update: my boss wants to bring me back into the religious fold

Remember the letter-writer whose boss was trying to bring her back into the religion he shared with her family? The first update was here, and here’s the latest:

So, right before my letter was published I had one extremely uncomfortable interaction at an off-site office event with (former) Big Boss which crossed entirely new lines. I don’t feel comfortable giving details for a few reasons, but it really skeeved me out. I did mention it to a couple people at the event after, like, that was weird, but was sort of so weirded out that I went into shutdown mode, as I’ve been trained from my earliest years to do when someone acts skeevily toward me. When my letter was published, I was out for a week to take care of school things, and then when I came back, (f)BB once again invited me to come to his home for Christmas after asking me my plans. Of course I said no, again, absolutely not, while he kept insisting/pushing. I realized in that moment that my time of handling it on my own/hoping it went away was past.

I thought about talking to one of the people I report to and trust before going to HR, but realized that this person would need to advise me to go to HR with it, so decided I might as well start there. Luckily, I also trust my HR person, and know from past experience they’ve got my back generally (rather than being some weird punisher person), so I took the deep breath, asked if they had a moment, and closed the door. I said that I had something very uncomfortable I needed to discuss with them, and that it involved (f)BB. They were surprised, but very supportive. I kept it to facts: that he had found out who my dad was and had said they were going to try to bring me back into the fold, the comment about my dad in heaven sending me to that job for that reason, etc., and that (f)BB had invited me to his house several times for Sunday dinner and religious holidays. I told HR that I thought I had made clear that I wasn’t interested/didn’t want to discuss, as the questions/comments had stopped for a while, but that with the recent invitation, I really wanted all of this to stop for good. I then told her about the incident at the party, and when asked whether I thought he was sexually harassing me, I said I didn’t want to guess at what he was thinking, but that on its face it made me really uncomfortable, and (sorry I can’t give more details here) my HR person agreed with that. They assured me that this would be handled, and that I didn’t need to worry about it another day, saying only that they wished I’d brought it to them sooner. Well, I did worry, and when I went back to HR with that the next day, they again said, this is just a correction, it’s not a big deal, and it will be handled and stopped.

Because it was the holidays, it took a little longer than usual to go through all the channels (because the office was actually closed and so I wasn’t there and people are on vacation, etc.). I received a call from the heads of HR in our main office in another state asking me to say to them what I had said to my local person. They also assured me that these kind of conversations shouldn’t be happening, and that they would take the necessary steps. When discussing the event at the party, I again said that I didn’t want to guess at his mindset, but for x and y reason it made me very uncomfortable. After the conversation, they let me know they’d follow up after they’d taken action, to let me know what had been done and so on. In the follow-up call, they told me that they’d spoken to him, that he was (of course) shocked that I had been made uncomfortable, as he had “no idea.” They told me that he was instructed never to discuss religion, or this issue, with me ever again, not even to apologize. They did pass on his apology to me at his request, to which I wanted to say “keep it” but didn’t. After the call, my local HR called me in and we recapped what had been done/said, and we both agreed that (f)BB would be incredibly stupid to say anything to me about any of this or religion etc.

And, he has pretty much left me alone. The first few days after the holidays, when everyone was back, were uncomfortable for me, but eventually I got used to just minding my business and not putting any energy into whether he was walking by, or saying hello, or whatever. Right after this happened, he did try to hold an elevator for me, which I declined. Now all of our offices are entirely WFH with COVID-19, so of course I don’t see him, nor do I really have any interaction with him. My new assignments are great, and I’m grateful to say that my work handled this in such a way that I feel more than comfortable working there. In fact, it was a huge relief, of the most emotional-burden-lifting kind, to discover that I didn’t have to just suck it up/ignore it/scurry away, but that people HAD MY BACK, even if it’s because it’s federally mandated. Makes up for a lot of times when that hasn’t happened, in a way that is much more significant than I could have imagined.

One thing I know: if I worked in the kind of environment that protected power players like (f)BB at the expense of peons like me, I would have just found another job. Which would have sucked, because this is the best job I’ve had maybe ever. Of course, a big part of the reason it’s such a great job for me is exactly because I know they are committed to a positive workforce, and don’t tolerate this kind of thing.

Oh! And I don’t think anyone from my office has ever seen any of these letters! Just one of those crazy isn’t-life-funny things, where you write a letter and things change (and then change back again) and while it’s an odd coincidence, sometimes that’s all it is…

THANK YOU again for the support and kindness and great advice here. It really helped me find the guts to stick up for myself, and to let others stick up for me too. Sending every one of your readers, commenters, and YOU, Alison! Not only did it solve my immediate problem, but helped me with the things that kept me from speaking up in the first place. Priceless advice indeed. Thank you.

{ 50 comments… read them below }

  1. Sara without an H*

    Congratulations, OP! It’s always great to hear about HR people who actually do their jobs well.

    1. Not So Negative Nellie*

      It’s nice to know that sometimes things work out the way they should. Thanks for the update.

    2. Feeling Cynical*

      It’s good to hear about HR people you can trust. I learned the hard way that they are not usually on an employee’s side. They’re there for the good of the organization.

  2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    OP, you have a great HR department. Not every one would have supported you the way they did. That’s how you empower employees to do the right thing…and it’s great you took action.

    1. sacados*

      It is amazing, and I also love this part:
      “I then told her about the incident at the party, and when asked whether I thought he was sexually harassing me, I said I didn’t want to guess at what he was thinking, but that on its face it made me really uncomfortable”

      It’s so good that OP was able to state that, and that HR didn’t push back on it. Because that’s exactly the point. It doesn’t MATTER whether someone is “intending” to sexualize a situation, or “flirting” or if it’s “just a comment” — none of that matters. There’s too many horror stories about employers saying “Oh, I’m sure they didn’t mean it that way, I’m sure they didn’t intend …”
      Because the fact that it makes you uncomfortable is the only justification that should be needed to ask for it to stop. And too often that’s not recognized.

  3. Hills to Die on*

    This is so great! I love your HR department and I am so glad you have a good work environment!

  4. I like stripes*

    Alison’s posts helped me learn how to advocate for myself and others at work too. So happy for you OP! And many thanks to Alison!

  5. Zombeyonce*

    I’ll preface this by saying that COVID-19 is horrific and I wish it had never happened. That being said, I’m glad that the slow work of making telework more acceptable and allowed across so many industries was pushed forward so quickly so people like OP were able to get out of uncomfortable situations at work. I wonder how many people that would have written to Alison now don’t need to because teleworking have taken them out of their toxic environment and away from bad coworkers and bosses that are much more manageable remotely?

    1. Ann Nonymous*

      I love that cartoon where the guy is in his pajamas, working from home on his laptop, and he says, “You mean all those meetings could have been emails??”

    2. Rebecca*

      Now that our area is going green, and even though teleworking is still strongly encouraged, we’re being forced back to the office. Why? It has to be a control issue and the micromanagement can’t exist when people aren’t sitting at their desks. I’m dreading going back, all the restrictions, hand washing, wipes, hand sanitizer, etc. I’m 100% effective from my desk at home, but nope – let’s get that commuting going back and forth during summer construction and sitting in an office by myself anyway…at least I had a 10 week reprieve from that stressful environment. Sighs.

      1. pbnj*

        Same. Ours is justifying it as “it’s more efficient.” Efficient how? I have no idea.

        1. Watry*

          I am WAY more efficient at home, if only because I’m not being interrupted by the phone all the time.

        2. Quill*

          I have to do mail, so that’s an actual requirement, but… I was supposed to hear this week if we were starting our new plan, and so far, no dice.

      2. SusanIvanova*

        Ours is “if your team has been effective working from home, keep doing so.” And before all this we had a reputation for being resistant to WFH!

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I have a coworker who was dealing with some pretty serious health issues and missing a lot of work on FMLA. She’d requested multiple times to be able to work from home and kept being told it just wasn’t possible in her position (my company is pretty good about WFH usually so I am not sure what the hang up was there).

      Anyway, she has now been working from home for about three months. So I totally agree with you.

    4. CM*

      I’ve already seen multiple updates here saying “… but thank goodness, this situation has resolved itself for now because I don’t have to see Fergus every day.”

  6. cmcinnyc*

    Yay! Especially love that (f)BB was directed not to bring it up “even to apologize.” Apologies can just be another route for harrassers (and for proselytizers? how could he resist throwing in some stuff about god and forgiveness?). So glad your HR handled this so well.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Agreed. Religions tend to have a forgiveness complement to the faith so I can totally see this guy finding a backdoor way to revisit his original request.

      An apology from this guy would open wounds, no doubt. It wouldn’t be restorative because I bet deep down he doesn’t think he did anything wrong.

    2. BadWolf*

      Yes — I’m glad they included that too!

      And I’m glad that OP got this WFH break (in a roundabout way). I had a proto-stalker coworker at work and fortunately, my manager was able to get him to stop. But it was still in my headspace for a long time.

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      “But how can I apologise if I can’t bring it up?”

      “I can pass that on for you, if you want.”

      Exemplary. Close that door.

  7. DapperDev*

    When I reported sexual harassment at an internship, I was told by management it was a product of ‘cultural differences’. Then my internship manager gave me exclusively negative feedback for the rest of the internship, found ways to discredit my competence and wrote negative references afterwards. It was genuinely traumatic and for many years, and it had a direct affect on how I handled workplace harassment of any kind.

    Which is why I’m so happy for you – HR really stepped up and had your back. More managers should take a page from your employer’s book.

    1. OP*

      I am really, really sorry this happened to you, of course it must have had a lasting negative impact on a deep level. MESSED UP. I hope you are ok and I really agree that I am super lucky. I wanted to share the update in part to show how things are maybe supposed to work, rather than how they often do. You have my support and I hope you know you are awesome.

      1. DapperDev*

        Thank you so much, I’m glad you provided this update. It’s like a silver lining. Some work places do get things right.

    2. It's mce w*

      Same here, DapperDev. Mine was more about the damaging of my reputation at an old job. Management was unable to keep my complaints against a coworker in confidence. Her friends would find out and tell her and then she would confront me. It is still taking me time to feel I can confidently approach management if I have a problem at work.

      1. DapperDev*

        I’m so sorry that happened to you. I’ll never understand how people can be so hostile.

        1. It's mce w*

          Thank you. I’m sorry to read about your experience. There are better places out there that appreciate talent and respect interns and co-workers.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    OP> I want to be absolutely clear on a few things:

    You did nothing wrong, and you have nothing to be ashamed of. Even if your parent wasn’t abusive, proselytizing in the workplace is not okay, especially from a superior.

    The fact this guy wasn’t aware of the power imbalance and ignored your initial rejection screams volumes on how much self-awareness he lacks. His “shock” and cluelessness prove that he wasn’t listening to you, incorporating your response into the conversation, or paying attention to how you were responding to him. That’s quite frightening, and I wouldn’t want him for a boss.

    This guy clearly doesn’t understand that pushing an issue might be “okay” at church (except not really) but most definitely isn’t okay in the workplace. No is a complete sentence. (I worry this guy doesn’t hear the word “no” a lot in his life, especially not from a woman.)

    I’m happy for you, and I hope you literally hold your head high (chin parallel to the ground!) every time you see him. You did great!

    1. Fikly*

      Just because the guy says he wasn’t aware and didn’t understand, doesn’t mean that’s the case. It’s highly likely he was well aware, and even enjoying it and using it to get what he wanted. That’s what those kind of people do.

      Mad props to OP.

      Also, OP, those people had your back, and not just because it was federally mandated. There are so many times when it was federally mandated but it didn’t happen. They had your back.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Just because the guy says he wasn’t aware and didn’t understand, doesn’t mean that’s the case.

        That’s what I thought too. He couldn’t very well say to HR, “ah, yeah, I thought I’d sexually harass OP a bit, I thought it wasn’t a big deal and OP might even like it”. Of course he lied and said he hadn’t been aware.

        1. Observer*

          Exactly what I was thinking.

          He was probably also shocked that the sun rose that morning.

      2. Paulina*

        Yes, how could he have no idea that “bringing her back into the fold” that she had left of her own volition could possibly be unwelcome? FFS, it’s embedded into what he was trying to do that she wasn’t interested!

  9. virago*

    I’m impressed that you had the courage to speak your truth, and I’m thrilled that your HR did what all HRs *should* do but too often don’t.

    1. CM*

      Agreed, even if you think HR and others in your company will do the right thing, it still takes a LOT of courage to speak up. It’s far more common to hear the other kind of story where the victim of harassment is punished.

  10. Elizabeth West*

    I’m so glad your company has a good HR and they took this seriously. Good for them. I’m glad for you, OP!

  11. ASDFGHJ*

    Awesome! I’m a bit confused though since the previous update made it sound like former big boss had left the company, but this one makes it sound like he hasn’t…

    1. OP*

      Oh! I left that out. His government appointment seems to be on hold….for now. Sorry for the confusion!

  12. Elenna*

    Glad things worked out for you, and it’s great that your HR department was good!

    “he was (of course) shocked that I had been made uncomfortable, as he had “no idea.” ” yep. sure. he would have acted the exact same way if you’d been his boss rather than the other way around. he would have acted the exact same way if you were a guy. suuuuuure.

    1. Elenna*

      there was supposed to be a sarcasm text at the end of that, in case it wasn’t clear :P
      I guess it got eaten because it looked like HTML

  13. RB*

    So what happened with his big government position? Is he still waiting for that to happen? And then he will be gone for good?

  14. Bookworm*

    I’m so glad that this went over so much better, OP. I was getting to the point of reading this post through my fingers but I’m so glad HR backed you up. A lot of places won’t, so I’m glad this wasn’t the case here. Thanks for the update.

  15. Jennifer Juniper*

    Thank goodness, OP! I’m glad your fBB didn’t try to drag you to Gold Base and put you in the Hole. What he did was awful enough.

  16. Quill*

    Congratulations, OP! TBH, I was worried, since sometimes if an organization is culturally steeped in the norms of a certain religion, they can have trouble understanding how any aspect of that religion could be work-inappropriate or make people uncomfortable.

  17. beanie gee*

    So glad to hear about an HR department that actually handles things the way they are supposed to be handled! Best wishes to you OP!

    1. Autistic AF*

      I believe it was mentioned in the beginning of the update.

      “So, right before my letter was published I had one extremely uncomfortable interaction at an off-site office event with (former) Big Boss which crossed entirely new lines. I don’t feel comfortable giving details for a few reasons, but it really skeeved me out. “

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