man greets the other men in the room but declines to shake my hand – and often ignores me outright – has happened more than once. It is indeed offputting and if it were a work collegue doing it I would be likely to complain to a supervisor/HR. I like your Orthodox collegues’ solution of just not shaking hands when there are women around.

      1. Observer*

        There is also a significant difference between not shaking hands, and ignoring the presence of the other person. *That* is unacceptable, and I can definitely see that being an “undue hardship”.

      2. Temperance*

        I’m really fortunate to work in a place that values diversity and respects individuals. I’m also the kind of person who would step forward and introduce myself if the man purposely ignored me, but I could get away with that here.

    4. neverjaunty*

      I can’t speak for Muslims, but for Orthodox Jews, one of the reasons for the prohibition is also niddah, which has to do with ritual uncleanliness associated with menstruation.

      Not shaking hands in a mixed group is really the best solution, because it isn’t calling attention to either the gender of the people present or one’s religious attitudes towards them.

      1. moss*

        Wow, I would be really hurt if someone told me to my face they can’t touch me because I’m unclean because of a basic biological function. I would want them to keep their what I consider to be f***ed up way of thinking to themselves forever.

        1. BTownGirl*

          And I think they’d be really hurt if you told them to their face that you consider their religious practices a “f****ed up way of thinking”. Equally disrespectful, in my opinion.

            1. BTownGirl*

              These are people’s deeply held religious beliefs and dropping an f-bomb about it from the anonymity of your keyboard doesn’t make your tone any less disrespectful. Obviously those beliefs started in a very different time and some people feel very strongly about keeping them. I wouldn’t want to deal with it either, but I don’t consider it my place to make a value judgment about the people who do.

              1. Kate*

                But we make value judgments about other people’s values and cultures and religions all the time! And why shouldn’t we?

                I won’t go into detail, as I don’t want to derail and some of them are pretty horrifying, but there are a number of religious and cultural beliefs that we no longer tolerate.

                I am completely comfortable judging another culture and deeming racist, sexist, sometimes even violent beliefs unacceptable.

                1. Yup*

                  Because some degree of tolerance and understanding matter too. One doesn’t have to agree, but one doesn’t have to openly judge, either. What’s considered normative is always culturally contingent, and if the only actual harm suffered is “hand not shaken but verbal greeting offered,” then that doesn’t seem outrageous.

                2. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

                  I think that the idea that you “shouldn’t judge other cultures” is a social pretense of objectivity where objectivity is not actually possible. When you encounter a behavior or social norm that is different from yours, it’s impossible *not to* come to some sort of conclusion about it, and that conclusion is always going to be relative to your own.

                3. Yup*

                  In response to Desiree Renee Arceneaux: I’m a historian, so I most certainly don’t believe in objectivity, and my grasp of cultural contingency across time and cultures is pretty strongly developed, too.

                  What I’m trying to say, and perhaps inadequately expressing, is that this isn’t each putative coworker individually endorsing religions that mandate no touching in certain circumstances.
                  You don’t have to agree with it, you just have to accept the difference — or, in this case, accept that the EEOC mandates a reasonable accommodation on the matter. For these purposes, personal judgment doesn’t fit into it and isn’t a useful measuring standard.

                4. Kate*

                  This is directed to Yup, below, since there is no way to reply button for that post.

                  So you would tolerate a cultural practice of killing female babies? A religious practice of stoning women who have affairs to death? A religion which requires human sacrifice? A culture in which fathers can murder their own children for disobedience?

                  These are extreme, but they are all real examples past and present. Your reason for allowing discrimination against women in religion/culture seems to be “but it is religion/culture.” The same is true for all of the above. Some Christians believe that people of color deserve to be treated badly because they “bear the mark of Cain”. Would you say that’s a-okay, and we should just accommodate them in the work place? That they don’t have to shake the hands of their coworkers?

                  How far do you think excusing discrimination on the basis of religion/culture should go? Less than murder? No physical assault? No animal abuse? What about the Christians who believe in faith healing, and deny their children medical care?

                  I truly would like to know how you and others feel the line is.

                5. Yup*

                  @ Kate: Wow, that is a spectacular reductio ad absurdum extrapolation of what I said – or actually didn’t say. And exactly the type of problematic reasoning I was trying to point out, that I see all over this thread. You really want to argue that not shaking hands is on par with killing female babies? That there’s a relationship between the two?! Just no.

                  For EEOC purposes, what’s reasonable is not what *you*, individually, find reasonable. “I’m offended” ≠ “it’s wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated.” Being against sexism doesn’t have to mean total cultural blindness and actual intolerance. Feminist literature abounds in this point. See also the burkini debate in France for some of the many wrenches in the wheel of that stance.

      2. Observer*

        It’s actually a lot more complicated than that. And, in fact, for most people (other than spouses), it’s actually not that much of an issue.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yes, it’s extremely complicated. But niddah is absolutely one of the reasons. “Women are lesser beings unworthy of the respect of a handshake” isn’t. (Well, maybe it is for Orthodox Jewish men who are also incredibly sexist, but it’s not, as you know, a tenet of faith.)

            1. Observer*

              No, that’s not correct.

              I don’t want to get into a discussion of the laws of ritual purity here, because they are rather complex and not really relevant. However, it terms of this discussion, there are a couple of things to be aware of.

              Menstruation is not the only thing that makes people ritually impure, it’s just the only one that is specific to women. It’s also one of the few that orthodox people pay attention to fairly universally, because it affects the interaction of couples in their intimate life. There are also various levels of impurity. And the assumption is that most people are ritually impure at a basic level most of the time. And I do mean people – men and women.

              1. BananaPants*

                But would potential ritual uncleanliness stop an Orthodox Jewish man from shaking the hand of another man? Not being sarcastic, I’m genuinely curious.

                1. Observer*

                  In a situation where ritual purity were important, it might very well do so. Since it’s not something that is considered much of an issue in modern times, for a number of reasons, shaking hands is not going to be much of an issue.

                  The most interesting exception is if someone is coming from a funeral, or having otherwise been in a room with a dead body – that is considered a higher level of impurity and would at least have to clean their hands and perform a ritual handwashing before touching anyone else, irrespective of gender, or they would pass on the impurity.

                  As I said, the laws around ritual impurity are complex – and utterly irrelevant to the issue of men and women touching.

                2. Mookie*

                  the laws around ritual impurity are complex – and utterly irrelevant to the issue of men and women touching.

                  That doesn’t make any sense, and contradicts what you’ve said about menstruation (makes people who menstruate impure) and touching.

          1. she was a fast machine*

            No, it’s just our lesser biological functions that are unworthy of the respect of a handshake. Clearly totally different…

          2. Observer*

            That’s actually not correct, except between spouses. Touching is forbidden regardless of nida (or other purity related statuses.)

            On the other hand, it’s completely true that it has nothing to do with women being lesser beings.

            1. I Lived in this World*

              So as someone who grew up Orthodox and then left the community, I have to say that while on paper the prohibitions about touching that are related to menstruation may not be due to women being considered “lesser” (though that is debatable) there is absolutely a cultural effect that rules and prohibitions like these have. I have grown up in a community in which men refusing to touch women was explained as a sign of how much we were respected-just like denying us access to any ritual roles or leadership positions was a sign of how we were on a higher spiritual level, and how covering up our bodies and being invisible to the world was the way to have value.

              I’m not saying that the all men in my community were raging misogynists or jerks. Hard as it may be to understand, men who choose not to shake women’s hands can be simultaneously engaging in an extremely sexist act while also being lovely people. But I decided long ago that I was done with men “respecting” me by treating me as other, and I would not hire someone whose religious views precluded them from shaking hands with me. Because I know that it’s not just a handshake.

              Back to lurking-but I just had to add my voice to this.

      3. Nervous Accountant*

        As per my knowledge, there is no prohibition based on menstruation. We’re not required to fast during Ramadan, pray, (although there are some who are arguing that both of these should be allowed) or have sexual relations during that time. But as someone mentioned below, other than your spouse, menstruation doesn’t affect anyone in any way.

        I have heard things are stricter in Judiasim in regards to this but I don’t have any knowledge of it (curious though!)

      4. November*

        Niddah only applies between husband and wife, and is not the reason for not making physical contact with the opposite gender.

    5. Jubilance*

      You can be greeted without a handshake. I don’t like to shake hands with anyone due to the germ factor, and I’d much prefer if someone just looked me in the eyes and said “hello!” with a wave or something.

      1. Amadeo*

        Yes. I get so many ‘limp fish’ handshakes (OMG, to reach for someone’s hand expecting a nice firm shake only to grab hold of the limpest forearm ever), or sweaty handshakes or watched people sneeze or cough into their hand and then reach for mine that I’d be fine if the idea of a handshake went by the wayside.

        I don’t like to be touched, even by my family, unless it’s something I initiate (I might be part feline, not sure) so even though I am Christian and don’t care whether you’re male or female and want to shake my hand, I kind of like the gesture of hand to sternum and small head bow instead. It eliminates icks like bodily fluids and limp wrists.

      2. Temperance*

        Just to be clear, I would be fine if a person didn’t greet me with a handshake so long as they were also not greeting others with a handshake. I am a germaphobe but do handshakes because it’s the convention in my industry.

    6. Zahra*

      See, the “shake when we’re all men” thing would make me angry. It remains an exclusionary interaction, even if there are no women there. Men know they’re treated differently and more like the standard professional norm when women aren’t there. It has an undertone of “just between us guys” and is reminiscent of “old boys network” practices. Not the exact same practices, but the same vibe.

      1. she was a fast machine*

        This! I would be incredibly upset if I knew men were still shaking hands behind closed doors, because it’s that, the behind closed doors things. At work you should treat everyone the same and acknowledge and respect women and men equally by shaking no hands or all of them either none of the time or all of the time, none of this selective audiences stuff.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      I would be pretty put out if I found the men were behaving differently when the women were not around. I go with shake, or don’t shake. But don’t behave differently if the group is only men or only women. It’s this type of dual thinking that has caused women so many problems right along.

  5. Becky*

    Based on the OP’s comments “…my group interviewed a candidate who did not shake the hands of the women he spoke with. His explanation was that he was Muslim,” and “One of the women who interviewed him said he seemed to respect her and her role and so that was fine from her perspective”, it sounds to me like this was a candidate who was aware that his religious accommodations might be perceived as odd and was doing his best to head off any oddity at the pass. Also, based on the OPs comment “Although with her, he just didn’t shake her hand, and didn’t explain it as being about her being a woman, and he also didn’t shake the male co-interviewer’s hand,” it sounds like the candidate was doing his best to keep things from becoming weird.

    Anecdata, but I had two Muslim coworkers who never shook women’s hands. But they also didn’t shake male hands when there were women present (as they didn’t want anyone to feel singled out), and, like every other coworker I have here, once you proved you knew what you were talking about, they listened and acted on your feedback. (I’m in the tech industry, so “having to prove yourself” is a whole separate issue.)

    1. Marisol*

      Just curious – how did the Muslim coworkers indicate that they wouldn’t be shaking anyone’s hands? I’m picturing a meeting with both men and women present, and men extending their hand to the coworker, and then the gesture not being reciprocated, which seems awkward to me. Did coworker do something like the head nod/hand on sternum that Susan C describes downthread?

      1. Becky*

        The same way that someone indicates they have a cold and aren’t going to shake hands – just a “stopping” gesture and a nod-and-wave. But I work in the tech industry, which is extremely informal.

        1. Marisol*

          Ah, I work for suits and my frame of reference is a rather staid business environment. Sounds like it would be easier to work around in a less formal industry.

  6. Susan C.*

    I feel like we’ve touched that topic before, but to add some thoughts:

    – Consider that this goes both ways; Some muslim women don’t shake hands with men either. With the institutional sexism factor removed, how does that change your gut feeling about accomodation?

    – My two cents as a woman, overall demeanor like eye contact etc during the interview are much better indicators of how willing and able I’ll be to work with someone.

    – In my experience, the handshake is usually replaced with another gesture of respectful greeting (hand placed on sternum and head lowered a bit). JSYK for the next time it’s applicable!

      1. Captain Radish*

        Not necessarily. There is a difference IMO between not shaking hands because women are second-class vs not shaking hands because one cannot touch a woman who is not a relative (which is I think the case here). It’s not specified by the OP.

        1. Mike C.*

          It’s based entirely on gender when in this situation gender is of no material consequence.

          It’s sexist.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            But that’s *you* deciding that someone else’s religious prohibition is of no material consequence. For him, being forced to touch a woman may be extremely disrespectful TO HER. How is it immaterial to require that he do that? Or, conversely, to require that a woman who shares his religion shake hands with a man? Because if you’re claiming sexism, you’re going to have to go both ways – if the men must shake hands, so must the women.

            1. Mike C.*

              Then name the material difference between genders when it comes to shaking hands.

              And yes, for like the third time, switching genders isn’t some truth bomb, it’s still treating one gender differently from another and that’s what makes the practice sexist. It doesn’t matter if it’s because of religion or deeply held belief or a fear of cooties. It’s sexist behavior and it shouldn’t be tolerated.

              If the decision is to never shake hands with anyone then fine, it’s equal treatment.

              1. Okeee*

                To put it another way: name the material discrimination that comes from someone not shaking a woman’s hand. The substantive, material disadvantage that stems from it. I’m a woman, about as left-leaning as they come. And I’m dumbstruck at the tone-deafness of some of the comments here – that accommodating a lack of handshake adds to the systemic pay disparity between men and women, as someone argued below. Legally, if nothing else, the damage would have to be proven to be *substantive* – a case no one has compellingly made.

                But more than that, adhering to a hard-line notion that 1) it’s a difference and 2) people’s personal notions of propriety or atheism are offended therefore it’s WRONG and unacceptable leaves absolutely no room for nuance and context – not to mention understanding of diverse cultural notions. Yes, sexism is bad. Is the practice ideal? No. Is it so offensive to people’s individual sensibilities (which are not the benchmark of “reasonable” here) that it simply cannot be tolerated? Does one individual not shaking hands add to workplace discrimination? I don’t think that argument holds up.

                Leaving the discussion now – I’m really rankled by some of what’s been said in these comments and have to tend to the very bad taste in my mouth.

              2. Rusty Shackelford*

                The material difference is that you’re asking/requiring him to do something that he considers disrespectful – either to himself, or to the other person. You’re asking him to touch another person who he believes he is not supposed to touch. (And in the reverse, if he were a woman, you would be asking her to be touched by someone who she believes is not supposed to touch her.) If you don’t understand why this is material, I can’t explain it any better.

                And I agree that equal treatment would mean that he shakes hands with no one. This is the solution I would go with.

                1. Okeee*

                  Rusty Shackelford, if that was directed to me, you’ve completely misread me. I’m saying exactly the same thing in pointing out that no substantive material disadvantage befalls someone whose hand were not shaken in this situation.

                  Thanks for the condescension, though. Did it feel good to give it out?

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  @Okeee: Hey, that’s out of sync with how I want people talking to each other here. It’s fine to disagree but you need to be polite in doing so. (If I’ve missed other instances in this thread of similar hostility, I don’t mean to pick and choose who I’m calling out; I haven’t read every comment here.)

          2. Julia*

            I think the difference is that women are generally subjected to more sexism and disrespectful behaviour than men (see the women in tech above like TurtleCandle), so it has an extra sting to it.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Neither Islam nor Judaism prohibit men shaking hands with women because “women are second-class”.

          There are all kinds of other reasons that are problematic and that are really off-topic here, but it’s not rooted in the idea that women aren’t worthy of a handshake.

          1. Captain Radish*

            I had a Japanese college once who never shook hands because he was seventy and never shook hands in Japan. I would assume if given the choice a lot of people from the middle-east wouldn’t shake hands anyway because they just don’t do so.

            It is sexist in the strictest sense as it’s singling out a gender. However, coming from a culture where the hand shake is not used, it was never really an issue originally. There needs to be some accommodation there.

          2. Bee Eye LL*

            Agreed…whether it’s for religious reasons or whatever, I see this as a potential for problems later on. I wouldn’t hire this guy.

            1. bearing*

              See, I’d be concerned that this would open you up to a legal challenge that you were refusing to hire him because he is an observant Muslim.

              I could be wrong, but “I think his religious observations could cause us a problem later” wouldn’t fly for the EEOC unless you could actually show that it would cause a problem that couldn’t be resolved via some accommodation.

          3. Mike C.*

            There’s still a difference in treatment between men and women when that distinction had no material difference.

            1. Manders*

              It’s… complicated. As a very reform Jewish woman, this is what I believe in my personal life, but when I have to work with Orthodox Jews I’ll be polite and professional and hope they will afford me the same courtesy. And if they can’t, that’s a whole different issue.

              (Again, in my experience, you can DEFINITELY tell the difference between the guy who’s being perfectly polite and professional but looking over your shoulder, and the guy who’s refusing to acknowledge that you exist or being deliberately rude.)

            2. Salyan*

              I’ve got no problem being treated differently as a woman, as long as I’m being treated respectfully. Men and women are different. It’s not being sexist to recognize that difference. Sexism arises when one is being treated disrespectfully, unfairly or disdainfully because of one’s gender.

              1. neverjaunty*

                I’ve got plenty of problem being treated differently as a woman under the guise of “respect”, because it turns out that in real life, “separate but equal” somehow manages not to be. And yes, it is sexist to assume that men and women are so different than never the twain shall meet.

                It’s 20 freaking 16.

                1. FiveWheels*

                  Yep, not least because while on average men and women may be different, those averages tell you nothing whatsoever about any given individual.

              2. Temperance*

                I could not disagree with a comment more vehemently than I do this one.

                Men and women are not so “different” that we should be treated differently in the workplace.

                Sexism is treating men and women differently, for any reason, whether it is disrespectful or not. Period.

              3. Honeybee*

                Well, no, sexism is a lot broader than disrespect or disdain. One can still be sexist without being disrespectful of women.

            3. Ineloquent*

              As Nervous Accountant said below, it’s really not about women being unclean or second class – a female Muslim in this situation wouldn’t be able to shake the hand of an unrelated male. It’s a provision of the religion, which actually is likely to put those who practice it at a greater, though largely invisible, disadvantage in terms of being promoted, hired (as seen here), given networking opportunities with high level folks, etc. The inability to practice a piece of formal social etiquette forces these guys to stand out in a way that is likely to have people call them sexist – though they may not be sexist at all. Can you see how frustrating that is?

              This would be similar to me, as a Mormon, not being hired because I can’t work Sundays. Or not being promoted because I can’t work Sundays. It’s not that I want to be unavailable, per se, and it’s not that I’m trying to get the most advantageous shifts (something my husband’s manager once accused him of). It’s just that my religion has rules which govern my life on a day to day basis, which are frequently inconvenient and often professionally damaging (hard to find acceptable women’s clothing that covers garments, hard to attend and be comfortable at office sponsored happy hours, can’t join the office lottery pool – which makes me look like a prudish stick in the mud).

              1. Mike C.*

                Days of the week aren’t gendered, your comparison doesn’t make sense. The issue at hand isn’t that the religious belief isn’t convenient to the business, it’s that it results in gender discrimination.

                1. Nervous Accountant*

                  Going with the mormon example, and I think this even came up a while ago, what about tsomeone who cannot join in work happy hours? and isn’t able to build work connections because they can’t be at a bar?

                2. Mike C.*

                  There are plenty of ways to team build that don’t involve alcohol, so I’m still not seeing the comparison here.

                3. Rat in the Sugar*

                  To Nervous Accountant: That would still only affect the employee in question, and not their coworkers. In OP’s case, the employee’s actions would be affecting female coworkers and not just himself.

                4. BananaPants*

                  Nervous Accountant, I have a colleague who doesn’t drink for religious reasons. He’s still joined us for informal gatherings – he just has a soda instead. No one batted an eye or tried to guilt him into drinking.

                  I can see that being an issue in a frat-house type of work environment but not in much of corporate America.

              2. Temperance*

                Not really comparable, in any way, shape or form, and I actually disagree with your assessment. Since men are more often the ones in charge of hiring and at higher ranks, I can see this practice easily slipping by in a male-dominated environment.

                You not working Sundays due to your religion isn’t really comparable because it isn’t impacting a race, gender, or religious group.

                1. Ineloquent*

                  My point was merely that by choosing to follow his religion strictly, this guy is already suffering negative side effects that are difficult to prevent with anti-discrimination laws. Even by going with the accommodation suggested by many commenters – shaking no one’s hand – he is making himself conspicuously different. This has a number of side effects that will impact his career adversely, in terms of progression, hiring, etc.

                  And Temperance – it is actually impacting a religious group – mine – if companies refuse to hire me for no other reason than that I can’t work a particular day, if it does not cause undue hardship. There is not a hierarchy of protected groups. Gender is no more protected than religion, and it bothers me that so many people here are so pissed about this man’s religious requirement. If this guy isn’t hired because his religious belief is offensive to you, how is that better than you not being hired because your reproductive organs are offensive to someone else?

                2. Rat in the Sugar*

                  To Ineloquent:

                  Your rights stop where mine begin. The days of the week are not people who can be discriminated against, but women are. If you refuse to work on Sundays, you are not somehow insulting Sunday or the other days of the week. However, if you treat your coworker differently because of their gender, you may be treating them with disrespect.

                  In one case your religious belief effects only you, in OP’s case this may be something that effects other people.

                3. Ineloquent*

                  Rat in the Sugar – Agreed. If there is signs of actual sexual discrimination above and beyond the strict adherence to the letter of the law to this guy’s religion, there would be no justification or excuse that would make me consider it acceptable. But we cannot declare that this guy is sexist just because he practices his religion. Again drawing on my religion, Mormonism prohibits active members from engaging in homosexual relationships. However, even though gay rights are not federally protected (which is not cool, imo) I would fire anyone who exhibited openly hostile or demeaning behavior towards LGBT folks in a heartbeat.

                4. Faith*

                  Well, it would be impacting another religious group if her coworkers could never havea Sunday off because they would be forced to cover Sunday shifts.

                5. Rat in the Sugar*

                  To Ineloquent:
                  It’s not just about the negative impact on this employee, but whether this is a sexist practice that has a negative impact on his female coworkers. Of course, whether or not this is a sexist practice is kind of the whole question here, lol. I admit I have no real answers, I was just commenting on your analogy.

                  To Faith: Yes, that would be affecting other coworkers and making them unhappy, but the EEOC specifically says that just making coworkers unhappy or messing up their schedules doesn’t count when it comes to whether or not you give an employee an accommodation– while gender based discrimination may count for that.

                  Whether or not not shaking hands is discrimination serious enough to put a stop to, i don’t know. I favor the “just stop shaking hands with everyone and then we won’t have to talk about it” solution, personally.

                6. Temperance*

                  Ineloquent: absolutely not the same thing. It’s your choice to follow your religious mandate not to work on Sundays. It doesn’t impact others, and I think you know that’s exactly what I meant by my comment.

                  Faith: not really comparable to treating one group differently than another. Yes, it stinks that some people will get a preferred weekend day off from work, but it’s a fair religious accommodation.

                7. Ineloquent*

                  Temperance – it may impact others, as someone else sated, if having Sundays off is particularly desirable, or I’m unable to cover shifts and it forces someone else to work overtime. Whether my religion is a choice or not is irrelevant – my practice of it and your gender are equally protected under the law, and deciding whether one or the other is more ‘worthy’ of respect is actively harmful and promotes religious discrimination on the assumption that it MAY cause sexual discrimination, which totally a logical fallicy. Stop it.

                8. Gadfly*

                  Ineloquent, you cannot ask that someone be allowed to push their negative side effects off on another group so that they do not suffer. There are negative side effects to having an employee that singles out women and excludes them from commonly held professional gestures of respect while using those gestures with men for not just the sexist-appearing employee but also for those who are snubbed and those who observe it. Intentions only carry so much weight, even less weight when they are unclear, and hardly any weight at all in mitigating something that strongly tracks with established discrimination. If the result of your action is increased discrimination that treats women as second class, does it matter that you do not consider women to be second-class?

                  If shaking no one’s hand impacts him so adversely that it is a matter of concern, then it simply shows that it may not be something that can be accommodated because it is arguing that handshakes are indeed that important (and thus is an issue for the women.) He is going to stand out by either way (no hands or only some hands) but at least he is not contributing to a hostile environment if he is shaking no hands.

                  As for the not working Sundays: yes it affects you professionally, yes it affects co-workers who have to cover that shift. But your asking for that accommodation would only be similar to this example if you also were imagining that only some coworkers would be affected by it and affected by it in such a way that they also had diminished professional opportunities because of it.

                  So, yes, poor him. But it is fair to say he can’t treat women differently. And it is a pity, people need to be more open minded, etc. But that isn’t what the accommodation is for. That is what sensitivity training is for. Woman can’t insist that he shake their hands, but it is fair to insist that they are not singled out in a way they find disrespectful regardless of what he may think it means.

              3. themmases*

                Your comment sums up my reaction to this so much better than I would have. In this letter– and actually it was the whole point of the question, which most people here are skipping right over– it was the religious man who was at risk of employment discrimination. I think a lot of people underestimate the severity of disadvantage that can attach to being a religious minority.

                First this man’s religious practice impeded his ability to make a good impression. Muslims in western countries– and especially in the US– are increasingly subject to suspicion, hostility, and even hate crimes and calls from a serious presidential candidate to impede their travel and track their movements. And as this thread demonstrates, this mans’s religion did indeed open him up to speculation about his beliefs, nationality, character, and personal behavior stretching years into the future. Clearly a lot of people have some very ignorant beliefs about the content and motivation of Muslim religious practices, which despite being on the Internet they felt no obligation to even look up before insulting this person on the basis of his religion. People are allowed to have different ideas about how to treat women with fairness and respect; pretending you don’t see their gender is just one way.

                None of that is to deny that women face systemic challenges too. But as Alison wrote and most people in this thread seemed to agree, a person who had legitimate problems treating women with fairness and respect would show that in other ways. Frankly, they would show it in ways with the potential to actually affect others which refusing to shake hands does not. Speculating about what this man would do as someone’s boss when he wasn’t even hired (maybe try Googling how people in more gender-segregated handle it?), or sharing stories about being women being ignored or condescended to when this man didn’t do that, obscures the fact that he was the one at risk of employment discrimination in this story and some women just had a slightly awkward meeting.

                1. Opie*

                  Not to say Muslims aren’t at times discriminated against quite badly in the US, but I tried to make it very clear in my letter that that wasn’t the core issue here. I was

                  a) happy to accommodate his need to pray,
                  b) aware that this could occur with certain Orthodox Jews,
                  c) aware that this is a subgroup of Muslims (I’ve worked with many Muslims before, none of whom did anything like this).

                2. Gadfly*

                  The problem is also dismissing it as simply an awkward meeting for women when it is the sort of thing that hinders women from being seen as full colleagues which is part of the dismal reason behind the promotion gap. That he is at risk doesn’t mean he gets to pass it on to others. Not when he has a reasonable accommodation that avoids doing that without violating his beliefs (if you can’t shake all hands, shake none.)

              4. Opie*

                I think the core problem is that many people, myself included, view any kind of distinction in how one interacts at the workplace with men versus women as ipso facto sexist discrimination.

                This doesn’t even start to look at the problem of how this individual might interact with a trans person or a genderqueer individual.

                1. she was a fast machine*

                  This is the first comment I’ve seen that brings up this issue; how would this person react to someone who was not clearly male or female? What if he shook the hand of someone who was a trans male and later discovered that they were trans? That adds a whole new layer of complication to the situation that the employer shouldn’t have to deal with. That’s why the “shake all or shake none” idea seems to be the best way out. It cuts all this off at the head.

                2. Meg Murry*

                  That was one of my “what if” hypothetical questions .I’m going to call the interviewee “Bob” to make this easier. My scenario is after Bob has already been hired.

                  What if the company had an employee that has transitioned and now presents as the opposite gender and the Bob knew that status (or found out about it later)? It seems like it would be discrimination if Bob *stopped* shaking someone’s hand that he previously had been shaking (or vice versa) once he found out the organs the person was born with didn’t match their preferred gender. Or if there was a transitioned employee who is now presenting as male, is that person violating Bob’s rights by not informing Bob that he was in fact born as female and therefore Bob shouldn’t shake his hand? Especially if OP is in California, where there is discrimination protection for LGBTQ employees – Bob refusing to shake the hand of a person that chooses to present as male but was born female is discriminating against that employee by not treating him like the other males, but Bob choosing to shake that employee’s hand (if he knows about the transition) and not other women is discriminating against the other women, in my opinion, and could get sticky.

                  My other hypothetical question is not about this specific interviewee, but about other religious accommodations that are similar but potentially more severe. What if Bob was not observant Muslim but rather Orthodox Jewish, and in addition to not being able to shake hands with women, he also was not allowed to be alone in a room with a woman. Would the employer be required to accommodate that? Because if I was Bob’s co-worker and he told me “no, sorry, I can’t meet with you about the project you are leading unless there is someone else in the room too because you are a woman” I would be extremely annoyed. What if Bob’s boss was a woman, does that mean she would have to bring in a third party every time she wanted to have a private conversation with him, even if it was a confidential topic like his performance evaluation? Or even worse, what if Bob was the boss and he refused to have a private one-on-one with a subordinate who was female? It seems to me that even the “treat everyone the same” advice from upthread wouldn’t work, because “no one-on-one meetings, ever, with anyone” doesn’t seem like a reasonable business accommodation.

          4. Vin Packer*

            Yeah, this. Like, I’m not totally on board with the logic of these off-topic reasons, but it’s important to note that at the doctrinal level these religions don’t say “never shake hands with women because they are not worthy.”

            It’s really not a case where you can say “sexism, plain and simple with no mitigating factors!”

            1. Mike C.*

              Actually it is. It’s a really simple test, too. Are you treating someone differently from others simply because of their gender when gender is not a material aspect of the interaction? If so, you’re being sexist!

              Intent doesn’t matter here. Just because it’s a deeply held religious belief doesn’t change things.

              1. Vin Packer*

                While I always appreciate having a man explain sexism to me, I have to disagree when considering the question “is this religious practice itself sexist?”

                If we’re talking about the question of what the Muslim guy should do, then, yeah, he should just not shake hands with anybody, since he can’t shake hands with everybody–which appears to have been his approach in at least one case. Shaking hands is an arbitrary cultural gesture, so choosing not to participate across the board isn’t that big of a deal.

                1. Here, kitty, kitty...*

                  Vin Packer, I think Mike C.’s gender is (ironically) irrelevant here. Your comment read, in part: “It’s really not a case where you can say ‘sexism, plain and simple with no mitigating factors!’” Your comment really did hint at a lack of understanding of what role sexism plays in this particular case – because it plays a huge role in this case – which makes Mike C.’s inclusion of the definition of sexism logical. I might have replied to you in the same manner as Mike, and I’m not male.

                  I’m not a fan of women using the “Mansplaining!” card whenever their logic is shown to be flawed. When women say the same things a man accused of “Mansplaining!” does, it’s considered part of the “dialogue.” When a man does it, it’s “Mansplaining!” *Cue pearl clutching*

                  I’m seeing PC clash against itself and wither into confusion with this letter. Do we accommodate the man whose religion demands that he treat women differently than other men in the workplace, a place which US culture dictates is supposed to be gender-neutral? (And which still has a way to go, but we’re getting there.) Even though it’s religiously mandated for him, he still would in effect be continuing the exclusion of women that feminists have worked so hard to eradicate in the workplace. Or do we stand up on the side of women, traditionally viewed to be downtrodden by patriarchy worldwide, and demand that the man’s religious beliefs take a back seat to women’s rights in the workplace – which, as I mentioned, still aren’t quite where they should be?

                  If we stand in solidarity with the Muslim man, then where do we draw the line? What about evangelical Christians whose sects demand similar behaviour? Or the bakery in Idaho, was it, who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding on religious principle? Standing in solidarity with the Muslim man seems even more detrimental than the cake-baking fiasco, because women’s hands not being shaken while men’s hands are shaken makes an impression to everyone who witnesses this. This could seriously damage women’s chances at promotion, or raises, etc. because the behaviour – that their hands aren’t shaken, while the men’s are – reinforces their already tenuous status in the workplace. I absolutely believe that a lot of men still harbor sexist beliefs, although they are forced to cover them up while at work, and I think seeing one guy get away with treating women like second-class citizens will allow other men in the workplace to start seeing where they can push boundaries, too. Maybe not obvious ones, but like I said – promotions, raises, transfers? Absolutely.

                  This is more dangerous, IMO, than the bakery incident, because the gay couple could have gone anywhere else for their cake, or baked a cake for themselves, meaning that the consequences for the bakery not wanting to serve them were not nearly as serious as the Muslim man’s refusing to shake hands would be. The bottom line is that it was CAKE, not someone’s livelihood. Yet the bakery was required to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the couple in damages, while the Muslim man actually has quite a lot of women on here defending him. If you want to support religious freedom, you have to do so across the board.

                2. she was a fast machine*

                  Hey, I’m not a man and I think Mike C. is one of the few commenters in this post who is consistently getting it right when it comes to describing what sexism is. So don’t pull the whole “I know best because I’m x” card.

                3. Vin Packer*

                  I don’t lack understanding, I disagree, and evidently value religion differently. I specifically did not use the term “mansplaining.” I also stated that the religious man needed to find a way of existing in the secular world such that he was not treating men and women differently: “he should just not shake hands with anybody, since he can’t shake hands with everybody.”

                4. Not So NewReader*

                  Is it sexist to say men cannot explain sexism? Not snark. I am sincerely pondering this. Honestly, I am seeing some ways that men, who cross into my day-to-day life, are really getting a shorted deal. As a woman on my own, I see many of the problems women face. But I am also seeing men facing issues because of assumptions about men. I think we all can benefit from some inward examination. And I include myself here.

                5. Vin Packer*

                  On the contrary, I think we need men to say something when they see something! And being a woman doesn’t mean that you’re automatically super well-versed in the nuances of sexism and how it works; being a man doesn’t mean you’re not.

                  However, when you’re talking to someone about oppression they personally experience that you don’t, I do think it’s important to respect that your book-learning doesn’t trump their lived experience, to at least show some courtesy if they say to you, “it’s not that simple.”

                  Also, sexism can’t be perpetrated against men because of historical power differentials, like racism can’t be perpetrated against white people. A woman who says “men are inferior!” isn’t, like, correct. But such women have also not been the vast majority of our nation’s presidents, CEOs, clergy, legislators, and so on, so she says it in a very different context than when a man says it. However, sexism and disdain for the feminine in general still negatively affects men, just like all -isms ultimately make life worse for everyone: they’re reductive and designed to disseminate fear. (Plus it’s a close cousin to homophobia and transphobia, which def affects lots of men.)

                6. November*

                  @ Vin Packer: But you have some people here saying handshakes are extremely significant, to the point that people who don’t offer to shake hands are seen as having lesser status, which is the whole issue being discussed. How can you reconcile that with the opinion it’s insignificant enough that he/she should have no problem to not shake hands with anyone?

        3. Nervous Accountant*

          It’s the latter. Conservative Muslim and Jewish people are not supposed to touch anyone of hte opposite gender bc they’re not relatives. Men or women.

          Whether its because they’re second class or whatever, that’s the individual mentality. Now if you (not you specifically but generally) happen to think that Muslims/Islam is a sexist religion is another story and I really hope this doesn’t fall into that tangent.

          1. Willow*

            It’s possible to think that a particular person is sexist, and even that they’re using elements of their religion to be sexist, without believing the religion itself is inherently sexist.

          2. Kate*

            It is also possible to find a religion/religions sexist without thinking the individual(s) practicing it necessarily are.

            1. Theguvnah*

              Agreed, Kate. I find virtually all major world religions to be inherently sexist. All forms of Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc.

              I respect people’s right to practice whatever religion they want (I don’t respect attempts to have my rights curtailed due to those religious beliefs) but I don’t necessarily respect the religion itself.

        1. Mike C.*

          Then they can shake no one’s hands. It doesn’t stop the general practice of shaking men’s hands over woman’s hands any less sexist.

    1. Manders*

      Some Orthodox Jews actually do avoid eye contact with the opposite sex for religious reasons. In my experience, you can still tell when someone’s doing it respectfully and when they’re being a jerk, but it can get really tricky when religious restrictions prevent someone from engaging in a behavior our culture values highly in job candidates.

    2. Temperance*

      You can’t really remove institutional (or personal!) sexism from this issue. I would expect Muslim women who have this limitation to also avoid shaking hands.

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      This exactly. Would you want to force a muslim woman to have unwanted physical contact with a man?

    4. Navy Vet*

      I am 100000000000000% NOT ok with a man refusing to shake my hand on the basis of my gender. I do not care if it’s religious reasons or not.

      The religious reason not to shake women’s hands is because we are considered “unclean”. The basis of the restriction is extremely demeaning, dehumanizing, and insulting.

      If a man shook the hands of all my male colleagues and not myself because I have lady parts, then I would report it as discrimination. That action would make me feel devalued as a colleague. (Because that is its inherent intent).

      I’m not ok with being discriminated against because of someone’s religion. If the person in question claimed their religion said they couldn’t shake a hand based on a disability or race, EEOC would be all over it…but because women are not valued in society as a whole yet….well apparently this form of sexism is cool…because religion. Seriously….not ok with it.

      1. Navy Vet*

        The only compromise in my eyes is they need to not shake any hand. Male or female. Sorry, not sorry, folks. Women are part of the business world now. If you want to work in 2016, you need to abide by 2016 conventions.

      2. Retail HR Guy*

        Eh, I’m pretty sure that the EEOC would be all over it regardless; they aren’t exactly a neutral unbiased third party. They base all their metrics on how much money they can get employers to pay employees, not on how many of their cases come to a just conclusion under the law. So competing rights and other confusing situations are win/win for the EEOC and lose/lose for employers. Let the Muslim guy treat women differently? That’s sex discrimination. Ask the Muslim guy to knock it off? That’s religious discrimination. Either way the EEOC gets what they want.

        1. themmases*

          Wow. This comment is so hostile, off-topic, and inaccurate. What an illuminating choice by you to have shared it.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            You may disagree with my take on it, but how would the EEOC’s reactions to cases like these be off-topic?

            And, yes, my comment was hostile…to a government agency that I feel is not acting within their mandate. Your comment is hostile to another commenter. Which is more out of line?

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            No, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an agenda.

            And generally that’s not a problem, if you’re an employee who has legitimately faced discrimination or retaliation and needs someone on your side. But woe be it to employers faced with one of these “no-win” situations. Because Navy Vet is wrong that the EEOC will disregard the sex discrimination side of the equation.

            1. Gandalf the Nude*

              You are completely ignoring the fact that the EEOC would start with mediation and would rather help all parties come to a compromise accommodation than to take it to court. The EEOC’s agenda is to get good outcomes for all protected classes. And how on earth would a case like this be win-win for them? It’s not like they’re going to pick up the causes of both aggrieved employees and then trumpet the one that wins. I’m actually pretty appalled that an HR professional holds such contempt for one of our most critical overseeing bodies. It would be like saying OSHA isn’t concerned with employee safety and just wants to nitpick employers for all the fines they can get.

              1. Retail HR Guy*

                Sorry, but my perception comes from my experiences with them and their reputation in the HR and employment law community as being unreasonably biased against employers. I agree that they have a role as a critical overseeing government body; that’s precisely why I hold them in contempt whenever they don’t act like it and instead act like an advocacy group seeking the largest employer payouts possible (which is often).

                And, yes, they would absolutely open claims for both aggrieved employees, though it is true that they may not pursue two opposing lawsuits at once. (They would actually be required by law to investigate both claims so not even I couldn’t fault them for that.) But dueling claims is not really the situation I really meant; what I was saying is that this is an example of a lose/lose decision for the employer. Whichever employee the company sides with, they can easily face an ugly EEOC claim from the other. And prevailing on a claim even at the lowest levels can cost the company thousands of dollars.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                Not talking about OSHA because no experience there. But, yes, I see evidence that government is nitpicking to collect all the fines it can. Too long to explain here. Citizens would do well to question how money, especially fine money, is collected and how it is used.

      3. A Muslim just tryin to do her job in the world*

        this is incorrect: “The religious reason not to shake women’s hands is because we are considered “unclean”. ” — there are many reasons why some observant Muslims and Jews do not shake hands with people of the opposite gender, but it is not because of unworthiness or uncleanliness. I have not commented much on this thread because of comments like yours, but maybe my correction here will be seen and understood.

        1. Navy Vet*

          Could you please then tell me the actual reason? I am genuinely curious.

          And to clarify, I have a problem with any organization that places value on people based on their gender, race, sexuality etc…. I’m equal opportunity on equality.

          And I can’t get onboard regardless of the reason with discriminating your coworkers based on gender. Either you shake all hands or none. (Unless like me, I won’t shake if I’m sick, but I tell people that I’m sick and that’s why)

  7. Chriama*

    Hmm. I don’t think requiring him not to shake anyone’s hand would necessarily be a better solution, and I’m worried about how it might come up in other situations. Is he also not supposed to be al0ne with women with no one else around? If he’s a manager, would that affect how he mentors female subordinates? I don’t know — I don’t want to say someone’s religion is not acceptable. But at the same time depending on how much influence he has I can see this being really insidious in ways no one expected or wanted.

    I note that the EEOC says speculation about potential discomfort isn’t allowed, but how much of this is something you can ask a candidate directly? And how might he inaccurately self-evaluate?

    1. sunny-dee*

      Actually, yeah, there are a lot of teachings that Muslim men shouldn’t be alone with women to whom they aren’t related. That was the first thing I thought of — if he is that observant, how would he handle having a female manager or a female subordinate? Could he have a 1×1 meeting with a female peer? If not, that could be a pretty big issue long-term. (But how would you even ask that?)

      1. Chriama*

        I’m wondering to what extent the law allows you to have that conversation, and also whether a company would want to have that conversation anyway — if they don’t like the answers they get and the candidate fights back, now it’s up to a judge or jury to determine who was reasonable. That’s not really a pleasant idea, so I can see someone just choosing to ignore it and hope for the best whether or not they hire him.

        But yeah, I also worry that if he needed to interact with female coworkers (below, above or the same level) things could get uncomfortable really fast, in the “disparate impact” kind of way.

      2. JenB*

        I worked with someone that was that level of observant (no being alone with women) and we had a female manager. This was years ago and I don’t remember a lot of the specifics, but I believe one-on-one meetings were ok in a room with the door open.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          That’s still not a great accommodation though. How does that affect feedback (including negative feedback) being given?

          1. Chriama*

            Yeah, the door open is kind of an issue if you worry about other people overhearing you and/or having a visible reaction that you want to keep private. But I think no solution will be perfect and acknowledging the difficulty while making an effort to deal with it is reasonable.

          2. JenB*

            Yeah, I can see how that would be an issue, but it worked in our office because of the setup – it was a long skinny office where the managers office, the copy room and the conference room were on one end, reception was in the middle and then all the cubes were at the other end. I think our manager just asked our admin to ask people to not go down to that end of the office – it was a pretty rare issue, maybe once or twice a year.

            I remember my coworker as being a super nice, funny guy, but there definitely were some quirks because of these restrictions.

      3. Jess*

        My first thought as well. I just can’t imagine this being ok in the white-collar offices I’ve worked in, where men and women had to be comfortable working or meeting with many different colleagues at different levels of authority on an individual basis. A person’s ability and willingness to work amicably with those of both the same and opposite sex was kind of just assumed. (I’m caveating with the type of workplace b/c there may be different types of workplaces that I’m not familiar with where it may not be as much of an issue.)

    2. Student*

      The entire basis for the “don’t shake hands with women” religious restriction is the actual stated religious belief that women are inferior. That’s what the rule is about – protecting men from the “corrupting” influence of women. It’s not some random rule in a vacuum, like “don’t shake hands on the third of the month because we said so”. It’s a belief that women are somehow inherently unclean and corrupting, which gives rise to other rules that naturally follow that assumption, like not socializing with women, not riding the bus with women, not sitting next to women on planes, not listening to women (always requiring the woman to accommodate the man by leaving the area he’s in, or take inferior transportation, or use inferior facilities). This belief about women being unclean and inferior can be found in sects of pretty near any major religion.

      I think it is extremely disingenuous for anyone to pretend that a guy who won’t shake hands with women because his religion says women are inherently unclean to interact with is going to evaluate women’s work fairly, treat women fairly, support women fairly. He believes women are unclean and would taint him by touching him. Seriously. I understand there’s an actual legal requirement to pretend this is okay – but it’s not. The law is wrong here.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        That’s an extremely reductive explanation of a very diverse group and I’m having a difficult time believing that it was formed out of a deep understanding of the multiple religious sects that have gender segregation practices.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, I think it can be a whole complex tangle of any of these things, in various proportions, depending on who you ask and what sect of their religion they’re in:

          -women considered “unclean” because of periods, probably the most sexist one

          -a focus on avoiding scandal or the appearance of an affair (so, a man who feels this way will avoid closing the door when a woman is in his office, not because he’s actually tempted but to avoid there even being an opening for gossip about it

          -the belief that you don’t have the right to touch people of the opposite sex that you’re not related or married to (which can have a sexist element, if it also contains the belief that the person “belongs” to someone else like their husband or father)

          -probably some other stuff I’m not even thinking of

          1. Honeybee*

            But all of those things are still sexist. The first one is pretty clearly so. The second one assumes that the primary relationship that men and women can have will be sexual/sensual and that touch between gender is an inherently sexual thing, which is sexist. The third one almost always comes with that “belonging” aspect but even when it does not, still takes shades from the second one (that touch is inherently sexual between the genders).

            I also feel like people are trying to evaluate these things in a vacuum, which is a bit silly. The way that these religious practices have been structured historically teach us a lot about the initial reasons for the establishment of the prohibitions. For example, Western Victorian era prohibitions on avoiding the appearance of a scandal or affair were related to the idea that a woman was worthless as a marriage prospect unless she was a virgin, and so she had to jealously protect her virginity (and the appearance thereof) so she could make a good match (which also was her only economic protection and often provided for her family as well). You can’t evaluate that reasoning without the deeper meaning behind it – it’s still sexist.

      2. Pwyll*

        Without getting into the argument about what the basis of the religious beliefs are, I’m not entirely sure I understand what you want the law to be? Do you really want the government telling people they will receive greater legal protections if they renounce their religion (or adopt a religion whose tenets are more favorable to the majority)?

        Balancing the rights to freedom of religion with those to be free from discrimination is difficult. But there are many, many people who are able to act fairly in the workplace, to treat women with respect and fairly evaluate their work, while still adhering to their religious beliefs regarding inter-gender contact. The current state of the law, I think, does as good a job as it can to balance these interests. Refusing to hire someone based on their religious beliefs is just discriminatory as refusing to hire a gay person based on their (perceived) lifestyle.

        1. Temperance*

          Except it’s actually completely legal in many jurisdictions to discriminate against gay people, so, really, not comparable at all.

          1. Pwyll*

            My point was that it shouldn’t be legal to do either (thankfully in my jurisdiction it is illegal). I used the gay analogy because of the (mistaken) belief that one can choose to be gay, just as one chooses their religion.

            1. Temperance*

              People do choose their religions, though. Just to be clear, I don’t support religious discrimination, but adhering to a religion is largely a choice for most people.

              I think we need to prioritize a secular society and workplace over disparate treatment of women and LGBT folks, FWIW. I’m fine with people believing whatever they want to believe so long as it doesn’t result in me being treated differently than a man.

              1. Gandalf the Nude*

                Yes. This is one of the things that bothers me most about this, that religion, however personal, is ultimately a choice. It’s a difficult choice to make, and I’m not ignoring that it’s dangerous and nigh impossible for some people for various reasons, but regardless of upbringing, it is always possible to change one’s religious views and practices. So, at the end of the day, folks choose these rules and tenets that require them to discriminate. And I really don’t think that a choice should be given priority over a natural or inherent characteristic like sex or race.

                1. SpaceySteph*

                  It’s possible to change practices, but I do not agree that religious belief is a conscious choice in all cases. Some people really do feel a calling to their particular religion. Belief can exist in a realm outside choice. Conversion to another religion often comes with no material gain and deep personal losses (such as loss of family ties) but people do it because they believe in something. I don’t think simply calling it a choice is accurate.

                2. Okeee*

                  This is such a problematic and deaf-tone argument. Your perspective is not necessarily that of others re: what is rational or normative or a choice. Here, your logic repeats the exact same tenets as the “people choose to be gay” argument.

                  “People can just change their religious beliefs” is just about the most dismissive attitude on this point one can take, and I say this as an atheist. Ugh.

              2. she was a fast machine*

                Exactly. At the end of the day, when two potential discriminating factors butt up against each other, the one that you choose is the one that should have the lower priority.

      3. Chriama*

        That is actually not true. I get that the *practice* might end up reinforcing sexist behaviour and negative stereotypes in a way that we find unacceptable as a society, but your statement is directly contradictory to many stated teachings across many religions and you need to check your facts first.

        Many of us are acknowledging this as a really nuanced topic specifically because of the *impact*, but let’s not hyperbolise by conflating intent and impact here, ok?

        1. Gadfly*

          Except, as a philosophy major for my first BA whose main interests were theology and ethics, I can’t think of an example that didn’t depend on an assumption of women being improper in some sense. Perhaps not lesser (if they actually followed the claim that domestic work was equally valuable, I’d weep with joy) but that they should not participate in the same spheres as men because they were lesser, corrupting/unclean, or irreconcilably other. If you have an example otherwise, I’d love to know of it. Otherwise, no matter how you frost the cowpat, it still is not a brownie.

          Some of the upper layers are beautiful, don’t get me wrong. And I love religions. But the base assumptions matter as much if not more than the top ones. They shape the top.

          1. Honeybee*

            Yeah, this is why I’m side-eyeing this whole conversation. Nearly all of the religious practices which required separation between men and women were predicated upon assumptions that women’s work, intellect, abilities and/or lives were inferior or dark/dangerous influences on men – and we have most of human history to illustrate that pretty strongly. (Of course, this is not limited to religions that are the minority in the U.S.; most major religions have at least a history of this if not a continuous contemporary practice. I was raised in a Christian denomination that was just so and explicit about it.)

      4. Vin Packer*

        Yeah, that’s not true. I mean, individual people use their religion as a basis for discrimination all the time, but “women are unclean” is just not the reason many Muslim men and women aren’t supposed to shake hands with each other according to the religion’s core codes.

        1. Student*

          I would strongly encourage you, and others here, to go actually read up on the basis of these religious sex segregation policies. They are actually calling women a threat to men’s purity – in holy books. They actually tell women to be seen but not heard- in holy books. They actually tell women to explicitly take the back seat to men – in holy books.
          These are literal, actual rules found in major world religions and the major religious texts, not some figment I’ve made up, that are enforced by (fortunately, often minor) sects of the major religions of Judaism, of Christianity, of Islam. They are actually doing this stuff. They actually give women less schooling or inferior schooling to men. They do believe women are inferior to men. They aren’t generally coy about it. There isn’t some other basis for their rules and behavior. They think women corrupt men and are inferior, so they enforce gender discrimination rules like this to minimize the so-called corruption.

          1. she was a fast machine*

            For what it’s worth, as someone else who’s studied the actual text of a lot of Abrahamic religious texts, you’re right. It’s uncomfortable and a lot of modernized religions basically overlook that aspect, but it’s fundamentally true. You can make all the excuses you like(and some of them are legitimate!) but the basic fact is true. Yes, I would take into account each individual’s actions and how they treated women on a daily basis into account, but if I knew a man was refusing to shake my hand/be in the same room as me/speak to me because of his religion (because I do know so much about these original religious texts) I would assume he was following the stricter aspects of his religion, including the ones that dictated that I as a woman am inherently less than a man(by being more unclean and less important).

              1. she was a fast machine*

                Are you saying that Abrahamic religious texts don’t fundamentally discriminate against women because of their innate differences from men? Because that’s what I’m saying is a basic fact.

          2. Vin Packer*

            These books and their writings have millenia of context attached to them. This question was about how a Muslim man can exist in a secular society (which the US kind of isn’t, but should be, so let’s go with that as the standard), and whether it’s possible for a person to follow *this one specific rule* and not be a raging misogynist. I think the answer is “he doesn’t shake anybody’s hands and the rest of us try to think big-picture” and “yes.”

          3. Observer*

            Sorry, as far as Judaism in concerned, this is just completely false.

            Maybe YOU didn’t make it up, but it is, in fact, made up.

            1. Honeybee*

              What is the reason for it, then? I am genuinely curious, because most of the gender-based segregation I have been exposed to (mostly from a Christian context) has been predicated upon women’s inferiority.

              1. Observer*

                As I’ve noted elsewhere, the idea is that touching between sexes, when the people are not related, is, with narrow exceptions a somewhat sexual act, and as such should be avoided.

                1. Julia*

                  So could two gay men shake hands? A straight woman with a lesbian?

                  I am all for religious freedom, but some of those rules seem so arbitrary and outdated (mixed fabrics??)

      5. Observer*

        The entire basis for the “don’t shake hands with women” religious restriction is the actual stated religious belief that women are inferior.

        I can’t speak to Islam, but I can categorically state that in Judaism, this is just totally untrue. FALSE.

        As for the rest, you are taking a mix of real rules, rules that SOME communities impose (not in any workplace I know of) and plain made up fantasies.

        1. Gadfly*

          It has been stated to be such in scripture, by scholars and by community leaders. If this is not the reason, what is the reason and what is its source?

          1. Observer*

            That’s just not true, at least if you are looking at the Hebrew scriptures and Jewish scholars. I make no claims regarding Christianity or Islam, either way.

            1. Gadfly*

              I’ve read rabbis who state it is so. From the 13th century through to the recent past (I know I’ve seen it in the last year.)

              Again, what alternative are you offering? What reason that doesn’t cast women as inappropriate/impure/corrupting to men?

              1. Commenter*

                It is interesting, isn’t it, that so far no one has been able to answer you, period, much less give citations?

                I agree with you by the way. When you read the texts all of the sexism and other discrimination is right there in black and white. I know people from a few different religions, I have practiced 3 or 4 belief systems myself before landing where I am now, which is in a minority religion. I enjoy learning about different belief systems, but some have core texts that are blatantly sexist, though not necessarily practices.

                I read an article 5 or 6 years back by a woman who realized her religion was sexist. She spent years struggling with it, reading different translations of the core text, studying the history of her religion, and the culture at the time the core text was written. She finally came to the conclusion that it was sexist. I can’t remember if she kept practicing or not. It was very moving, and I really sympathized with her struggle.

  8. Turtle Candle*

    To be honest, I wouldn’t feel any better about someone refusing to shake my hand because I’m a woman than I would about someone refusing to shake my hand because I’m bisexual. I get that the refusal on gender basis “feels” different to a lot of people than refusal on other protected class grounds (and may have a different legal track record), I just don’t understand why.

    I second the suggestion that perhaps not shaking hands with anyone, and thus avoiding different treatment from the other direction, might be a workable compromise.

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      I get that the refusal on gender basis “feels” different to a lot of people than refusal on other protected class grounds (and may have a different legal track record), I just don’t understand why.

      Probably because across religions, sexualities, races, nationalities, etc., we’re still used to being treated as lesser than men and having to accommodate them.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*


        Although I’m pretty sure that folks in other oppressed groups are pretty “used to” being treated as lesser than, and having the accommodate the dominant culture.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          My point was really that within each of those oppressed (and non-oppressed) groups, all else being equal, the men still have the greater privilege.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I get that the refusal on gender basis “feels” different to a lot of people than refusal on other protected class grounds (and may have a different legal track record), I just don’t understand why.

        Probably because across religions, sexualities, races, nationalities, etc., we’re still used to being treated as lesser than men and having to accommodate them.

        Yeah, I thought about that question a lot while writing the answer to this, and I do think this is why — that we’ve accepted and institutionalized sexism in so many ways and on so many different levels that we’re already primed to be more okay with this.

        1. Retail HR Guy*

          In addition to the institutionalized sexism, I think that we are also fighting our evolutionary biology more when it comes to gender relations. Our “ape-brains” insist that we should treat the sexes differently because of breasts and penises and other such things that are super important to our ape-brains. Our rational sides have to continually work on reminding ourselves that outside of the bedroom none of that matters a whit.

              1. Honeybee*

                Almost all of it? First of all, humans diverged from other primates millions of years ago.

                Second of all, the gendered assignation of labor and meaning is a product of human sociological thought, not evolution. Our “rational” sides were the ones that decided there were only two genders, developed gendered roles for men and women, and assigned meaning and status to those roles. Even if evolutionary biology did work that way, there’s nothing in our primate ancestry that would make us refuse to shake someone’s hand because of their secondary and/or tertiary sex characteristics. That’s human sociological development.

          1. bearing*

            I’d like to point out that it’s a matter of philosophy and cultural context to say that the “rational” thing is that biological sex and/or gender don’t matter outside the bedroom.

            There are large swathes of the world who have a strong conviction that it’s “rational” to say that they always matter in some way or another.

            There are reasons to prefer one conviction over the other, and there are contexts where one is more conducive to everyone getting along than the other, and there are places where one is more consistent with laws than the other. But to assume that only one set of philosophies is “rational” is to dismiss an enormous number of people.

        2. Opie*

          Yeah, I think we still give sex discrimination a huge pass due to its longevity.

          The number of people who argue a religious right to discriminate by race is tiny and that just won’t fly in 2016.
          We have a current culture war over the religious “right” to discriminate by sexual orientation and trans status, and the religious side is losing.
          Yet, somehow, religious discrimination by sex/gender is ok, or less not ok.

          But if a candidate said that they couldn’t shake hands with black people for religious reasons, I wouldn’t offer them an accommodation, I’d end the interview and show them the door. Does anyone else have this kind of visceral response to the idea of hearing that?

          So that contrast really stands out to me.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            I don’t think the reason for the contrast can be mainly due to longevity, though, because being opposed to those who look or act differently than us is just as old. Heck, both forms of discrimination predate the human race.

    2. STX*

      I kind of understand, because I did grow up in an environment with rigid gender rules – not to the level of prohibiting all contact between non-related men or women, but certainly men were not allowed to be alone with non-related women, and physical contact beyond a polite handshake was very much frowned upon. I think it’s seen as acceptable because it’s not seen as discrimination based on gender, but rather as protecting people from temptation and from the appearance of impropriety. Of course this is ridiculously heterocentric, and even dangerous as it gives sexual predators free reign as long as their target is the same gender.

        1. STX*

          At least in my brand of conservative religious upbringing, it was women who were seen as more sexually voracious and prone to sexual sins, not men. After all, it was Eve who couldn’t resist the devil’s temptation. Adam failed in his duty to guide Eve on a righteous path, and fell himself. This is still gross and paternalistic, but in a slightly different way.

            1. STX*

              I think it stems from the same theological source that says women are spiritually or physically impure in general, just updated for a more modern age where we have to pay a lip service to equality. I’m no historian but modern nondenominational churches do seem much more influenced by 18th century conceptions of middle-class womanhood as being spiritually and physically pure, which is of course why they should be protected from the responsibilities of voting or working outside the house.

          1. Temperance*

            That’s so interesting. I’m an ex-evangelical, and we were always taught that women were naturally more tempting than men.

            1. Gadfly*

              It flipped–it was women were too sinful up to a point, and then women became reformers and it became that they were too pure and must not be sullied (exact point varies a bit, but it was established hard by the Victorians.)

      1. Turtle Candle*

        I actually went to high school with people who felt similarly (and my parents, who I love very much and get along with well in most ways, are part of the same religious subculture, although less extreme-ly), and that’s part of why I recoil, I think. Because they also had genuinely-felt religious beliefs that men and women should never be alone together (which of course would preclude a one-on-one with a female boss or subordinate) and also that gay people were unclean and should not be touched. And to use Alison’s question of “eye contact,” I know that some of them did feel a religious prohibition against eye contact with an unrelated member of the opposite sex. I think that’s what’s tying me up in knots here: there’s an inherent rock-and-a-hard-place problem, because one person’s genuine, sincerely-felt religious beliefs certainly can impinge on the rights of others, and we have to find ways to deal with that that are somehow respectful to both parties–and it’s hard for me to see how to respectfully say “I can’t have a one-on-one with you, although my other subordinates get one-on-ones, because you’re a woman” or “I can’t touch you because you’re gay.”

        I do also understand that we as a culture have decided that men and women are in some ways inherently different; it’s generally considered okay to have different dress code standards for women and men, for example (in most places men can’t wear skirts to work and women can, and on the flip side men can go bare-chested to company summer events at the beach and women can’t). So I guess I do understand it after all. I just don’t, personally, feel less offended by someone refusing to touch me because I’m female than by someone refusing to touch me because I’m bisexual or someone refusing to touch me because I’m disabled.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          One thing I keep going back to as I read down through is we have no way of knowing what the individual’s sincere beliefs are and to what degree they hold their beliefs. Only the individual knows what is in his/her heart and head. That is part of what makes it so very tough.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        protecting people from temptation and from the appearance of impropriety

        But that’s still playing into this notion that women are inherently and at all times the object of male sexuality.

        1. STX*

          …and men are inherently the object of female sexuality. It’s incredibly heterocentric, but I can understand why someone could believe this, yet not consider themselves to be acting in a sexist manner. I don’t *agree,* but I understand.

          1. AMT*

            This thread has really made me question my assumptions. Most of us seem to have this innate feeling that refusing to shake hands on the basis of sex is somehow different than refusing on the basis of race or sexual orientation, but all I can come up with to justify is, “People in my culture will be mad at you if you’re weird around black or gay people, but doesn’t seem to care as much if you’re weird around women.” I don’t think I can support that. I don’t think any of us should be condoning an employer allowing someone to treat women differently, even if it seems benign.

            1. Mela*

              That’s because it *is* different. When a Muslim man refuses to shake hands with a woman, that’s not because she’s a woman, it’s actually because he’s a man. He is not wanting to tempt himself, rather than not wanting to touch a woman. The whole point is that men would want to touch a woman, and he’s drawing a line to prevent temptation/impropriety (and the exact same thing in reverse with Muslim women).

              When a member of a religion refuses to shake hands on the basis of sexual orientation/race it is (I presume, because I don’t know about any religions that actually preach this) it is all about that person. They don’t want to touch someone of orientation/race B because that’s wrong/bad/whatever negative connotation. A man doesn’t want to touch a black person, a woman doesn’t want to touch a black person, because the issue IS the black person. But for Muslims, the issue is themselves and behaving in a way that helps them behave the way they aim to. I would imagine in 100-200 years when Islam has evolved to include LGBT populations (as they already are in some areas btw), I might imagine a gay man, for example, not shaking hands with men, but would shake hands with women. Precisely because the idea is you don’t touch the people you’re potentially sexually attracted to. Or this particular rule might fall by the wayside, but you get the idea.

    3. Jess*

      Until I read this comment and the replies to it, I didn’t realize that people feel like refusal based on gender is better or more ok. I kind of just assumed it was the religious basis that made it a sticky issue, not that refusal to shake someone’s hand because they were a woman would otherwise feel anymore acceptable than refusing to shake someone’s hand b/c of their sexuality or something. But yea, I totally agree otherwise with your point- I would not feel ok if it happened to me, and I think it being a professional context would make it even more jarring to me.

    4. Lissa*

      I think the other reason it “feels” different to some people (not me personally), is that they are seeing it as not treating women as inferior, but as “equal” sex segregation. So to them it’s reasonable to think, OK, Muslim men won’t shake hands with women, Muslim women won’t shake hands with men, both are treating the opposite sex “equally”. Whereas you don’t really get that with any other form of discrimination., because there’s rarely a 50/50 split as there is with gender (in the world, not in workplace, which..another contributing problem).

      I don’t agree with this view for a bunch of historical/practical reasons, but I think that’s where it comes from. They see it as no different than mandating women and men to use separate bathrooms — that’s sex segregation, right? And maybe that would hold some weight if men and women were always treated exactly equally (though still up for debate) but that is really not the case.

      And also as said above, overall many people accept a level of casual sexism that they wouldn’t with other discrimination, possibly because they don’t realize it’s happening. I’ve been called many names for arguing for just straight equality, not chivalry.

  9. Mr. Shrink*

    Wow, so interesting. I had a similar situation. I counseled a guy once who was a sex addict and this same situation arose from a different angle – he would become aroused by simply shaking hands with a female. So in order to combat this he just didn’t shake hands and if he was pressed he would say he was a germophobe. I think he still did shake hands with men, but I never thought about it coming up in an interview.

    1. Chriama*

      That’s interesting from another standpoint. Would his addiction be considered a disability, and would there be reasonable accommodations there?

      1. Mr. Shrink*

        I wondered that once I read this article – that’s what made me think of it. I’m not up on my HR rules and regs but even if it was covered, it would require him disclosing his condition to his employer which I’m not sure he, or anyone with his condition would want to do.

        1. Chriama*

          Oh, yeah. How would you even say that? We talk about the stigma of mental illness, but I find myself repulsed on a moral level just by hearing about this guy. However, assuming he did ask, where would the boundaries be? What if his condition was such that he was aroused just being around women? Is it sexual harassment if he only tells HR in the context of needing reasonable accommodation? I hate the idea of someone being aroused just by being around me, but if I don’t know about it then is any harm actually done?

  10. Katym*

    Why would you hope the law wouldn’t accommodate other discrimination but its okay for women? If it is okay to work with this religious restriction why not one about gays or blacks? Women are often treated terribly by religion and we accept it, I am curious why there would be a difference. Is it just that this is a well established discrimination while a new one should be questioned?

    1. Observer*

      Because this isn’t actually about women – it’s a two way street. Women don’t shake hands with men, either.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Are you willing to skip shaking hands with other white people (or other black people) so as to treat everyone equally? If so, then there’s no problem.

          1. Katym*

            Thats is my point, in my hypothetical there isn’t a difference, but many people are saying there is, I’m just not sure I get it.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Probably because there aren’t many actual religions that say “white and black people should not touch” other than white supremacist ones.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Although I did grow up in a culture (thank I have long since escaped from, thank God) where ‘don’t touch gay people’ was a thing, and that definitely went both ways (actually, in many ways it was policed more harshly from the ‘gay people shouldn’t touch me’ direction, but yeah, it was dual-direction they-can-touch-me-I-won’t-touch-them), and I don’t think it was okay. And while it’s easy to say “that’s not actually their religious belief, they were just homophobes,” I’m not actually sure that was entirely true–certainly they gave every impression of believing it to be part of their sincerely-held religious beliefs.

              2. Katym*

                So we are now going to decide what is a real religion? I’m not sure thats a bad idea, but it opens up many potential problems, don’t you think?

              3. LizM*

                No, but if you went back 50 or 100 years, you’d find people who had sincerely held religious beliefs that the races shouldn’t mix. Were those views acceptable because they were more widely held than they are today?

                I’m with other posters on here, I don’t see a distinction between refusing to shake a woman’s hand and refusing to shake a black person or a gay person’s hand.

          2. Gandalf the Nude*

            I don’t know about you, but I’d be giving serious side-eye to anyone who said different races weren’t allowed to touch each other because of their religion, even if they made sure not to touch anyone. I just don’t think it’s a useful distinction to make.

              1. Gandalf the Nude*

                Yes, I would and do (you can see some of my other comments to this effect). I’m with you that it’s not a good distinction to make, just one that’s so deeply ingrained in us that everyone has to stop and think about it, which is ridiculous.

      1. Gandalf the Nude*

        It is about women. It’s just also about men. And keep in mind, those rules were written by men. It’s not unlikely that women were not consulted on whether they wanted to be allowed to touch men.

    2. Chriama*

      I think it also has a lot to do with what was commonly known. People have mentioned above how gender disparity has been an element of society across multiple cultures and religions. And we typically accept religions as having been established a long time ago. So no religions have really addressed race the way they address gender. Of course, it’s difficult to say that we then get to judge and define what religion is, because how do you evaluate the sincerity of someone’s beliefs?

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Katym, if your question is directed to me (“Why would you hope the law wouldn’t accommodate other discrimination but its okay for women?”) — I’m not saying I’m okay with it for women. I explained what the law requires in that regard. I can’t find anything on how the law would handle it it in cases of other discrimination, but I hope I wouldn’t discover it’s required.

      I’m actually not okay with religious dictates that treat men and women differently, but the EEOC has already weighed in on how employers need to handle that so my opinion there is irrelevant.

  11. KatieKate*

    I work with a lot of religious Jewish folks, and it’s good to remember that this has nothing to do with you–it’s their thing. And, at least for Jewish people who are *shomer negiah* (forbidden to touch), it’s men AND women who refrain. There are various levels within it, so when working with this community I generally do the “hand over chest” greeting which you can see some politicians use as well.

    There are some sexist people out there who won’t shake hands with the opposite sex. But the practice itself is not sexist. Just like it’s no offensive that they cover themselves a certain way, or won’t eat the pork dish you brought. And I’m sure this is something your hire runs into outside of the office as well–I would ask him how he handles it. He probably has some good strategies

    1. Captain Radish*

      I would imagine it’s almost (if not more) difficult for the individual who is trying to get by in a modern society with (what a lot of people would call) a medieval religious practice. I salute people who are truly faithful (as I cannot be so myself).

        1. Captain Radish*

          I never said I call it medieval, but it’s the best description. I don’t agree with a lot of religions and religious practices, but I hold people who absolutely believe in something in high regard as I consider myself incapable of believing in anything without a degree of empirical evidence.

              1. Captain Radish*

                Addendum do to no editing:

                Yes, I am an agnostic and have no real qualms about being so. HOWEVER, I have no issues with other peoples’ personal beliefs. If your religion is your personal salvation, then I am happy that you have found happiness. I honestly feel I would be happier if I could find a religion to follow. I am envious of people who can do so and who sincerely believe in it.

                1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  “Medieval” is typically not a compliment, especially when it comes to someone’s beliefs, philosophy, or way of thinking.

                2. Vin Packer*

                  The problem is that this all sounds like, “ah yes, if only I wasn’t so *smart* I, too, would be religious. I envy religious people their childlike wonder.” You’re far from the first to hold that sentiment.

    2. Katym*

      It does have to do with the women though, it may not be personal, but it has to do with women sometimes being unclean, and with an important separation between genders. That might not have to do with my brain and personality, but it has to do with me.

      1. KatieKate*

        No it doesn’t.

        It has to do, with a certain belief, that touching the opposite sex is an inherently sexual act. I do not believe this, but many do. Please be careful speaking about religious practices you don’t know about.

    3. LQ*

      I don’t care that it has nothing to do with me if it impact me. If it is literally only not shaking hands and they treat their coworkers exactly the same otherwise? Fine. But it doesn’t matter if it isn’t about me if my boss doesn’t mentor me because I’m a woman and he can’t be seen being behind closed doors with me. That matters a lot. Even if it isn’t about me, it hurts my career differently because I am a woman. That’s a severe problem.

      1. Biff*

        ! This — for the most part it’s a handshake issue which can be worked around, but as you say, if he gains rank, it will suddenly be a problem for a junior female employee. And that’s when it really crosses the line.

        1. KatieKate*

          Why will it become a problem? How often do you shake your boss’s hand? There is no indication that he disrespects women, only that his practice prevents him from touching women

          1. Biff*

            Not shaking hands is basically, the visible part of the iceberg. I haven’t known people who can’t shake hands with the opposite gender who are ALSO allowed to be in a private conference with that gender. It’s not done.

            1. KatieKate*

              And there are ways to accommodate that as well. I work closely with men who need these accommodations, and we either work over the phone or in public. It *can* be an issue, just as a man who does shake hands can be an issue. But it’s not an indication of a larger problem if it’s the only factor

              1. Temperance*

                Okay, if my boss was a man who couldn’t ever be alone with me, I would miss out on valuable one-on-one time and career-advancing opportunities. That’s not okay with me, even a little. I’m an atheist and believe strongly that I deserve equal access to opportunities available by default to men.

          2. Temperance*

            I highly doubt that a man who can’t even shake hands with a woman would be able to offer the same opportunities to male and female employees. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t see how a man who can’t even shake my hand would be able to go to lunch with me, travel with me, etc.

      2. KatieKate*

        I am a woman too. And we’re not talking about mentorship or career opportunities–that’s a different situation, unrelated to a common (within the community) religious practice.

    4. Temperance*

      I really disagree with you, because, as a woman, my gender often limits opportunities. Where does it stop? What if my boss is Muslim, or Orthodox, and he feels uncomfortable having lunch with or coffee with an unrelated woman? Then I’m excluded from potentially important career opportunities.

      1. Biff*

        You are also excluded from reporting issues within the office. Obviously you can’t report that Jane has been harassing you endlessly about not having children if she could overhear you because your manager can’t shut the door. Or, hey, how about the humiliation of being publicly put on a PIP?

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        That’s where it stops. Refusing to touch a person doesn’t limit her opportunities. Refusing to be in the same room with her does.

        1. Temperance*

          I really disagree, if only because I can see that me being singled out as different has impacts beyond just not getting a handshake … which I actually do think is a big deal.

          1. Biff*

            I think Rusty meant “That’s where the buck stops.” Meaning, when you can’t touch someone, the buck doesn’t stop. When you can’t be alone in an office with them to discuss career trajectory special projects, etc, that’s where the buck stops. Meaning, that’s when it becomes a problem. So basically, it immediately becomes a different problem.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            I was working under the assumption that the person wouldn’t shake *anyone’s* hand. Obviously if they shook hands with men and not women, the women are being singled out.

      3. KatieKate*

        There’s a little bit of fear mongering with the “where does it end” schtick. All we know is the handshake/touching bit. Can you focus on that and not on some hypothetical issues?

        **I know that these COULD be issues and have been issues in other circumstances. But for the OP, we are only focusing on what we know instead of speculating.

        1. Temperance*

          In that case, I still firmly believe that it’s not okay to treat me differently than any man for any reason. So shake everyone’s hand or no one’s hand.

          I don’t agree that it’s fear mongering, either. As a woman in a male-dominated field, I am all too aware that I am often viewed as lesser, or a paralegal/secretary because of my gender.

          1. Julia*

            I understand what you’re saying, and it sucks. But those men who are viewing you as lesser right now are not Muslims, I assume, and still do it, so religion says nothing about people’s inherent sexism.

        2. LQ*

          I think this is a valuable conversation to have. Like is it possible to accommodate that? You mentioned phone calls, so I have to call my boss who is 5 feet from my desk and have a personal conversation over the phone in my cube while my male presenting coworker gets to go in and have that same conversation in actual private with the addition of body language and a closed door?

          Yes, we could just put on blinders to all other possible issues, or we could have a discussion about what other possible things could come up and how to deal with them with the assumption that the OP won’t be the only one to ever have this issue and that there can be variants of it that other people can learn from. That can also be a valuable conversation. I appreciate it.

    5. Retail HR Guy*

      Of course it is sexist. If they choose to treat men and women differently based on their gender when gender isn’t relevant to the situation then the definition of sexism is met. Evil motive is not a requirement.

      Sexism that comes from a “well-intentioned” place (religious, paternalistic, chivalrous, etc.) may not be as insidious as blatant misogyny or misandry but let’s not pretend it isn’t still sexism.

      1. KatieKate*

        Is it still sexism if the same applies to women in that community? Women can’t touch men either. I think we’d be seeing more conversations about “how dare they make her touch men” if the situation was flipped.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yes, I don’t see why so many in this thread believe that flipping the genders suddenly fixes the problem.

          Is a man treating men and women differently? Yes? It’s sexist.

          Is a woman treating men and women differently? Yes? It’s sexist.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            I’m in total agreement and find it weird. You never see the racial equivalent: “What if a black boss refused to hire a white guy because he’s white? Is it racism THEN? Answer me that, smarty-pants!”

            Discrimination is discrimination. It’s not that hard, people.

            1. Kathlynn*

              Actually a lot of people would believe that it isn’t racism. Because of their definition of racism requires the discriminating party to have more institutional power then the other.

              1. Retail HR Guy*

                Hmmm. While I completely disagree with that definition it does help me to understand where they might be coming from. Bad logic makes more sense to me than no logic at all. (Back in my day, civil rights were just about everyone treating everyone fairly… but I digress.)

              2. Hrovitnir*

                Mmm, I am pretty on board with the racism = prejudice + power but that doesn’t mean I don’t think people who are part of an oppressed group can’t be discriminatory on an individual level.

                Having a specific definition of racism beyond treating people differently based on (perceived) race doesn’t preclude recognising related forms of discrimination.

                The problem for me is that a POC (or anyone) hiring another POC is often perceived as “not hiring the white guy because he’s white” so the hypothetical scenario automatically pings my bullshit radar anyway.

                1. Kathlynn*

                  The discriminating plus power already has another term. Systematic oppression. And people are trying to apply it to all discrimination terms not just race. They also use it to excuse others actions. Oh he/she wasn’t being racist, he/she is black. Or she can’t be sexist because men have male privilege. Etc, etc.

                2. Honeybee*

                  @Kathlynn – generally people don’t use it to “excuse” other people’s behavior; they’re using the insistent terminology because they want to reserve racism (and sexism) as indicating power + prejudice. I don’t agree with it because I think the terminology raises more problems than it solves. But there is that.

          2. Shortie*

            Mike C., I’m a woman reporting in to say: I’m only halfway through reading all of these comments, but so far I agree with everything you have said.

        2. MeridaAnn*

          I haven’t seen anyone saying that the man should be forced to touch women. The man is definitely entitled to practice his religion by not touching women *provided* that he still treats those women equally to men – which seems like it would be best accommodated by him choosing not to touch / shake hands with anyone.

          The situation would be exactly the same for a woman. She has every right to choose not to shake the men’s hands as long as she’s still treating them equally to the women – aka, not shaking women’s hands either.

    6. Mike C.*

      But it does. That difference in treatment bleeds into all sorts of different aspects of the workplace.

      Also, the practice itself is sexist, because it treats men and women differently based simply on their gender. Intent doesn’t matter here.

    7. TL -*

      So I don’t know about Orthodox Judaism, but I do know that Islam can be an extremely flexible faith and it is possible that a Muslim person could not be okay with touching a person of the opposite sex but be okay with being alone with them. OR they’re okay being alone and touching them in a professional context (think doctor/nurse here or giving yearly reviews) but not for any socially-derived reasons, like handshakes or going out for coffee. Or they’re not okay with any of that but they have a workable solution, like not going into management or any other number of solutions.

      You cannot extrapolate who this man is by knowing he follows this one tenant of his faith, nor can you extrapolate how his faith affects his professional life until he asks for accommodations. That’s unfair to him, it’s religious discrimination, and it’s very dismissive of the diversity of Islamic practitioners.

      That being said, shaking hands with men and not women isn’t okay in a professional context. Luckily, I don’t think there’s anything in the Islamic faith that mandates him shaking hands with men, so he can develop an alternate greeting and use that. He should not ever be asked to shake hands with women; women should never be asked to be okay with being treated differently because of their sex. And, yes, this all-or-nothing policy should apply to everyone at the company.

    8. Tegan*

      But the practice itself is not sexist.
      Yes, it is. Treating men and women differently because of their gender, REGARDLESS of why they are doing it, is sexist. Just because it’s someone’s sincerely held religious belief does not mean it’s not sexist. A woman doing the same thing is still sexist. Treating men and women differently because of their gender is sexist, period. The law has chosen to protect some sexist behavior under the umbrella of religion, but it’s still sexist. The motivations behind the behavior don’t matter and are completely irrelevant, and clothing and dietary restrictions are false equivalencies. A revealing dress isn’t a protected class, and it isn’t going to be offended by someone choosing not to wear it. Same with food. It really makes me sad that sexist behavior is still seen as acceptable by so many just because of religion.

    9. HannahS*

      Whoa, Nellie. I actually AM a “religious Jewish folk” and you’re wrong.
      1) In shomer negiah, men treat women differently based on their sex and women treat men differently based on theirs. That is literally the definition of sexism. Literally. In the workplace, treating women or men differently isn’t allowed. Others above have talked about how handshakes are tied to formality and professionalism. Either shake everyone’s hand or no one’s.

      2) Shomer negiah (in it’s strictest form) is based on the idea that ANY touch between men and women is inherently sexual. Do you really imagine that this has an equivalent impact on men and women? Those sexist people you mentioned who won’t touch the opposite sex–what do you think their reasons are? Do you think their reasons are different from Orthodox Jews and conservative Muslims and Christians? Within the Orthodox community, it interacts with all kinds of gross ideas about “modesty” and “purity” and women-as-gatekeeper, and much of the paternalistic stuff you hear in the non-Jewish world. It also pretends that LGBT people don’t exist. This is not at all the same as not eating pork, because it’s based on a different idea. It has to do with an animal’s body, not a human’s. Don’t make a false equivalency.

      3) Look, I get that you’re trying to be respectful of a religion that isn’t yours, but stop. Calling out sexism matters, and it deserves to be criticized in every community when it comes up, and it shouldn’t be tolerated in the workplace. Bear in mind that when you posit yourself as an authority (because you’ve worked with Orthodox Jews) and tell us that it’s “their thing” and it “has nothing to do with you” you’re talking over plenty of actual Jewish women–even on this thread!–who criticize the underlying ideas of shomer negiah. It’s incredibly patronizing. You don’t understand this better than we do.

      1. Pixel*

        Beautifully said. I’ll pitch on with the issue of “mar’itt ayin” (gah, Hebrew transliteration really doesn’t jive with Roman alphabet) – how things may be perceived. When a client shakes the hand of Jim, Tom and Todd, but waves at Jane – the reason is not relevant, it’s still perceived as differentiatial treatment.

        What do you do when personal religious practices of a minority religion clash with common social and business practices of the default culture/religion? I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the minority to get full accommodations while still having equal footing.

    10. she was a fast machine*

      It’s funny you say that people can be sexist but the practice isn’t sexist; I see it as the exact opposite. The people might not be sexist but the practice itself is inherently sexist because it treats women differently.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        People sometimes have a way of detaching from what they are doing. I agree that it is totally possible for a person to be doing something and not recognize it’s larger (and in their minds) unexpected impact.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Setting aside what the phrase ‘poison the well’ actually means – this is a topic about religious practice and gender in the workplace, and you think it’s the one time neither of those subjects is going to bring out performative devil’s advocates?

        1. Mike C.*

          The origin comes from the term “well poisoning”, which was an ancient military tactic of poisoning sources of fresh water to weaken invading armies.

          Also, I haven’t seen anyone pretending to be a devils advocate, so it seems a bit premature to worry about it just yet.

          1. neverjaunty*

            I know what the origin of the term means. And I commend your optimism, but there are already snarky comments about religious practices. Kindly give the benefit of the doubt to those of us who are members of minority faiths and have been down this road far too many times.

            1. Captain Radish*

              I’m assuming you’re referring to mine.

              I apologize if my wording is poor. I have no way of going back and editing what I write and I tend to not pick up on subtones in my own writing.

              I just want to make the point that not everyone who doesn’t believe in religion is pushing for banishment of religion. I am agnostic, but have little problems with religion in general so long as said religion is not being pushed on me.

              Tell you what, I’ll not try to convert you if you don’t try to convert me. Deal?

              1. neverjaunty*

                Nobody is talking about converting anyone. (Many religions don’t encourage proselytizing. Judaism actively prohibits it.) Nobody is accusing anyone of wanting to banish religion.

            2. Mike C.*

              I totally get that minority faiths are treated like garbage all the time. At the same time I’m not going to agree to excuse sexist behavior simply because it is based in religious beliefs.

              I’m also not going to paint an entire faith as bad either, I’m only concerned about a particular practice.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Who’s excusing it? There’s a reasonable accommodation that is also nonsexist (greeting everyone without shaking hands).

        2. Nervous Accountant*

          I’m not too sure if this was directed at me. I generally find this a respectful and intelligent commentary section but I’ll admit I’m a little more sensitive to these type of topics because of what I see in other news outlets.

          1. Nervous Accountant*

            Oh, this was in response to neverjaunty’s “Setting aside what the phrase ‘poison the well’ actually means – this is a topic about religious practice and gender in the workplace, and you think it’s the one time neither of those subjects is going to bring out performative devil’s advocates?”

            I really need to figure out formatting and stuffon here:/

  12. FiveWheels*

    I have no idea about the legalities, but u would be deeply uncomfortable working with someone who refused to shake hands with colleagues, clients or suppliers because of their perceived gender.

    The only possible way this could be acceptable to me would be if he refused to shake hands with men as well.

    That isn’t even touching on the issues created by intersex or trans employees. It seems to me he could only follow his own beliefs if he confirmed the gender (or sex depending on how he judges things) of every other employee.

    1. Biff*

      I thought the same thing — while we don’t have any trans people at my office, we definitely have people that aren’t quite binary. I have no idea how that would be handled.

      1. nofelix*

        Islam generally takes a very dim view of trans people. Not every muslim follows this though of course.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      I thought of that too. I have a coworker who’s a trans man, and my immediate thought was to wonder how he would be treated.

    3. LQ*

      Yeah, I would wonder about my coworker with a super feminine name who prefers feminine pronouns but physically? Most people think she’s a guy because she has a masculine hair cut and dress. He reaches out to shake her hand presuming she’s a guy and then hears her very feminine name and what does he do then?

    4. Kore*

      Yeah, my sibling’s nonbinary and doesn’t identify as male or female. I’m not sure how this employee would treat my sibling, and I feel like either way it would be ignoring their identity. I’d say it’s best to treat everyone equally, and just not shake hands with anyone.

    5. TransAnon*

      You know, as someone who is transgender, that was my first thought, too. I’m actually okay with people have religious restrictions regarding who they’re allowed to touch. But it would bother me if someone were required by their religion to treat me as a woman when I am actually a man, and I would consider it discrimination based on the fact that I’m transgender.

      Once the issue of transgender employees enters the picture you are definitely getting into complicated territory, because you are running into a bunch of other laws about discriminating based on gender identity as well as sex, and might run into some things regarding whether or not disclosure of trans status is required, and who makes that call.

      HR could easily frame it as a disclosure issue, if they chose: “We respect your belief that you cannot shake hands with women, however we will not disclose the gender or sex status of your fellow employees.” Then they could offer the option mentioned above, to shake hands with everyone or no one, with the note that they cannot take responsibility if he chooses to shake hands with someone his religion considers female.

  13. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

    FWIW, I’m a woman and have traveled and worked a lot in the Middle East. This has come up many times – to the point that I don’t really even extend my hand anymore and follow their cues. Usually the men on the other side will either offer their hand, or put their hand on their chest and nod politely at me.

    It’s honestly had no bearing on how I’m treated otherwise in these situations, I generally am respected due to my position.

    Also, I don’t want to get into a theological debate here, but it’s worth mentioning that many of the people who would refrain from shaking my hand are doing out it out of respect for me, not disrespect. In those cultures it is just Not Done to touch a woman you are unrelated to.

      1. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

        True…but I also don’t know that this one issue should be a dealbreaker. I would look at it in the whole context of how they’re treating women in the room. Because there are certainly plenty of individuals of all race and creed who treat women terribly, and that should never be tolerated. But I’m not sure the handshaking issue is evidence of that either way.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I think the (philosphical) question isn’t whether the lack of a handshake is evidence of poor treatment of women, but whether it itself constitutes poor (or unequal) treatment of women. I have a hard time convincing myself that it does not.

          1. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

            Good clarification. I personally don’t think it does, as long as the individual respectfully greeted me while politely declining the handshake.

            1. neverjaunty*

              If the individual is shaking hands with the men in the room but respectfully greeting you while declining a handshake, that is, by definition, “unequal treatment of women”. That’s why a good solution is to refrain from shaking anyone’s hand but to respectfully greet everyone. Then you aren’t being singled out because of your gender, and he isn’t being forced to violate a religious practice.

    1. LBK*

      I think many would argue that benevolent sexism is still sexism, and whether the person doing it believes it’s out of respect or not, it’s still inherently disrespectful to treat someone differently because of their gender.

      That being said, all I could think of throughout this letter is the many situations we’ve heard about here where someone is blatantly disrespectful to a female hiring manager without any religious context – treating her like the note taker in an interview and only making eye contact with the men in the room, for example. I don’t love these religious traditions that are undoubtedly rooted in the historic subjugation of women, but in the grand scheme of things I think not shaking hands on the grounds of a rule that you’ve lived by your whole life causes fewer pragmatic problems than just being sexist because you’re sexist.

      If no other elements of those interactions display any inherent sexism, I’d take the religious non-shaker over a secular a-hole who displays a disrespectful attitude any day of the week.

      1. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

        “If no other elements of those interactions display any inherent sexism, I’d take the religious non-shaker over a secular a-hole who displays a disrespectful attitude any day of the week.”

        That pretty much sums it up :)

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          The most sexist treatment I’ve ever personally experienced came from atheists. I genuinely do not understand how parts of that particular community got so toxic.

          1. Captain Radish*

            As a member of said community I can sincerely say that most of us aren’t (intentionally) sexist. Unfortunately, you only tend to hear about/from the most extreme members of any community.

            1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

              Oh for sure, and I definitely meant it when I said “parts.” Unfortunately, it has been my personal bad luck to interact with what seems to be a disproportionate number of the subset of sexist a-holes in the atheist community. Treat me like a second-class citizen at one convention, that’s just one convention. Have it happen at several in a row and toss in some straight out assault? I’m not going to your parties until the community at large starts taking it seriously.

              1. Julia*

                I think that is just the unfortunate overlap between atheists and douche-bros who think they’re sooo enlightened and rational. (Unlike us women.)

            2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              And equally unfortunately, the extreme cases also seem to be among the VIPs. I mean, Richard Dawkins, for crying out loud!

          2. neverjaunty*

            There are a lot of people who are convinced that they are Logical and Rational, and therefore whenever they have a thought or jump to a conclusion, they must have done so through logical, rational means. They refuse to entertain the notion that they could be reacting out of emotion, poor logic, selfishness or unquestioned assumptions – how could they? They’re rational, therefore their conclusions are correct, QED.

            1. Captain Radish*

              A lot of atheists are egotistical blowhards who I wouldn’t want to touch with a ten foot (or longer) pole. A lot of religious folks are egotistical blowhards who I wouldn’t want to touch with a ten foot (or longer) pole.

              I try to judge people on a case-by-case basis. I believe this is logical and rational. This seems to be lacking in a lot of people (both the so-called spiritual and the so-called rational).

          3. Temperance*

            As an ex-evangelical atheist, I’m going to chime in to say that the most sexist treatment I’ve ever experienced was due to evangelical Christianity, and by evangelical Christians. It’s more of an individual problem than a movement problem, unless the movement has specific guidelines that are sexist in nature.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        If no other elements of those interactions display any inherent sexism, I’d take the religious non-shaker over a secular a-hole who displays a disrespectful attitude any day of the week.

        Well, sure. But why can’t we (women) be treated respectfully AND fully equally?

        1. LBK*

          I’m torn on this. I think this all depends on how inherently sexist/insulting you find the sole token of this religious rule of not touching. If someone can genuinely be respectful and view women as equals while fulfilling the rules of his religion, I don’t think that getting caught up on something so small like whether you can shake hands or not is the right way to judge whether that person is sexist or not. Usually when I look askance at situations like that, it’s because of what it implies about the person’s general attitude or view of women – but here, I think it is possible for the relatively arbitrary rules of someone’s religion to not necessarily indicate their actual attitude.

          On the other hand, though, if someone said to me “I’m sorry, due to my religion I can’t shake your hand because you’re gay,” I would have an extremely hard time believing that they would genuinely view me as equal and be respectful to me, completely disconnected from the rules of their religion. But I do also wonder if the “logic” behind the rule makes those things different – my understanding is that the rules about not touching women are out of a certain intended display of respect for the sanctity of a relationship, whereas I imagine any rules about not touching gay people would be because of some inherent uncleanliness. One has a more inherently judgmental and disrespectful connotation that I think would be more likely to color the way that person views me.

          1. Vin Packer*

            Right, because it wouldn’t be “straight and gay people shouldn’t shake hands with each other,” it would be “people (by which I mean straight people as you are the only true people) should never touch the gays, and who gives a shit what the gays do, they’re not one of us.”

            Assuming a certain kind of relationship among men and women is itself heteronormative AF, of course. But, at the same time, there is a particular relationship of one kind at least isn’t there? Because of patriarchy and sexism? Which itself has been partially created and supported by the way dominant religions tend to be practiced en masse, but those religions also often build in rules like this to address issues that arise out of inequality and sexism.

            So I’ve talked myself back around to: Right!

            1. LBK*

              Heh, yeah, I’ve talked myself in circles on this a few times. It’s definitely one of the more challenging questions I’ve seen on this site.

              I think where I ultimately fall is that I’m not going to change the religious practices of over 1 billion people by refusing to indulge one guy’s desire to not shake hands. I really dislike the sexist history and connotations of rules like this, but if he can prove himself to be otherwise genuinely respectful of women and there aren’t any rules that will more severely inhibit his ability to do his job, then we just let this one tiny thing go. It’s something small enough that it can be written off with a variety of other explanations (like being germaphobic) so it’s unlikely to color any interactions he has with people who don’t already know him, and it’s a relatively small concession to make to accommodate someone’s religious practices that in their minds are borne out of respect (even if, again, I disagree and find benevolent sexism plenty gross). I think this is truly different than, say, someone refusing to interact with gay people, which carries inherent and somewhat intentional disrespect.

              1. Vin Packer*

                Exactly. Any rule that divides humans along gender lines is going to be…problematic…at least in practice, if not in text. And unless you want to spend years parsing out what their religion’s doctrine states in its original language, musing on the myriad interpretations of it, etc. etc., it seems like the best thing to do is accept that religion is a thing, the practice of it is going to be flawed as long as humans are doing it, and to make the best judgments we can about when and how to accommodate the different ones. For me, if the guy is willing to shake hands with nobody in order to avoid shaking hands with women, then….ok. Not, yay! great! love it!, but….ok.

            2. Turtle Candle*

              But people who feel that they should never touch gays often DO police things in both directions–in fact a great deal of homophobic violence has happened because they don’t think “who gives a shit what the gays do” but instead “if he even looks at me let alone touches me I’ll kill him.”

              I grew up in a subculture that did not condone violence against gay people (I’m damning with faint praise deliberately) but who nonetheless strongly felt that “non-cured” GLBT people should not have physical contact with “normal” people lest they pollute them, and who policed that opinion heavily on both sides. And it was a deeply and sincerely held religious belief, I am confident of that. I (a queer woman) escaped intact, but only through being heavily closeted. I would have been considered literally untouchable had I stayed.

              The “what if it was gay people someone refused to touch for religious reasons” question is not a hypothetical, to me.

              1. Vin Packer*

                Well, right. But that’s still a bit different from what I’m talking about–though I can see why my (perhaps too) cavalier phrasing led you there. By “who gives a shit,” I didn’t mean that religious communities take a live-and-let live approach to non-heterosexualities–I know that’s definitely not the case, so I’m sorry to have implied that.

                Rather, I meant that a religion with a “don’t shake hands with gay people for they are unclean rule” would cast gay people as fundamentally sinful outside forces to be contended with, and not anybody who could participate in the religion themselves. By contrast, this handshaking rule is addressed to both men and women, so both groups are acknowledged as legitimate groups to be a part of. That’s the biggest difference between this rule and the analogies many people are offering here. (In practice, whether it’s a great rule is definitely debatable. But it’s presents a different problem than just declaring a group universally untouchable or something.)

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  But now we’re into saying not that the exception is necessary because it’s a religious exception, but that it’s an exception that’s necessary because it’s a religious exception that we find acceptable. That is to say, it’s acceptable to count women as an Other who cannot touch men, but other exceptions (gay people not being touchable) would not be okay. Like, it’s okay for me to be too tempting/too holy/too whatever to be touched because I’m a woman, but it’s not okay for me to be too [whatever] to be touched because I’m queer.

                  I think the place that I’m at is this: I am not sure that I think either one is okay. I’m not sure that “well we don’t think you’re less, we just think you’re untouchably Other than man” is okay with me.

                2. Turtle Candle*

                  (Or to put it another way: what you seem to be saying is that religious exceptions are okay as long as we can make them palatable. So we can find excuses for ‘don’t touch a woman’ but not ‘don’t touch a queer woman.’ But I don’t think that’s anywhere in the EEOC, and it’s also distressingly fuzzy. If we’ll allow for differential treatment based on religious beliefs, then we have to look clearly at what that means–and IMHO that means we can’t go ‘well, but it’d feel ickier if it was about blacks or gays, but it’s about women and I’m sure they don’t really hate their mothers and daughters so it’s probably fine.” As I’ve said elsewhere, it bothers me immensely from an ethical point of view that we bend over so far backwards to accommodate people who believe that men and women are fundamentally and inherently different and should be treated differently. We do do that, in the USA, but it bothers me that we do, and I want to challenge that.)

                3. Vin Packer*

                  But it doesn’t say “we think you’re untouchably Other than men.” In practice, I agree with you that that’s often how it shakes out. But it supposedly actually says, “you, men and women, should not touch each other.” That at least preserves the *possibility* of mutual respect and even equality, even if that possibility is rarely actually realized. And because the possibility is there, it makes sense to take a look at the rest of the individual practicing it and draw conclusions from there.

                  “I never touch those dirty [identity], sinful because of who they are” is a pretty open and shut case. “I practice a religion in which [identity] and [identity] are both legitimate but counseled not to touch one another” is–at least theoretically, if not often in my experience practically–less so. It at least allows for the kind of tolerance LBK is describing until further notice, especially if the person is willing to modify his behavior–by, say, not shaking anyone’s hand at all–so he doesn’t continually announce this aspect of his religion to everyone he interacts with.

                4. Turtle Candle*

                  So you’d be okay if someone said, “I don’t touch gay men because I consider it too sexual, and gay men shouldn’t touch me because it’s too sexual, and lesbians can touch me but shouldn’t touch straight women because it’s too sexual” if it was a religious rule?

                5. Turtle Candle*

                  Or, to put it another way–you’d be okay with someone not being willing to touch a black person or a gay person as long as they had a reason that wasn’t “they’re unclean” or “they’re bad”? What would be an acceptable reason to not be willing to touch someone based on race or sexual orientation, comparable to the as-yet-unexplained inoffensive reason for being unwilling to touch a woman for being female? Because if there isn’t a comparable reason, it seems to me that this is just a weird exceptionalism about sexism being okay.

                6. Vin Packer*

                  I’m not saying that it’s inoffensive not to touch someone for being female; I’m saying it’s not *necessarily* offensive if a community of men and women agree not to touch *each other,* and that these are two different things. I’m sorry, I don’t think I have anything else to contribute on this.

                7. Turtle Candle*

                  Ah, okay. I was addressing this from the perspective in the letter, where the hypothetical coworker is bringing that set of behaviors out of a particular community where it is understood to be a mutual and equal thing, and into one where the situation is unbalanced.

                8. Vin Packer*

                  Yeah, I totally understand. And, I think we’re in agreement that once that guy leaves that community and enters the secular work world, he needs to find a way to ensure that his religion, which I am not a part of, has no bearing on my treatment at work, whether it’s to make an exception or just not touch anybody at all.

                9. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

                  I don’t think I can agree that such a difference actually exists. You’re basically asserting a semantic argument that might be true for *some* religious groups, as a blanket cover for asserting that *all* religious restrictions against women are sincerely well-meant.

        2. Observer*

          Well, as it happens, this rule is not about treating women differently – women are just as likely to shake a man’s hand as men are to refuse to shake a woman’s hand. In orthodox Judaism, at least, physical contact between opposite genders is seen as basically sexual, which is prohibited. Some people carve out an exception for things like handshakes because the contact is limited and the context is so business related that it shouldn’t be a problem. Others go by the principle of not making exceptions (outside of true necessity, such as medical need). But, it’s totally not about the status of women vs men, or who has greater “urges”.

          1. Honeybee*

            Well, that is about the status of women vs. men – as different. It’s about treating people differently because of their perceived gender and/or sex.

      3. Temperance*

        Honestly this letter reminded me of an incident when I was waiting tables at a well-known family restaurant, and a Muslim man came in with his family. I’ll never forget how he sat his wife and daughters at one table and his sons at another, allowing the very young boys to order whatever they wanted but ordering for his wife and daughters,or how he demanded to only speak to a man. Seriously. He walked past the hostess and the 3 female servers near the front of the house and demanded that the only male server on wait on him. He was such a massive jerk that we were hoping he paid with a CC so we could alert the university that one of their professors (or grad students) was so actively sexist that we thought he would be unfair to women students.

        That’s the first thing I would think of if a man refused my hand and shook the hands of men around me.

        1. Nervous Accountant*

          That guy in your example was/is a jerk, but cmon, a candidate who was otherwise respectful AS STATED IN THE LETTER (not yelling, I just want to emphasize that part), and just didn’t shake hands, you would put him on the same level as this person because of his religion? that’s bias, no?

          1. Temperance*

            I fully admit that it’s bias, but being treated differently by a man because of his religion will absolutely trigger that bias. If the man in the letter just didn’t shake hands with anyone, I wouldn’t have the same trigger.

        2. misspiggy*

          Well, but he was clearly a massive jerk. I work regularly with Muslim men who won’t shake my hand, and would never come to my hotel room (a private space) for a one to one meeting. But they are perfectly open, egalitarian and respectful in their dealings with me. A patriarchal religion may well offer extra opportunities for men to be massive jerks, but it doesn’t mean that all, or even most, men who follow that religion are jerks.

          1. Temperance*

            Which, to be clear, is not an opinion that I hold, but if I am treated in a substandard manner by a man, I’m going to assume that it’s due to sexism.

            I wouldn’t generally be able to tell if a random man is Muslim or not unless he’s with a woman who is in hijab/niqab/abaya, unless they dress as the Nation of Islam dudes near me do.

        3. Xay*

          So you encountered one sexist Muslim man and you then stereotype all Muslim men who wouldn’t shake a woman’s hand. There’s a word for that too.

      4. CMT*

        This is true. I don’t really care about the motives behind unequal treatment (same with yesterday’s work group letter), but I do care about the unequal treatment itself and its impact.

      5. Tegan*

        I think many would argue that benevolent sexism is still sexism, and whether the person doing it believes it’s out of respect or not, it’s still inherently disrespectful to treat someone differently because of their gender.

        This, exactly. Thanks for putting it so clearly. This is why, in my head, I have a really big problem with chivalrous behavior from coworkers. I will always politely accept and thank someone holding the door open for me, or waiting for me to get on the elevator first, or whatever, but it really bothers me. I hold the door open for people if I see them coming in general, but I once had a coworker who literally refused to walk through the door I was holding open, instead insisting on “ladies first” and getting behind me to grab the door from me. He was raised in the deep south where I know this is common culturally (because I am a native southerner too), and I know it’s coming from a place of respect, but why can’t we just all be polite and nice to each other regardless of gender? Why is my courtesy invalidated because I’m a woman? Again, not something I’ll ever make a fuss about in person, but I really wish things were different sometimes.

      6. Coffee and Mountains*

        Yeah, I keep thinking of the guy we hired who eventually said, “I’m getting tired of a woman telling me what to do” and called me “baby”. Repeatedly. After he was told to stop.
        We eventually fired him. But, he shook my hand in the interview.

    2. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

      I meant to mention – this also comes up with Muslim women shaking the hands of the men in our delegation. Some of them politely decline to shake the men’s hands as well.

    3. the gold digger*

      I, too, have traveled in the Middle East, and had to spend time with a woman in Dubai who was very clear that she would not touch the men in our group.

      I didn’t find that nearly as offensive as her utter disbelief (and slight disdain) that WE DID NOT HAVE HOUSEHOLD STAFF! Or drivers!

      “But who cleans your house?” she asked in shock. She was astonished when we told her that we cleaned our own houses.

      I wanted to tell her that the US does not run on an immigrant class that will never have the opportunity to fully participate in our society (immigrants in Dubai, who make up, I believe, about 80% of the population, cannot become citizens) and that honest work is not considered shameful in our country.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I wanted to tell her that the US does not run on an immigrant class that will never have the opportunity to fully participate in our society

        Hmm, there are a whole lot of agro laborers who would dispute that….

      2. Juanito*

        If you truly believe the US does not run on the backs of an immigrant class who don’t get to participate fully in society, you aren’t paying attention.

    4. An Archivist*

      I’ve been working with the Muslim community in my area pretty extensively (in the US) and I do the same as you do. It’s never been a problem for me, and it’s never been an indication of sexist treatment to follow. I’m an atheist, but it doesn’t bother me to honor someone’s beliefs when there is so little to sacrifice to respect them.

      1. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

        That’s kind of where I am. It’s JUST a handshake. It’s not an integral part of the job, and it’s not going to come up that often with coworkers.

        1. Tegan*

          It is just a handshake, and because of that it’s not something I would ever show offense outwardly to or bring up with a manager or anything like that, but it is still something I would notice and think about. Even if, as many here have said, it’s coming from a place of respect, it’s still sexist. As a commenter above termed it, benevolent sexism still gets under my skin (more than it probably should).

  14. Tom*

    I wonder if it’s the same guy from this question

    Probably not but something that might be good to point out before any discussion here goes off the rails: it might not be that the Muslim job candidate won’t shake hands with women because he finds their gender inferior, but rather because his religion won’t allow him to touch or come in contact with women other than his wife and children. Maybe it’s a subtle or semantic point, but to me that seems different than treating women as inferior.

    Also the Workplace.SE question above was presented as politely as possible and it still went off the rails.

    1. MeridaAnn*

      Intent isn’t really what matters, though – actions are. No matter what the reasoning for not touching women, the employee needs to find a way to still treat women equally with men. Not a handshake for men versus some other greeting (with less of a business connotation) – the same greeting. It doesn’t need to be a handshake, it just needs to be the same as whatever he offers to men.

    2. Temperance*

      Okay, but you’re a man, so you can’t really relate to a lifetime of being treated differently due to your gender. Sure, sometimes it’s benevolent sexism, but it’s still sexist.

  15. Biff*

    So, I help out with a team that is unusually diverse for my line of business. We have LGBTQA folks, we have a lot of women, and we have several minorities being represented. I feel it’s my duty to make sure that anyone being brought on is someone that a current team member could safely and comfortably be alone with in a car or after hours. We have one guy on our team who doesn’t meet that basic requirement, and I think the general consensus has been ‘never again.’ We recently said goodbye to a person who just didn’t get it. It was a seriously uncomfortable conversation to have to have with my manager, but it was necessary.

    I read this letter while wearing my ‘evaluating for fit’ goggles, and I can honestly say, this would have come off as an HR problem waiting to happen. We just have too many people on our team who would feel singled out, offended or less than. And that’s not acceptable. And I unfortunately can’t come up with a good compromise.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Genuine question: if that guy is someone a team member could not be safely alone with, why is he still there?

          1. Biff*

            Well, that’s how I feel, but I don’t have any weight to throw around on this particular issue, so I’m unfortunately going to have to let it ride for now.

    2. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

      But…fear of offending people isn’t sufficient to say that a proposed accommodation is unreasonable. If the guy is otherwise perfectly respectful to women, how often is this really going to be an issue? How often is he going to need to shake hands with teammates?

      1. Biff*

        It’s going to depend, but on my team, which does happy hours and such, and also tends to work closely with people of the opposite gender behind closed doors, this would become a problem pretty much out the gate.

        1. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

          Right but we’re only talking about hand-shaking and touching. There’s really no evidence that this is going to affect how he interacts otherwise. It may very well, but I don’t think we know that.

          1. Biff*

            Katie, I grew up in a religious community that was full of weird, twisty rules. I’ve never met someone who had such a gender divide that they couldn’t shake a woman’s hand but they could view her as an equal and mentor her appropriately. That’s not how this works out, pretty much ever. I understand what you are arguing, but it strikes me as so much theory, and not so much realism.

            1. neverjaunty*

              The entire US is a community full of weird, twisty rules about gender. We have more gender taboos than the most stereotypically “primitive” culture you ever read about in an anthropology textbook. Everything from clothing colors to coffee flavoring is strictly gendered and culturally policed. As long as Not-Handshaking-Guy was happy to refrain from shaking anyone’s hand, and otherwise behaved appropriately towards women, I wouldn’t assume he was any more sexist than the average.

            2. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

              But I have been treated as an equal by people who didn’t want to shake my hand. My anecdotal evidence is just as valid as yours. In the above case, we really can only go off the behavior that was displayed – which is just a handshake.

            3. Observer*

              That may be true in YOUR experience, but it’s far from universally true.

              And, while I’d rather not be stuck behind a locked windowless door with any guy, for religious reasons, how safe I might feel if that happened is totally NOT related to whether or not they would shake my hand. And, I’ve met more that one guy I would very much not want to spend time alone with because of the creep factor.

  16. art_ticulate*

    Whew. I suppose some of it depends on your office culture as well. You mentioned that you don’t deal with clients a whole lot, but… man, this is tricky.

    I’ve gotten used to all kinds of ways of greeting due to the organization I work for. We deal with various Asian cultures, so I’ve learned to take cues from the person I’m meeting. I personally am not offended by not shaking hands, but I can understand why other women are. Honestly, I think the best thing is just to ask that person how they normally handle that, but do so in a kind and understanding way. Surely it’s something they’ve encountered numerous times, and they probably already have ideas about what to do in an office setting.

    1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

      It’s not the “shaking hands” specifically, it’s the insistence on singling out female coworkers and refusing to treat them with the same courtesy that you treat male coworkers.

      If his religious beliefs are sincere (which is not for us to judge), then it may genuinely be an unfortunate coincidence that they happen to correspond to one of Western culture’s ways of treating women as socially inferior; but in the end he lives here and he has to live with the cultural optics of this society.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      And I’m grateful for the letter because now I know refusing to shake hands with women may not be an insult. If this happened to me I would have immediately gone to “What a jerk!” But now I know to reserve my judgement.

  17. Rafe*

    I honestly cannot remember one time in five years when I’ve shook hands with anyone I work with — and frankly, the letter seems to indicate this is that kind of place (outside of interviews to get a job there). So I understand the hypothetical is a good exercise in one sense. But from a practical level, I’m not impressed — to me it sounds like this workplace would have written this candidate off entirely based on him being Muslim because the handshake thing sounds like something they themselves do not or only rarely practice.

    1. Joseph*

      “I honestly cannot remember one time in five years when I’ve shook hands with anyone I work with”
      This must be job-specific, because basically every time I’ve ever met someone brand new at a conference or a meeting or pitch a new client or anything, the handshake is basically the very first thing that happens.

    2. Retail HR Guy*

      Someone I work with? Sure, there are no handshakes outside of when I met them for the first time. Customers/clients/vendors and anyone else from outside the company? Constant handshakes.

      While there are undoubtedly certain positions deep in the bowels of businesses that never have any contact with the outside, generally meeting people (and the hand-shaking that accompanies it) is a routine part of most jobs.

    3. FD*

      I think it really depends on the field. In the last few years, I’ve gotten more into property management/real estate, and I shake hands constantly, even with vendors and the like just coming in. It’s just what you do the first time you meet someone, even if you’ll be working in the same office.

  18. CaliCali*

    So I work in an office with many fundamentalist Christian men. Normally, it’s a non-issue — I’m generally treated very well here, and overall it’s a healthy work culture. However, it’s come up twice where it would have been a situation where we were alone together (at a restaurant and in a car, respectively — so not even ALONE alone) and they’ve told me they had to cancel the arrangement because due to their religious beliefs, they don’t spend time with any woman (other than family members) in a one-on-one situation. One situation was with a (former) boss, the other with a work peer.

    Now do I know that it wasn’t personal? Yes. It had nothing to do with me, per se, but my gender. But does it feel like disparate and somewhat insulting treatment based on a gender difference steeped in patriarchal thinking with an undercurrent of purity culture? Yes.

    So as a result, to loop it back to the letter? If the candidate didn’t shake ANYONE’s hands, it would be fair treatment, and that’s the simplest and best solution. He can observe his beliefs without introducing an uncomfortable disparity. I would rather my coworkers state that they couldn’t spend any time alone with anyone.

    1. LawCat*

      Yes, the car thing happened to me with a former peer when we were supposed to carpool to a professional conference. I found it insulting and I would describe our working relationship as “frosty” after that. (This is the same place where I was denied a move into a position because “no one would take a woman seriously in the role” so, you know, it wasn’t the greatest place to work.)

    2. neverjaunty*

      It is absolutely disparate treatment. If they won’t spend time on a one-on-one situation with women, then they are not going to have meetings, mentorship opportunities, ‘coffee with the boss’, performance reviews, etc. with you that they would have with male employees.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        I agree that the refusal to interact one-on-one is a serious issue. Unrelated to religion, I remember reading an article a year or so ago that reporting that multiple male members of Congress had policies against being alone with female staffers to avoid the “appearance of impropriety”. That kind of thing really is damaging to professional opportunities and I do not believe should be accepted or considered a reasonable accommodation for individuals in positions of authority.

        1. neverjaunty*

          It’s especially BS when you consider all the recent scandals about Congressmen and *male* staffers.

      2. CaliCali*

        For brevity, I left out that with the former boss, it WAS my performance review that was the issue. Bosses usually take their reports out to lunch to do the review. Before I knew what the actual issue was, he asked if my husband wanted to join us for lunch. Somewhat bewildered, I said he didn’t (I didn’t even bother asking my husband, knowing that he’d be like “wtf? no”, in addition to me not WANTING him there, since it’s my performance review and I was failing to see how it’d be a good, candid review). I learned later he tried to get another male coworker to join for lunch (to which I was also like…it’s MY review), and the morning of the scheduled review, he called and told me that as part of his beliefs and to “protect my marriage,” he couldn’t go to lunch with me.

        That afternoon, I did tell him that MY beliefs were such that my husband is not connected to my professional life, and we could just have my review at the office (which seemed like the MUCH EASIER AND OBVIOUS answer but whatever).

        I realize this is a bit of a tangent, but in a conversation about how disparate treatment can have an adverse effect career-wise when the mentality is extrapolated, I’m offering my experience as an example. (For what it’s worth, I have a new boss who has none of these same issues.)

        1. Mike C.*

          Wait, so the only thing keeping his marriage on track is the fact that there’s another dude at the table?


          1. Sam*

            Ironically, Christ SHOULD be the “other dude at the table” for a fundamentalist Christian, so in theory one wouldn’t need another one to keep a marriage on track.

          2. Jennifer*

            Is he THAT tempted to cheat with any warm female body? Or is his wife that jealous?

            Either way, if you’re that badly off, maybe working from home alone is better for you?

        2. Meg Murry*

          Wow, yeah, that’s absolutely not ok. Would he have been ok with having the review in a conference room with a closed door? I think if he had offered to order in lunch instead and meet privately in the conference room (and he did that for *all* his direct reports, not just the women) that would have been a fair and reasonable compromise. But asking if your husband wants to join you for your performance review? WTF, not ok.

    3. Temperance*

      This is my background, and yes, this absolutely happens. It’s completely unfair because it could very easily have a negative impact on your career, as you’re removed from mentorship opportunities because of their beliefs. Bullshit.

    4. Karo*

      So, did your boss never have to have a one-on-one discussion with you behind closed doors? I’m trying to figure out how this would play out in the workplace, in things like reviews.

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        We do that in our stores, and it’s more do-able than you would think. No important one-on-one discussions behind closed doors ever. A witness needs to always be present (usually a second manager or the District Manager).

        It’s a pain in the rear to implement but there is no easier way to deflect false accusations of whatever employees feel like accusing us of.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        I grew up in a subculture like this, and yes, you never get a private one-on-one if you’re female and your boss is male. Men with male bosses can have private reviews; women with male bosses have to have a witness of some kind. (Often their husband[!], but if that wasn’t possible, some other employee.) For some reason (sarcasm) women with male subordinates was a problem that never came up.

    5. Roscoe*

      Here is the weird thing. If a woman were to say “I don’t feel comfortable being alone in the car/at this restaurant with just my male boss” and he were to be against it and feel insulted, people would be up in arms about it. Its still about gender and comfortability right?

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        No, we’ve had this question before where an employee didn’t want to be alone with the boss, and we pretty roundly told the employee that that wasn’t a reasonable request.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I think it would depend on the context. If an employee (of any gender) wrote in here saying that they “didn’t feel comfortable being alone with their boss” because they felt threatened by the boss/knew the boss had a history of sexual harassment/etc., I think everyone would say to trust their gut and make decisions (whether to stay in the job, etc.) based on that.

        But if an employee of any gender wrote in to say that they don’t feel comfortable being alone with their boss because men and women shouldn’t be alone together, I suspect the response would be along the lines of “Sorry, that’s not how the professional world works.”

        1. she was a fast machine*

          Haven’t there been letters of both flavors here in the past? I’m relatively new but I could have sworn I’ve seen situations of both, described exactly as you have.

      3. CaliCali*

        Believe me, I’ve thought about this from every possible angle, but it’s not so much weird, because the power dynamic is different. in this case:

        1) The comparison isn’t quite apt. In this (my) scenario, it would be flipped if a female boss told her male employee that she couldn’t have a one-on-one with him due to gender. In this professional context, I think it’d be equally problematic.
        2) You can’t ignore a centuries-long history of inappropriate male behavior toward women in subordinate positions, and the power dynamic between boss and employee that can facilitate said behavior. That being said, while the REACTION may be different, overall, I’d still say that in the context of a professional relationship, I think the male boss would still have the right to feel a bit insulted.
        3) Also having had this happen with a peer, where a power dynamic wasn’t in play, it’s still somewhat insulting to be reduced from “professional colleague” to “gender I can’t be alone with.”

      4. Biff*

        I remember this! I think it’s pretty different, for reasons that would merely derail this conversation.

      5. Honeybee*

        But those are for completely different reasons, and both of them are tied to women’s historically and sociologically marginalized identity in most societies.

  19. Kimberly*

    I wouldn’t mind as long as I received a greeting just as respectful and their interactions with me were respectful and useful. Demanding something as petty as a handshake feels like a toddler demanding a sugar cookie instead of chocolate chip just because that’s what their brother got. It’s all about intent. He’s doing it from a place of respect, not insult. That being said, if his religion impacts the job he’s been hired to do, such as not wanting to manage female employees, then it becomes undue hardship.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Wow. Women expecting to be given the same respect as men, and not wanting to be singled out because of their gender, are like toddlers demanding sugar cookies? Extending basic social courtesies to co-workers is like giving a child a sugary treat?

      A handshake isn’t, in the US, “petty”. It’s a polite custom, like saying good morning. And it certainly isn’t “petty” to the person whose religion prohibits it.

      It really is possible to honor and accommodate religious restrictions on shaking hands without telling women to suck it up and deal with yet another discourtesy in the workplace.

      1. she was a fast machine*

        Handshakes are a sign of respect/understanding. It’s not petty to want to be respected the same way your peers are, wtf?

    2. MeridaAnn*

      It’s not all about intent and a handshake isn’t a treat. A handshake has a certain business connotation that other greetings don’t have. It’s more like going school shopping and getting one kid a box of #2 pencils while getting the other one only a box of crayons. Yes, they’re both used for writing, but one is associated with completing writing assignments and tests while the other is more associated with crafts and less formal work.

    3. Meg Murry*

      If the toddler likes sugar cookies better than chocolate chip, and the parents know that but always buy the brother a sugar cookie and give the toddler chocolate chip anyway – then yes, I think the toddler is not being unreasonable to throw a fit.

      If you are my colleague and you shake every man’s hand in the room, every single time, and refuse to shake mine every single time – I’m going to feel that you view me as an “other” because you are treating me as such. This isn’t about throwing fits because you don’t get what you want – it’s about the fact that I want to be treated the same as my male co-workers in the workplace. I think the “shake everyone’s hand or shake no one’s hand” option is the only one that works for me.

  20. MegaMoose, Esq.*

    Honestly, I know there’s problematic elements to this on an intellectual and philosophical level, but on a practical level, I have not had any issue dealing with the more conservative Muslim men in my community. On the legal aspect, I think it would be really hard to argue that you couldn’t accommodate this assuming all other interactions were professional.

    Tangentially, I think shaking hands is an absurd way to greet other people unless your goal is to spread disease as efficiently as possible without actively sticking your fingers in other people’s mouths. Bring on the bowing, people!

    1. Amy*

      Or finger guns! That way, if you still want to spread disease, your fingers are already right there and you can pop them right in the other person’s mouth.

      Failing that, all of my interactions with Orthodox Jewish men who don’t shake hands with women have gone so smoothly I didn’t notice until after the fact. They smiled, made warm eye contact and did a wave or a head nod. I think professional men and women who don’t shake hands for any reason have experience dodging it, whether it’s with everyone or specific genders, and most people do it well. The hypotheticals bother us more than the reality, because most of the time we don’t even notice the reality.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        “The hypotheticals bother us more than the reality, because most of the time we don’t even notice the reality.”

        Well put. I am actively attempting to avoid the hypotheticals but they appear to be sprouting like weeds. As Kenneth the Page put it, “I don’t believe in hypothetical situations – it’s like lying to your brain.”

  21. Akcipitrokulo*

    Unwanted, forced physical contact us wrong. Regardless of the reason, it is never OK to say “my desire to touch you outweighs your right not to be touched.”

    1. Temperance*

      I completely disagree with you and find it icky that you’re using bodily integrity arguments to promote the disparate treatment of women.

      The most fair solution is for him not to shake hands with anyone.

    2. FiveWheels*

      What a magnificent straw man. I don’t believe anyone has argued that this man should be forced to shake hands with anybody – quite the opposite, in fact.

    3. Willow*

      No one is suggesting this man be forced to shake hands with women, just that he also refrain from shaking hands with men so there’s no inequality.

  22. Nervous Accountant*

    I actually had this situation. I’m a Muslim woman but I shake hands so it’s never come up in my professional life but it would certainly never bother me if someone didn’t.

    A few years ago though I did have a coworker who was conservative Jewish. But we got along well, we would chat like normal, friendly professional coworkers. So the handshaking wasn never an issue. There were other issues later on, which I attribute to our personalities–not related to the religion or gender.

    What did jump out to me in the letter and others have touched upon is that one of the interviewers said that the candidate did seem to respect her position and was generally respectful. THAT makes a HUGE difference.

    There’s nothing in our religion that says don’t shake hands with a gay or black person…

    1. Vroom Vroom*

      I don’t think that the letter writer is saying there’s anything in the Islamic religion that says you can’t shake hands with a gay man or a black person – I think he’s conjecturing about, what if some other future interviewer said their religion – the religion of Don’t Shake Hands With Gay or Black People – didn’t allow them to shake hands with gay or black people.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yes, and it’s not as much a straw man as it might appear; I grew up in a sizable religious subculture with a “don’t touch gay people” rule, and just down the road from a smaller but still not insignificant community of “blackness is the mark of Cain, do not be tainted by their presence” people. (I escaped, thankfully.)

        1. Vroom Vroom*

          Wow. Glad you escaped! Now if someone were to try to use that in the work place as a basis of ‘religion’ I would be very angry. I realize it’s a real religion, but the religions about not touching women is that it’s that men shouldn’t touch women, not that they’re bad/wrong/dirty or anything. What you’re referencing sounds more like – don’t touch gay people because they are bad/wrong/dirty, and black people are bad/wrong/dirty.
          People I suppose, have the right to have those opinions (icky to think about but as you said, it does exist!) but I wouldn’t be OK with that coming into the workplace.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            But that’s exactly the point I’m making. You’re okay with me being categorically and importantly Different to men that I’m not touchable, but not okay with me being untouchable because I’m queer. I’m not okay with either; the fact that I may be considered dirty for being queer is bad, but honestly, the fact that I might be too sexy/tempting/different/non-male to be touched bothers me pretty seriously too.

            At the end of the day, it’s a judgment call, but–for me–I’m unhappy with being classified as Other so significantly at work that I cannot be touched when my junior and senior male colleagues can, even if the reason isn’t that I’m “dirty.” I don’t want to be othered in that way, period, full stop. And there’s no way to explain it that doesn’t other me with regards to my colleagues.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              (To be clear, I’m perfectly fine with the coworker touching nobody. But I really strongly do not want to be set apart as The Female One in any context, including whether someone can touch my hand. This may be partly because of my context in tech, where I am set apart as The Female One far too much already.)

        2. Chinook*

          ” I grew up in a sizable religious subculture with a “don’t touch gay people” rule”

          I have seen others mention this and I have to ask – how did you know if someone is gay? Did they rely on stereotypical behavior? Was it just known who they gay people are (because, in small communities, there are no secrets)? Do gay people who still had a heterosexual marriage count as gay or straight (by that, I mean those who chose to ignore their sexual inclinations and married for other reasons)? How about single people who were never seen in a relationship of any kind (like Catholic priests where their sexual attraction irrelevant because they are not suppose to be in a sexual relationship unless they are married (which is allowed but very rare))?

          I am truly curious because, while I belong to a religion that sees homosexual relationships as problematic, it would be even more wrong to refuse to touch someone gay partially because “how do you know” (but also because every human has dignity)?

          1. Turtle Candle*

            The rule was mostly enforced on people who were “out,” which of course encouraged people to remain heavily closeted in my community, often to their detriment. (Suicides of gay men who were accidentally or deliberately outed were quite common, as they knew they would be cut off from the community.)

            Gayness was considered to be a choice, not an attribute, so a man who was attracted to men but who never acted on it, who married a woman, etc., was not considered gay, and could be touched/interacted with/brought into fellowship. This is of course wrong, but it’s a common belief in that subculture. Unless he had romantic/sexual contact with another man, he was acceptable and could be interacted with/touched/etc. safely.

            Gay men who were openly out, or who were outed as “participating in gay activities,” were subject to the ban. Men who were not out but who were strongly suspected of gayness (often due to stereotypical traits, yes) would be watched closely, and if they were seen to do something that looked like “gay behavior” (holding hands with or kissing another man) then they’d be subject to the ban. They would remain subject until they forswore the activity and asked for forgiveness, and would become touchable again unless they “reverted” to “gay activity.”

            “Every human has dignity” was, unfortunately, not at all part of the ethos. But gayness was considered an activity, not an identity, and you would know if they participated in it, basically. So someone with that belief wouldn’t go into a workplace trying to give the Gay Test to everyone they encountered–but they might refuse to shake hands with a man who mentioned his boyfriend or a woman who mentioned her wife, or someone who mentioned self-identifying as gay, or who had a pride sticker on their car, or etc., and would consider it a real, serious, significant religious requirement in need of accommodation.

            (I feel mildly icky just typing that out. But it is, sadly, a more common opinion than I wish it was.)

            1. Turtle Candle*

              (I realize that even though I’m speaking mostly of gay men, I was myself a queer woman in that society! But in some ways that was easier. I stayed closeted until I left, but women were watched and policed for gay behavior less closely, in part because affection between women was considered more ‘normal’ than affection between men–I could hug, kiss, hold hands with, or even platonically share a bed with another woman with no serious repercussions.

              But that wasn’t a greater tolerance for gay women, it was simply an assumption that straight women were inherently more affectionate but less sexually-driven than men, and so a woman kissing a woman meant nothing. Indeed, had I been caught having an unambiguously romantic or sexual encounter with another woman, I would have been potentially in even more danger than the gay men. It was just easier to hide, because I had a wider scope of acceptable ‘straight-seeming’ behaviors.)

        3. she was a fast machine*

          This is what a lot of people are missing; the whole don’t touch gay/black people thing isn’t hypothetical. It’s real. It’s out there. People have experienced it. I’ve experienced it. It’s not a hypothetical to us, and it’s just as gross as refusing to shake a woman’s hand.

  23. KatieKate*

    Allison, can you encourage people to cut down the speculation? The OPs hire may have had other accommodations, but we should be talking about handshakes, rather than if a religious practice is an indication of other issues. Like I said in an earlier comment, it could be, but we have no idea in this case.

    1. Biff*

      I don’t think that’s a fair request. And here’s why — almost everyone in this thread who has dealt with this has clearly stated that there are many other rules in play. This rule in the potential employee’s life doesn’t occur within a vacuum.

      1. Mae*

        Agreed. It doesn’t just stop at handshakes. Unfortunately, these things have to be about waking on eggshells.

        1. Observer*

          Except that the supposed wider context is almost completely speculation. For instance, a lot of the talk about not ever having any one on one conversations with the opposite gender simply is not a reflection of how much of this works.

          I’m not arguing that there are NO people who refuse to ever have any sort of one on one conversation with people of the opposite (perceived) gender. But, that’s far from the norm among, at least, Orthodox Jews who won’t shake hands with the opposite gender.

          1. Desiree Renee Arceneaux*

            I would point out that the “wider context” regarding one-on-one conversations is not speculation at all; this actually is a rule in the Islamic faith, and one that’s actually much more widespread than the “no handshakes” rule. It would be extremely unusual to have a Muslim employee who is strict enough to take the “no handshakes” rule seriously, yet does not follow the “do not be alone with a woman” rule.

    2. Temperance*

      I don’t think that makes sense, at all, because the larger question is whether there might be other issues relating to disparate treatment of women in the workplace stemming from this.

  24. Batshua*

    I don’t have time to read this whole thread right now, but would it be different if it was a woman who wouldn’t shake hands with men?

    1. MeridaAnn*

      Nope. Exactly the same. She would also need to treat all of her coworkers / clients equally, regardless of gender.

    2. Willow*

      It would still be a problem and the solution would be the same (don’t shake hands with anyone). It wouldn’t have quite the same connotations because the context is different. There is a history of women being considered less than men (in US culture in general, not just specific religions) that is in play here.

    3. Jaguar*

      I know it’s a result of male privilege, but if I were working with a woman that explained she is religiously forbidden to shake my hand, I would shrug and think nothing of it. If a different coworker shook my hand but wouldn’t shake a woman’s hand, I would get pissed off. I’m not really sure what conclusions to draw from that aside from I should probably be offended in both cases (although, try as I might, I can’t get irritated by someone not shaking my hand), but I figure it is an interesting perspective to add that hasn’t shown up yet.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Well, no, because institutional sexism and optics is a thing. The optics have been discussed higher up on the post. (However, the answer is still “don’t shake anyone’s hand if you can’t shake everyone’s hand”).

        1. Jaguar*

          I’m not sure I follow what you mean. My knee-jerk reactions (or lack thereof) are acceptable because of how women have historically been treated?

          1. Kora*

            Your knee-jerk reactions are *understandable* because of how women have historically been treated (and still are treated, sometimes, let’s not forget that). You don’t generally have to worry about people automatically assuming you’re inferior, less competent or less worthy of respect just because of your gender; you *do* have to worry about people making that assumption about your female coworker. That’s why it’s understandable that the two situations feel so different to you. In practice, though, they do have to be treated the same in terms of accommodations. So you don’t need to force yourself to feel offended if Jane Doe doesn’t want to shake your hand, you just have to make sure that your lack of offence doesn’t mean she gets away with it when John Doe wouldn’t.

            1. Jaguar*

              Yeah, I understand all that. Your last sentence is the one that I wanted to share my perspective because of. I’ve been in situations (although, not workplace, as far as I can remember) where women have refused to shake my hand on religious grounds. It didn’t (and doesn’t) provoke an emotional or civic response in me at all. I didn’t even consider until now that I was acting profoundly different to the same situation I would react negatively to if the genders were reversed. Even now that I’m aware of it, presented with the same situation, I can only imagine my response would still be indifference, both outwardly and on an internal ethical level. The stakes are just so low for me (no handshake) when the stakes for the other person are extremely high (a direct violation of their core belief system). I’m struggling to find a way to reconcile that.

              1. Kora*

                I’m not sure I understand, so apologies if I talk past you again. I think, though, this is one of those things where being in the workplace or not makes a massive difference. In the workplace it’s somebody’s responsibility to ensure equal treatment, which isn’t really something that applies elsewhere. I definitely don’t think fairness or anti-sexism requires you to feel exactly the same about a given scenario if the genders are reversed (although I will say that the two scenarios you mentioned originally – ‘a woman refused to shake my hand’ and ‘a man shook my hand but refused to shake my female colleague’s hand’ – are not actually identical); in purely social situations you definitely get to pick your own comfort level, and it’s not surprising if sometimes your comfort levels are different for different genders.

                Sorry if I’m being dense/patronizing, I don’t think I really understand what you’re getting at.

              2. Gadfly*

                However, to be singled out as a woman in a profession setting receiving different treatment is not always low stakes. Intersectionalism, almost. If you have enough privilege in other ways, you can shrug it off because you are fairly secure. If you are dealing with other issues (like already dealing with institutionalized sexism that makes it difficult to be seen as a real peer) not getting a handshake when the men (‘real peers’) do hurts you, is serious.

          2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Sorry, I should have been clearer. The part where you think you should probably be offended in both cases equally isn’t really true because the situation inherently isn’t all that equal. Which is to say, shaking a woman’s hand but not yours wouldn’t have the same kind of “you’re not worth my notice” messaging that the reverse would have.

            1. Chinook*

              “shaking a woman’s hand but not yours wouldn’t have the same kind of “you’re not worth my notice” messaging that the reverse would have.”

              I disagree. If a woman in a mixed group refused only the men’s hands, I think it is definitely a statement of “you are not worthy.” Just because men have had historical power doesn’t mean that women never have it in modern circumstances. When I worked for a nurses’ association, I could definitely tell which women in the office thought less of the few male coworkers, and the one male director, we had based on how they treated them differently. And the types of greetings they used were one of those signs.

              Should we be insulted if someone refuses only your hand one time? No, but I think it is a red flag to see if you are going to be sidelined due to your difference.

    4. James*

      Not from a managerial standpoint. Both open the company up to potential liability. That said, it’s going to be much harder in most of the country to convince a judge that a man is victim of sexism than that a woman is, so if a woman refused to shake hands with men she’d be more likely to be tolerated by management/HR.

  25. Mae*

    In all seriousness, what would happen if said employee got hired and another female employee took a fall in the kitchen and needed help getting up? Would she be “unreasonable” to ask for a “hand” (no pun intended)? Would he say, “I can’t help you- I’m not allowed to touch women?” and then walk away?

    1. Kelly L.*

      I think a lot of people would make exceptions for emergencies. There’s a Buddhist fable about that whole concept, actually.

    2. Nervous Accountant*

      A reasonable person, which the candidate in the original letter sounds like, would not refuse to help someone who was injured or needed assistance.

      There are those extremist assholes (of all religions) who will stick hard and fast to their rule. But they come in all religions, and it’s not limited to Islam.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I appreciate the question, but it doesn’t quite work like that. In Judaism, at least (I’m much more familiar with those rules!), emergencies and helping people are excepted from these restrictions. I once saw a Hasidic man jump onto a subway track to help a woman who fell. I don’t know if he would have accepted a hug of thanks, but he definitely didn’t hesitate to touch her while helping.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      From what I understand, Islam makes pretty broad exceptions for “if this is a case of emergency/serious health issues” for many of its laws.

    5. Chinook*

      “Would she be “unreasonable” to ask for a “hand” (no pun intended)? ”

      I am going to say no if they are a reasonable/kind person.

      There was an incident not long ago of someone falling in a river in Canada somewhere and the kid was rescued by a Sikh (who was a stranger who just happened to be there) who took off his turban and used it as a rope to bring the kid in. If you know anything about Sikhs, you don’t take off your turban in public ever. But, he went on the record as saying he didn’t think twice because a life was at stake and he didn’t have anything else that would work.

  26. Akcipitrokulo*

    The issue is respect, not one gesture that is pretty small, and easily replaced with another. I want to be treated with respect for my work, for my achievements and as a person, not, as has happened, been ignored and condescended to by men who had no issue shaking my hand.

    It is an absolutely reasonable accommodation not to force unwanted physical contact.

    It is also not in any way indicative of his attitude towards women. That is shown by his behaviour – which it sounds like was fine.

  27. the.kat*

    Why does the company need to immediately set a rule for situations like this? In the case in the letter, it sounds like the interviewee handled himself correctly. He read a situation where there was a mixed-sex group and reacted in a way that allowed him to both practice his faith and make a good impression.

    If your company is going to hire someone with this sort of religious restriction, try talking to that person to see how you can support them instead of making a hard and fast rule about their behavior. Reading this story, I’d much rather have this interview candidate than some of the horror stories I’ve read on this site. Give me someone who is devout and intelligent enough to read a room instead of someone who will shake everyone’s hand and then refuse to talk to the woman in the room or create a petition about the dress code.

    You’ve seen his behavior for a few hours. He’s lived with it his entire lifetime and plans to continue to do so. What rule can you create that he hasn’t already considered? I promise you, thoughtful religious people who modify their behavior for their faith spend long hours thinking about the possible situations they might end up in and planning what they will do.

    1. Sam*

      “I promise you, thoughtful religious people who modify their behavior for their faith spend long hours thinking about the possible situations they might end up in and planning what they will do.”

      Exactly. Just like germaphobes, paraplegics, people who can use their left arm but not their right arm, people with compromised immune systems, etc. A lifelong (or chronic) deviation from Western professional hand-shaking norms is almost certainly already planned out. If someone is rude to women (or gay people or short people or Beth in accounting) they have a rudeness problem, not a hand-shaking problem.

  28. Macedon*

    I think a reasonable employee who has religious restrictions on common social behaviours that could read as problematic would also probably be open (and used) to accommodating on their end. Asking them not to shake anyone’s hands when women are present should be fine. You can also ask how they have dealt with this in the past, as I doubt it’s the first professional instance in which this has come up, and they might have suggestions for alternative accommodations.

  29. Vroom Vroom*


    Flip that on its head – I’ve often been in situations where I’m the only woman in a group of men, professionally. This doesn’t happen every time but it has happened – a new man comes up to the group, shakes all of the men’s hands, and then *HUGS ME*. (To be fair it’s never happened to someone who I’m being introduced to in the hug, but it’s definitely happened with someone I’d only ever met once previously).

    That to me is so inappropriate and not OK. I am always caught of guard and surprised by it and never really have a good response – who wants to be the awkward person who’s like don’t touch me dude? To understand, I am not even a hugger in social circumstances unless very warranted. Just get out of my personal space, please!

    1. Kora*

      EEEWWW. Oh wow, all my sympathy, that’s so gross. If you can manage it, I’d recommend a firm step back and extending your hand instead. And then if they *keep* trying to hug you, I think you’re absolutely within your rights to say, “Why are you still trying to hug me?” So awkward, but remind yourself it’s them making it awkward, not you.

      (If you have a trusted male coworker who’s often around in this situation, you could point out this pattern to him. A light-toned “Hey, why is it only Vroom Vroom who gets hugs? That doesn’t seem fair,” from another guy just might pull the huggers up short; equally it might just be good to feel you have support for shutting this down. Your coworkers really ought to have your back however you choose to deal with it.)

      1. Vroom Vroom*

        I’ve made a point to educate many men about it. To be honest, I don’t think it’s happened in a while – there are certainly some colleagues who I WOULD hug because I haven’t seen in a while. But, I work with mostly men who are mostly 20-30 years older than I, and I make a point to educate many of them about this.
        Part of it is that they often feel very ‘fatherly’ towards me – I’m their daughters’ age, after all – and they greet me as if they would a friend of their daughters. I have done my best to educate many of them that I Am A Professional and to Treat Me As Such and it really works with a lot of them – some of them just have no idea how to interact with young women. I’m a major anomaly in my field.

        1. Kora*

          I’m really glad you’ve had success with the educating while at the same time feeling incredibly indignant on your behalf that you’ve been forced to do it.

          (Kinda side-eyeing the idea that it’s appropriate for older men to hug friends of their daughters either, tbh, unless it’s the friends doing the initiating.)

    2. EddieSherbert*

      Yeah, I would handle this worse than not getting a handshake. (I’m not a touchy-person – VERY few people outside family can give me hugs).

      1. TL -*

        It happens. A lot.
        Or, the handshake bro-hug for the men and the warm embrace for the woman. Which I deal with whenever possible by demanding my manly hug.

      2. Vroom Vroom*

        Agreed. Or if they do it’s because Something Big Warranted It (like leaving the company, I’ll never see you again, your dog died, etc.)
        I seriously hate the social convention that I have to hug every woman I know every time I see her, even if I just saw her yesterday. I’m like, can we grasp hands and do air kisses (but don’t touch my face)? That’s less invasive to me. My friends that know me well will do that, but people I don’t know that well go in for the hug and I don’t want to be Awkward Annie about it all the time…

    3. Paige*

      This happens to me all the time when I travel to places where kissing between sexes is the standard greeting, but handshakes are the norm for men to men. Is it sexist? Yeah. Is feeling weird about it my problem? Yep, in this circumstance. Are there graceful ways out of it? Absolutely. I’ve done quite well with aggressively sticking my hand out, but I’ve also played along sometimes because my norm isn’t everyone else’s, and sometimes it’s a good learning experience to adjust one’s habits. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but it’s a good exercise to imagine what you could do if the norms shifted just a bit just in case they ever do.

      That said, being forced to hug someone when you don’t want to is gross and I’m so sorry you had to put up with it.

  30. No religion at work*

    Is no one else bothered that he asked the interviewer for time to pray? I find that highly inappropriate. He could pray in his car or in the bathroom or anywhere else private. Is he going to ask to pray before every meeting? Or training? Or clients?

    1. Macedon*

      Some people are called to pray at very specific times during the day. At that point, they might have to be excused during a meeting or interaction.

    2. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

      Actually yes, I do find that really strange. I have never known any Muslims to have such hard-and-fast prayer times that they didn’t have any flexibility whatsoever.

        1. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

          Yeah, there could very well have been a perfectly understandable reason. And I’m not the be-all and end-all on Islam in the workplace, but in my experience there’s some flexibility. Actually the two Muslims I managed you never would have known they prayed during the day because they just slipped out to do it.

    3. James*

      I agree that this would normally be something I’d expect to be handled on their time (or at least without interfering with work); however, I also know that certain sects of Islam require prayer at specific times. Refusal to do so would constitute failure to accommodate his religious beliefs. It was unclear if the meeting had occurred around one of those times, so I assumed it was.

      Again, this falls under the heading of “This is something you need to figure out, but I’m here to help if you’d like.”

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        From my understanding, the time frames for each prayer are rather broad — essentially, with the exception of the first prayer, they must be completed before the start time of the next prayer (which usually gives a several hour time frame).

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            You’re welcome, but definitely look for better sources than me! My experience is limited — I’m not Muslim myself, and I’m not remotely an expert in religious practices. :)

        1. Sir Alanna Trebond*

          Yes, this is true. I’m Muslim, and I take quick short breaks to pray during the day. The only accommodation I asked for was a room where I would not be interrupted/not in anyone’s way. The first prayer is never an issue at work for me, since it’s so early anyway. Since the sun is used to determine prayer times, in the winter there can be a bit more of a crunch time than summer, but in general I have always been able to wait for a convenient time to pray.

        1. Chriama*

          Well, prayer is a sacred act and bathrooms are generally acknowledged to be the opposite of a sacred place. Also, I’ve seen people who have to pray on their knees with a prayer mat, so it’s pretty insensitive to tell them they should do that on a bathroom floor. It’s also rude for the same reasons we don’t tell women to pump breastmilk in a bathroom — because it’s a gross place and we shouldn’t tell people to relegate other life activities to it.

            1. Jennifer*

              Then I’m impressed with your rabbit training. I always wanted a house rabbit, but mine were way too fond of electrical cords to do that sort of thing.

        2. Liz T*

          In Jewish temples you’re supposed to take off prayer garments before going to the bathroom. Bathrooms just are not prayer-type places.

        3. Nervous Accountant*

          Same reason we don’t eat our lunch in the bathroom, or force breastfeeding women to feed their babies in the bathroom? Because they’re dirty?
          Not sure if any other religion has that prohibition, I would assume that Judaism does but I don’t know for sure.

            1. Nervous Accountant*

              oh! I do that though when I’m not at home. I’ve never ever done it at my desk. It never even occurred to me to that it was OK to not keep it in the bathroom.

      1. Chinook*

        Nervous Accountant, please tell me that no one has ever asked that you pray in a bathroom. I know of no prayer stance in any religion that doesn’t require you touching the ground (whether it knees, hand, forehead), so, from a hygienic reason perspective alone, that is so many types of wrong.

        1. Marisol*

          Except for Episcopalians, the protestants I have known, including the fundamentalists Baptist parents who raised me, typically bow their head but even that is not a requirement–you can just “talk to Jesus” while you’re driving your car or whatever. I have personally never encountered touching the ground with that version of Christianity. But I agree that the expectation that prayers be performed in the bathroom would be inappropriate.

        2. Observer*

          Judaism doesn’t require any touching of the ground (with the exception of the High Holiday liturgy.)

        3. Nervous Accountant*

          Hey Chinook, no, never, thank God. Honestly, I was so gobsmacked at this question/suggestion……

          I mean, I think there is a huge difference between “Dear God let this pain stop!” vs actual praying.

    4. Chriama*

      Well from what I know about Muslims, there are specific times of each day when they need to pray. So presumably once working he would just schedule his workday around those times or politely excuse himself if needed.

      Also, so what if he prays before every meeting or training? Is the act of mentioning prayer itself unprofessional because it calls attention to the fact that he’s religious? I think respecting diversity also means not making people go out of their way to hide any differences they may have.

    5. Temperance*

      I do find that strange. I wonder if he was trying to make it known early that he needs certain accommodations.

        1. Meg Murry*

          I was thinking of the same story. As in “ok, I’m just going to put it out there now that I’m an actively practicing Muslim and see how you react, because if you are a jerk to me when I ask to pray before my interview, you are also going to be a jerk to me when I ask to pray before a meeting or at a conference”.

          I’m similar in that while I don’t actively look for ways to bring up my children in an interview, if a situation comes up where it’s unavoidable (and in my case, it pretty much is because I have a resume gap from a time when I chose to be a stay-at-home parent) and I’m not in a case where I desperately need the job, I’m going to go ahead and mention that I have children but that I also have a great support system so work travel, etc are ok – because I’d rather not be offered the job because I have children, rather than get the job and then be treated poorly once it’s discovered that I have kids at home and you assume I don’t want the best project assignment since it involves more travel.

    6. Sam*

      I would not be bothered by an interviewee’s request at all, but if I wanted to pray during an all-day interview I wouldn’t call out that’s why I was asking for a break. I would probably just ask for a quick break and then go somewhere private. Back when I was a smoker I would have felt comfortable asking for a few minutes for a break and not felt the need to explain that I was going outside to smoke, so I don’t think I would explain that I was going somewhere to pray, just because I would have felt that it wasn’t the interviewer’s business. That said, unless it was a 4+ hour event, I personally would have tried my best to handle all personal needs (nutritional, hygienic and spiritual) before the interview.

      1. Chinook*

        I just figured that the previous interview ran late and the interviewee didn’t want to risk looking like he didn’t show up on time.

        Either that or he was hoping for some last minute, divine intervention with his answers?

    7. Opie*

      Devout Muslims pray five times a day and in addition there are some rituals around washing before and maybe after. We had him for 4 or 5 hours of interviews so it was no surprise to me and like i said, i was happy to accommodate.

  31. James*

    From a management perspective, I think that as long as he doesn’t otherwise disrespect women (and it sounds like he is respectful towards them), I think this counts as an issue to watch, and maybe talk to him about, but leave it firmly in HIS court. Let him know you see the potential for a problem, and let him know you want to help find a mutually-satisfactory solution. “Thank you for being so up-front about this. Our workplace respects religious and cultural differences. That said, we do have a lot of women as staff and clients, so this could create some tensions. How have you handled this situation in previous jobs?” Or something like that. If he has a good solution, the problem no longer exists except in the minds of people looking for a fight on the issue, and you’ll never win them over anyway.

    If the person picks one thing and does it consistently it’ll strike people as a bit odd, but otherwise irrelevant. I end conversations with my managers/bosses with a small bow (nothing showy, just a brief dip of the head), due to being a Medieval re-enactor–it’s something that I picked up a long time ago, and I do it unconsciously at this point. If they don’t initiate a handshake, I bow. I’ve had one or two people look at me funny, but honestly it’s few people who even notice and no one’s ever taken offense to it. If the person in question does it consistently he may have to answer “I’m sorry, I don’t shake hands” a few times, but after that it’ll just be considered the way he acts.

    1. Zahra*

      Another thing you could do is plan a second interview where the person is alone with a woman for part of it and see how that changes the interaction. Talk through scenarios where they might need to be alone with a woman (car sharing to a destination, performance reviews, working in pairs, etc.). That will help inform you about the potential impacts.

      1. James*

        That would probably come off as overly-aggressive (though it may not–part of my interviewing process was one-on-one with a female, because that’s who held the position that needed to interview me). I’d definitely agree with having at least one female involved in the interview, though, and at multiple levels. A female manager and a female peer, at least.

        1. Zahra*

          Yeah, I’d talk only about relevant scenarios for the job at hand. If you don’t travel, then car sharing is not something I’d talk about. For pair programming (if that’s something that’s done in the organization), that’s absolutely something I’d ask about.

          Being alone with a woman during part or a complete interview doesn’t need to be awkward or forced. There are a number of scenarios where this might happen inadvertently (“Hi, I won’t be able to stay for the interview, I have a very important commitment. However, I wanted to present you to Lucilla, our team leader/expert in X/etc. before you started the interview.”)

          1. MeridaAnn*

            No. Just… No. This kind of “test” would be so bizarre and wrong on several levels.

            1 – Are you also going to have the potential employee spend time alone in a room with a man? Maybe they have issues being in one-on-one situations regardless of gender. Maybe a million other things.

            2- Are you performing this “alone with a woman test” on every single interviewee, or only on the Muslim applicant (which would be religious discrimination)?

            3- If Lucilla is already part of the interview team, are you making her spend more time with the applicant than the other interviewers, or are you making her do a separate interview so that the applicant has to repeat everything and the other interviewers see different responses than Lucilla? Or if she’s not normally part of the interview process, you’re taking her away from her real work to sit in a room to be your female guinea pig. None of these options are okay.

            I’m sure I could go on, but I’ll stop there for now…

            1. Biff*

              I don’t think making sure male hires can be alone in a room with a woman and behave appropriately is a test that is discriminatory, necessarily. He raised a red flag, you are addressing it in the followup. Treating each candidate exactly the same is silly. Suppose I had a job where it was vital someone could tell the difference between red and green and someone made an offhand joke about being colorblind to excuse a poorly-chosen shirt. It wouldn’t be discrimination to subject that candidate to some minor testing to allay that concern. Same thing here.

            2. James*

              1 – Almost certainly in most companies. I’d be astounded if this wasn’t the case at some point int he interview.

              2 – I’d certainly have the employee interview a representative sample of the folks they’d be working with, and if I thought there’d be a problem with the interviewee working with, say, a Muslim or an African American, I certainly would include those people in the interview. I’m not sure it’d be a one-on-one thing, but I’d make a point to include them as part of it so that we could gauge the interviewee’s actions.

              3 – If you can’t figure out a way to get Lucilla and the interviewee together to evaluate the interviewee’s reactions, you’re probably not a very good manager. The interview process is likely not a one-shot deal. If the no-handshake thing came up in a phone interview, you could ask Lucilla to be part of the interview team in a number of ways. “Hey, Lucilla, I’d like you to help me at the start of the interview with George. I’d like a potential peer’s view on him, to see if he’s a good fit. I know you’ve got some projects you’re working on, but this should only take an hour or so. Can you be available at 3 o’clock next Thursday?” If she says yes, go over some concerns you have, things to look for, etc–one of which is “George sounds like a pretty strict Muslim, and won’t shake your hand; let me know if you feel uncomfortable about how he handles it.”

              If you think there’s a potential for serious liability issues from hiring this person, it’s pretty much obligatory to find some way to evaluate that potential. If someone does file a complaint because of a hostile work environment, do YOU want to be the manager who says “Yeah, I knew about the handshake thing, but opted not to pursue it”?

        2. Chriama*

          I actually think a subordinate is more important than a manager or peer, because he already has the power difference in that relationship. Lots of jerks find it easy to be respectful to their boss, and she has lots of ways to shut it down if you’re not. Your assistant has less recourse.

  32. Recruit-o-rama*

    Regardless of whether or not some women would be ok with it, I would not be ok with it. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I would find it hostile if a co-worker shook all the men’s hands in the room but not mine no matter what his reasons are. If it is unlawful for a bakery to refuse to bake a cake for a gay marriage even though it is for religious reasons than it should be unlawful for a company to allow a man to treat women differently even if it is because of his religion. I wouldn’t stand for it. I would feel demeaned and marginalized especially if he gave me a twee little “how are you today?” wave.

    1. James*

      But what if he refused to shake hands period? I fully agree that refusing to shake a woman’s hand when you shake men’s hands is going to be offensive (read, expose the company to potential legal liabilities), but refusing to shake anyone’s hands would mitigate that.

  33. ShinyThings*

    I’ve worked with a lot of Muslim men, both in the U.S. and in their home countries. When we had men come to the U.S on programs, the no handshaking thing would occasionally freak out colleagues with whom they met who weren’t familiar with their religious requirements, but it never caused an issue. I’ve gotten in the habit of simply never extending my hand first to a man when in their home country. Some will extend theirs, others won’t, but I’ve never had an issue of any lack of respect. The countries I work in have full economic, political, and social representation for women, so men are perfectly used to interacting with women in professional roles; it’s simply not OK for them to touch a woman who is not a member of their family. So, based purely on my experience, I would pay attention to how they treat women colleagues in general, and try not to focus on this one business etiquette practice. Though I also recognize that in the U.S., it’s the norm to follow U.S. practices, so this may not be an option or comfortable for your organization.

    1. TL -*

      Yeah, I think in a different country this is a different topic. Different norms, different histories, different implications of refusing, and different laws.

  34. AJC*

    I am startled at what seems to be the lack of either religious understanding or empathy in this thread. It’s true the interviewee could’ve handled the hand shaking better, but to be utterly and completely offended at this is not warranted. (I am a non-religious woman.)

    Other people’s beliefs, “sexist” or no, should be respected to the point of the law. By calling the religious beliefs sexist without knowing the history or culture is ignorant and disrespectful in and of itself.

    Do your research.

    1. Macedon*

      I agree that we should all try to keep a very open mind and to check ourselves for bias against cultural and religious habits of which we’re largely ignorant — but let’s lose the “s.

      Religiously selective gender-based handshaking is well-meaning, perhaps even unintentional sexist behaviour, but it is sexist behaviour.

    2. FD*

      I think that’s not a reasonable accusation in this case. Religion, gender, and race are all hot topic issues, yet I feel people have been fairly civil (though undoubtedly that’s partly due to Alison moderating where needed).

      The issue is that people are trying to work out how to balance two factors.

      On one hand, people should be allowed–within reason–to practice their beliefs, even if others think those beliefs are wrong.

      On the other hand, people have the legal right to be treated equally in the workplace when it comes to gender, race, religion, and other factors.

      The issue is how you balance these two factors–a religious belief that requires women to be treated differently than men and people’s right to be treated equally when it comes to those protected classes. Both are protected by law, so we’re trying to talk about how you can honor both sets of rights.

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      It’s not about doing one’s research. It’s about navigating conflicting values — whether they are internal or between two parties. That makes for super rich reflection, which is what I think is happening here.

      1. brownjackiebrown*

        It is about doing one’s research when some commenters are speculating as to the history and context of why this man’s religion prohibits him from shaking hands with a woman — and then making blanket assumptions about his character based on that speculation.

        Other than that, yeah, there are lots of well-articulated comments that actually address the issue at hand.

    4. Turtle Candle*

      I see far more people saying ‘oof, this is complicated’ than I see people being “utterly and completely offended.”

    5. themmases*

      +1000, thank you.

      I can’t believe how many incredibly offensive assumptions I’m seeing in this thread about the religious reasons for lack of contact (which anyone here could just go look up instead of speculating), or this man’s motivations and character. People are entitled to their own personal beliefs and behavior that doesn’t harm others, even if someone else finds it offensive. No one here has made a good case that *only* refusing a handshake, from someone who is otherwise respectful as this man was, harms anyone. People here seem to basically be asserting a right to not be offended or worried or reminded about the possibility of meaningful gender discrimination that trumps someone else’s right to follow their conscience– even if the worry arises from their personal opinion.

      I am a non-religious woman also.

      1. Mike C.*

        I’ve made the case several times and you’re being dismissive of arguments that have been made in good faith.

      2. she was a fast machine*

        I saw several of these arguments upthread. It boils down to the fact that in the US, handshakes are a sign of respect. Withholding that respect from someone for no reason other than their gender is definitely problematic.

      3. Honeybee*

        Well, but there *are* historically sexist reasons for the lack of contact between genders.

        The assumptions about motivations and character are pretty gross, though.

        No one here has made a good case that *only* refusing a handshake, from someone who is otherwise respectful as this man was, harms anyone

        Of course they have – there are plenty of those good arguments upthread.

    6. CanadianKat*

      I agree (also a non-religious woman here).

      Sure, the refusal to shake hands with the opposite sex may be a bit off-putting (it was for me, initially, when dealing with an Orthodox Rabbi client), but it’s on the refuser to make an effort not to be perceived as sexist (by being otherwise fully respectful of all women present), and it’s on the rest of us not to get fixated on the initial refusal – to see it as their quirk and nothing more.

      I also don’t think one should make blanket statements about treating men and women equally, in all circumstances. For example, if a male and a female coworkers are leaving work late and have to walk to their cars through a dark parking lot in a sketchy neighbourhood, the male may ask the female if he can walk her to her car, out of concern for her safety. He would not do that with a typical male colleague. Would that be sexist and offensive?

      Another example – I may share/discuss certain personal information with some of my female colleagues but not male (e.g. health/relationship-related, such as breastfeeding). Is that sexist or offensive that I don’t want to discuss these with male colleagues?

      1. HannahS*

        You’re correct in saying that it’s on the refuser to not be seen as sexist, and in this case, that can be accomplished by having the person not shake anyone’s hand, and therefore be treating people equally. No one here is suggesting that men and women have to be treated identically in every circumstance. The examples you gave have to do with safety and with personal friendships. Handshakes, though, are a business practice. And in business practices, you can’t treat people differently based on sex.

      2. Gandalf the Nude*

        With regards to first your example, yes. That would be sexist. It’s a great example of paternalism and toxic masculinity. If it’s a sketchy neighborhood, why is he only concerned about his female colleagues? As someone said elsewhere in the thread “benign” sexism is still sexism.

        To your second example, yes, also. As long as your making that distinction based their gender presentation, yes, it’s sexist to discuss certain topics with some people but not others. If it’s not appropriate to discuss with your male colleagues, it’s probably not appropriate to discuss in the office, period. Obviously, it’s fairly low-stakes, but it absolutely contributes to systemic sexism.

        1. Lissa*

          Seriously — a man is at as much risk in a “sketchy” neighbourhood as a woman, it’s domestic violence where women are disproportionately at risk. Also, if the woman feels unsafe she can be the one to ask her coworker to walk her to her car.

      3. Vladimir*

        Sorry but I cannot agrese with the opinion that every opinion deserves respect unless it breaks the law. Many awful opinions are lawful. Would you respect belief that said you are less because od your gender? Or someone who thought gays are disgusting? They are lawful, But I think they do not deserve respect

      4. N.J.*

        This is off topic, but one comment on one of the examples you used. Actually, the example you use regarding a male colleague offering to escort a female colleague for safety reasons is viewed by many as sexist. This offer stems from a belief that women are inherently in need of protection, due to the belief that women are weaker or less capable of taking care of ourselves. It’s based on the idea that we are fragile. Both men and women in the situation you described could just as easily be attacked or harmed. It is also based on the assumption that the man, just by existing and accompanying the woman, can somehow provide protection ant better than the woman can. Safety in numbers is a valid principal, but offering that help only to a female coworker is a load of crap.

      5. Honeybee*

        and it’s on the rest of us not to get fixated on the initial refusal – to see it as their quirk and nothing more.

        But…it’s not their quirk. It’s a practice that requires them to treat me differently because of a part of my identity.

        the male may ask the female if he can walk her to her car, out of concern for her safety. He would not do that with a typical male colleague. Would that be sexist and offensive?

        Yes, it’s sexist. Assuming that someone is more prone to physical attack or danger, or less able to defend themselves, because of their gender is sexist (and incorrect; men are more likely to be physically assaulted in general and by strangers than women are). Whether or not it’s offensive is based on the feelings of the person getting asked.

    7. Xay*

      I’m not. I think that the reactions would be very different if the job candidate were Orthodox Jewish.

      1. Mike C.*

        I would certainly be saying the same thing I have been saying before. To claim that people are calling it sexist simply because the person happens to be Muslim is not only gross but incredibly dismissive of people like me who are putting significant thought and care into the words I write.

        It’s sexist because someone is treating men and women differently, based on their gender, when gender is not germane to the interaction at hand. Notice how there’s nothing there about the religion of the person in that reasoning? Notice how that reasoning applies to people of all or of no faith?

        Do you understand the difference now?

        1. Xay*

          I don’t think that people are calling it sexist because the candidate is Muslim. I do think that people are making a lot of unsubstantiated assumptions about how the candidate will treat female colleagues and superiors because he is Muslim.

          Do you understand the difference now?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Mike, “do you understand the difference now?” is coming across as condescending.

            Xay, I actually don’t think that’s true for most people — most people are reacting to a religious requirement to treat men and women differently, not that he’s Muslim (and I do think would say the same thing about an Orthodox Jew).

      2. HannahS*

        I don’t get what you’re saying…do you think that people would object less? I don’t think that’s true.

      3. Meg Murry*

        Actually, personally, I would be *more* concerned if the candidate were Orthodox Jewish, because in my experience Orthodox Jews not only can not shake hands with the opposite sex, they can not have one-on-one meetings with the opposite sex, and in some cases do not make eye contact with the opposite sex or speak directly to them.

        If the interviewee otherwise treats women and men equally and his/her only restriction is physical touch (and the is willing to go with the compromise position suggested above that he not shake *anyone*’s hand), I’d be less concerned, no matter what the race or religion.

    8. Mike C.*

      I don’t have empathy for sexism and I’m certainly not going to apologize for it.

      Too many women in my life have been harmed by sexist beliefs and practices, regardless of their source. I’m getting tired of being told that I should just put up with seeing half the human race be treated differently simply because of how they were born because of tradition.

      The history or culture of a belief doesn’t matter when it leads directly to a sexist act. It’s an act that causes harm to another person and shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s not ignorant nor is it disrespectful to point this out. It’s simply shutting down discussion.

      1. Honeybee*

        Added that the historical reason for a lot of these cultural practices/beliefs *ARE* inherently sexist. They originate from sexist beliefs about the roles of men and women. They may not directly reference women’s inferiority per se, but they certainly do stem directly from belief in the separateness of men’s and women’s spheres.

    9. HannahS*

      Religious woman speaking: listen, you and other non-religious women need to stop pretending that sexism doesn’t exist in religious communities other than the majority. Calling out sexism matters. Yeah, it would be wrong for you to harp on minorities more than majorities, but other people’s sexist beliefs do NOT need to respected as a point of law. That’s not correct.

      1. AJC*

        Sexism does happen in religious circles. “Sexism” in quotes because not all cultures agree with the American definition of sexism and wouldn’t address it as such. We seem to be viewing it from only one perspective here without respect to other perspectives out there.

        Let’s not veer into burkini ban territory.

        1. Mike C.*

          This isn’t just an “American” definition of sexism. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and has 189 signatories. This isn’t some fringe position here.

        2. HannahS*

          Wait, so sexism doesn’t count if the culture itself doesn’t recognize it? That’s nonsense. You are assuming that every critic of conservative religions doesn’t understand them. Or that everyone within them agrees. In your haste to smother me and my minority religion and culture with your “respect” you’re in fact silencing my very real concerns about the sexism that *I* experience, that *you* do not. You want to consider other perspectives? Then listen to us. Put away your cultural relativity and don’t be condescending.

  35. A Muslim woman*

    I’m also Muslim, though I’m a woman. I don’t shake anyone’s hand in work situations, whether they are men or women. I will smile and wave when I greet someone. I do this and keep it the same for everyone so that no one feels alienated or offended. My beliefs do not give me the right to make anyone feel that way. I also ensure that I am attentive to everyone and make eye contact, and I treat everyone with respect and don’t make anyone feel lesser because of their gender (or orientation, religion etc.). I don’t ask for any special accommodations because of my religion, I pray privately on my own time and I work with and have meetings with both men or women. I’ve been in the workforce for 10 years at two separate jobs, and I also had a job while I was in college and I’ve never had a problem with this.

  36. Nervous Accountant*

    I’m just wondering something, how often does shaking hands even come up in work? At my job, aside from my interview and the very first day of greeting everyone (including other new hires when they came onboard), I’ve never had to shake hands with the same people again. It just doesn’t come up on a regular basis that its a big deal.

    And FWIW I was very skeptical about the whole no shaking hands things even when I was more conservative, where I would have debates iwth other Muslims. I just didn’t think it was such a huge deal–I don’t care if you dont’ want to shake my hand, but I’ll extend myself for a handshake with other people.

    I’m just wondering in what other fields this comes up–I don’t shake hands with my Dr (who’s Muslim) but he’s the only one I’ll let draw my blood and not his female assistants. If there was Dr who wouldn’t touch women, or women who would never want to be treated by male Drs, that’s extreme and not right.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      Lawyers are super big on the handshaking – as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the thread, I’m something of a misanthrope so I’m not a big fan.

      I would push back on the women preferring women doctors thing – at least when it comes to pelvic exams, many women prefer female doctors and I don’t think it’s fair to call that extreme.

    2. Temperance*

      I’m an attorney, and it happens whenever I meet someone, actually.

      I see this as a wholly different issue than women preferring female doctors over male, because there can be very sensitive issues and well, nudity involved.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I see this as a wholly different issue than women preferring female doctors over male, because there can be very sensitive issues and well, nudity involved.

        Not to mention historical issues of sexism in the medical industry…

      2. Brooke*

        I’m a woman that prefers female doctors. I consider myself very open-minded but during exams where I’m already a little uncomfortable/awkward/nervous I find myself relating to my doctor who shares her own experiences with procedures/medications/etc that are female-specific. I wouldn’t refuse to see a male doctor but as the saying goes, I’d probably not be enthused to go to a mechanic that’s never owned a car.

        1. Julia*

          I’ve been utterly dismissed by female doctors and taken serious by male doctors. Just because your doctor has a uterus does not mean she won’t tell you that you’re exaggerating your extreme menstrual pain, unfortunately.

    3. Kelly L.*

      I think if a doctor wants to not touch women, he should go into a specialty where he won’t have to. A patient, as a customer, can go to whoever she wants, and her reasons are her own.

      1. Anonagain*

        In my area the catholic church runs most of the health care facilities, and the few non-religiously affiliated doctors generally aren’t seeing new patients. So I have to run a gauntlet (or lie) to get timely, thorough healthcare from providers that otherwise shy away from treating gay people or religious minorities.

        1. Chinook*

          Wait, a Catholic organization refuses to treat gays and religious minorities? Then they are doing it wrong and I have a couple of Pontifical documents I would love to use to knock some sense into their heads with and a picture of St Teresa of Kalcuta that they need to hang in their hospital lobby to remind them of the lesson.

          With the exception of anything resulting in the direct ending of life (like abortion or euthanasia), they shouldn’t be holding back medically necessary treatment from anyone.

          I will step off my soap box now.

    4. Meg Murry*

      Handshaking is a thing in my industry whenever I am interacting with customers or vendors, or at a conference. Basically, you shake hands any time someone is a visitor to your workplace or you are a visitor to their workplace as part of the greeting ritual (and often the parting/goodbye ritual as well). The only exception I can think of to this is when someone is a very frequent visitor – for instance, someone who works out of office A but is at office B multiple times a week. As a general rule of thumb, I’d say anyone that needs to be buzzed in by the receptionist or anywhere I go that I need to be let in or sign in as a visitor, I expect to have a handshake. A person that has a key to get in generally does not get a handshake after the initial meeting, because that implies they are a colleague, not a visitor and aren’t treated as formally.

      I work in research and development for a consumer product. Historically in my industry, the R&D departments tended to be heavily male dominated, but it has shifted to the point where I would estimate 75% of my co-workers in their 50s are male (and probably 85-90% of the top management was male), but it is almost 50:50 once you get to people that have been in the workforce 10 years or less (so basically the under 35 crowd). However, manufacturing and engineering tends to still be very male dominated, as does outside sales. Not sure whether it is because of the seniority level or sales in general, but I’d estimate 85%+ of the vendor reps that visit my company are male. In my entire career it is not uncommon for me to be the only woman in the room.

      If I didn’t go to conferences or interact with vendors or customers, handshaking probably wouldn’t come up – but in my field those interactions are pretty much required for all but the highest or lowest level positions. However, a polite “nice to meet you, sorry, no, I don’t shake hands” would be perfectly reasonable and no one I’ve known would be offended as long as you were consistent across the board – the only exceptions I can come up with are people that are jerks that would have treated you badly for being a woman (and/or for being a minority if you visually present as such, and/or because that how they treat everyone who is below them in the hierarchy or who has less education or years or experience as them), so the handshaking wouldn’t be the issue, they probably would be jerks to you just because they are jerks.

    5. Honeybee*

      I’m a woman, I work in tech, I shake people’s hands all the time.

      -I work at a gigantic multinational company, so I am always meeting new coworkers for the first time. We shake hands.
      -My job involves working with clients, so I shake hands with them frequently.
      -When we bring business partners from external companies in to meet with them I shake hands with them.
      – I represent my company at recruiting events and conventions, so I shake hands with people then.
      -I give tours and educational presentations to outside nonprofit groups relatively frequently so I often shake hands with the coordinator.

      I don’t care if people don’t want to shake hands in general, because I get that there are legitimate reasons for that. I absolutely would care if someone didn’t want to shake my hand because I’m a woman, just like I would care if they didn’t want to shake it because I’m black and queer. It all feels icky and discriminatory to me. The effect is enhanced because I work in a male-dominated field, so I could easily imagine a situation in which a person would be able to shake everyone else in the room’s hand and not mine – because I am very frequently the only woman in the room.

    6. Gadfly*

      I worked with sales. Although my department was support, and I never met a client, the salespeople didn’t turn off the handshaking at the office door. We used to joke that the health department would shut us down if they ever thought about it– germs from all over most of a state being brought in and then everyone shaking hands and patting backs.

  37. CanadianKat*

    Whether or not somebody shakes hands with anybody should remain their choice. However, the person not shaking hands with the opposite sex may have to take additional steps to make sure that they are received well.

    I had an Orthodox Rabbi client once. When, at the initial meeting, he shook my male bossR