an aggressively atheist coworker, racy music on a work computer, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My atheist coworker hassles me about my religion

I’m a recent hire in a new job. I’m also a practicing Catholic. I consider my faith private, but not really some deep dark secret or anything. I did tell my supervisor because I may request leave for holidays and the like. My coworkers are a very small, very tight group, especially since COVID started. I can tell they’ve all really relied on each other for emotional support during the pandemic. Everyone talks very freely about their personal lives, their children, their out-of-work activities, etc. They often get together outside of work for movies and what not.

One coworker is … well, aggressively atheist. Which is fine, I have a lot of atheist friends, and we all just respect each other’s preferences. During conversations, whenever someone asks me what I’m doing on a weekend or what my evening plans, if I respond honestly with just “oh the usual, mass and brunch,” she launches into long diatribes on the evils of religion. She’s teased me about taking time off for the Christmas holiday.

A lot of this, I’ve just ignored because I don’t consider people’s personal faiths or lack thereof any of my business. My religion does dominate a lot of my personal time, so it does become awkward when my coworkers in our daily virtual meetings ask what my out-of-work plans are. She’s also become more and more aggressive to me about it lately. It has started happening unprompted with her trying to argue scripture with me, even though I’ve told her flat out that I have no interest in converting her and I assume, being a grown woman, she’s thought through all these things as much as I have; we’ve just taken different paths and her path isn’t my business. I try to disengage and she just keeps bringing it up. I don’t want to discuss these things, and it’s to a point that I don’t feel welcome in my new job. No one else is religious. I’d like for her to just leave me alone and let me live my life.

It’s true that other people’s faith or lack thereof isn’t your business, but that’s not the issue here — your coworker is harassing you and that’s very much your business. She’s being rude and obnoxious, and she’s also opening your company to legal liability because it’s illegal for them to allow an employee to be harassed on the basis of religion. (This might be more intuitive if you imagine someone harassing her for not being religious. Clearly illegal, right? Same thing here.)

The next time she launches in, say this: “I’m not sure if I haven’t been clear enough in the past, but I’m not interested in discussing religion at work, ever. Please don’t keep bringing it up with me.” If it continues after that, which sounds likely, at that point you’ll need to loop in either your boss or HR. Explain you don’t want to discuss religion at work (i.e., you’re not the one bringing it up), you’ve asked her to stop and she’s continued, and you need their help because “I know the company doesn’t want people harassed about their religious beliefs.” You’ll be doing them a favor by raising it — they really do have a legal obligation to act, and it’s possible she’s making other people uncomfortable too.

If you’re worried that you’re the one bringing it up by mentioning your plan to go to mass, etc. — that’s no more you inviting a religious debate than someone mentioning their same-sex spouse is inviting a debate on gay marriage. You’re just living your life, which means referring to it sometimes at work. She’s the one causing the problem, not you.

2. NSFW music on work computer

I almost constantly listen to music over my earphones. I have my own office, and the music is also soft enough that other people won’t hear it. I’ll usually open YouTube, click on one of the recommended playlists (they know my music taste scarily well), and the music will autoplay in the background while I’m working.

Occasionally though, I will realize that the music playing isn’t 100% safe for work (e.g., I’m currently listening to “Sweet” by Cigarettes after Sex, and before that was “Stoned” by Post Malone).

Since it is a work laptop, they can monitor what I am doing. As far as I am aware they haven’t done it yet, but it is possible. The YouTube screen is also usually minimized, so people usually can’t see what I am listening to. Is it a risk that I should rather avoid?

Nah, you’re fine. You’re not watching porn, you’re listening to music on headphones. It sounds like you’re worried that if anyone looked at what you’re doing, they’d see song or band names with sex or drug references in them but … it’s music. No one is likely to care. And if they did care enough to take a closer look for some reason, they’d quickly see there’s nothing alarming going on. Carry on!

3. Will my employee be blindsided by this improvement plan?

I supervise a team of two, X and Y. Over the past year I have been coaching X on various performance issues and it has gotten to the point that we need a formal performance improvement plan. I don’t think this should be a surprise to X but I’m getting the impression that he does not really understand how serious it is.

We have very different communication styles. I prefer to be direct and detailed. X tends to use generalizations and can take an entire minute to think and gather his thoughts before answering a question. I’ve been working with my manager on softening my approach and being sure to ask clarifying questions to make sure we are on the same page but things still get lost in translation sometimes.

I have a great manager who is working with me on the PIP and helping to coach X. She is incredibly encouraging and took the lead on the conversation with X to let him know we were going to make a plan. The thing is, I’m worried that he only heard that we want to work with him to get him whatever tools he needs to be more organized and additional training. I have not noticed any improvement or efforts to find solutions from X, and I don’t want him to feel blindsided and shut down when we deliver the actual plan and deadlines.

Are these conversations usually positive? I was expecting to go back over where his performance is falling short and ask what would help him so we can set up an achievable plan. Should I check in with him or my manager or just wait?

It’s good to be positive and supportive when you’re coaching an employee, but there’s also a point where you need to be clear that the issues are serious ones and could jeopardize the person’s job. At a minimum, the PIP itself should do that; both the written plan and the conversation surrounding it should include language like “if we don’t see these changes by (date), we would need to let you go.” But you also don’t want that to be the first time the person realizes things are serious, so ideally your recent conversations with him would have been increasingly serious in tone as well. You can be supportive and kind while still using language like, “I want to be clear that these issues are serious ones and to succeed in this role, I’d need you to show significant improvement in the next few weeks.”

If you and your boss have been emphasizing the “let’s find you whatever tools you need” side of things without also being explicit about the “these are serious issues” side, I think you’re right to worry about blindsiding X. Since your boss is coaching you through this, share that concern with her and suggest it might help to have one more conversation pre-PIP where you’re explicit about the seriousness of the issues. (That said, it’s also true that some people really don’t read the writing on the wall about this stuff and will feel blindsided no matter how explicit you are. I’ve said things like “if I don’t see XYZ by April 20, at that point I would need to let you go” and still had the person shocked when they got fired on April 20.)

4. Contacting an acquaintance who works at the company you just applied to

I know that cold-contacting people at a company you just applied to work at is a big no-no. But what about if you’re already acquainted with someone who works there? I got coffee with someone who currently works at the company I just applied for a job with. We went to the same school, and we have a few mutual friends, so there are a couple little connections. I do not know her beyond the little “informational interview”-type coffee we recently got.

I applied for an internship at her company, but I don’t know if she is involved with the hiring process at all. It isn’t a huge company though. Would it be okay to shoot her an email letting her know that I applied? How should I phrase it to make sure it comes across that I am merely letting her know (in case she has any influence) without expecting her to pull any strings?

It’s different when you know someone at the company. You should definitely let her know you applied — in fact, given that you just recently had coffee with her to talk about the field, it would be odd if you didn’t! Say something like this: “Thank you again for getting coffee with me last month — it was so helpful to talk to you and hear your perspective on X and Y. (Or something to refer back to the conversation — the more specific, the better.) I just applied for an internship with (company) that sounds right in my line with my interest in X and wanted to let you know!” Some people will add something like, “If you think it could be right match, I’d be grateful if you could put in a good word” too (which doesn’t sound like you’re expecting her to get you the job).

5. How to resign when I’m working remotely

I’ve been working remotely, 500 miles away from my office, for the past two years. I normally visit the office twice a year but haven’t been able to do so this year due to the pandemic. I recently received a job offer and I’m ready to give in my two weeks notice but was wondering if I should resign in person or by phone. There’s already a possibility that I may need to drive the 500 miles to turn in my company-owned equipment. What’s the best way to handle this?

Do it over the phone. It’s very normal for people who work remotely to resign by phone; you don’t need to travel to do it in-person (ever, but especially during a pandemic). Normally you’d ship back the equipment at their expense too.

{ 433 comments… read them below }

  1. SC Mill*

    #4 By all means, let her know. They may have a bounty program that will reward the employee for bringing in someone they hire.

  2. Boldy Going*

    LW1 – Lawyer up. I suspect your coworker would have no qualms about doing the same if they felt that you were proselytizing them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The first thing a lawyer is going to do is to ask whether she’s told the person to stop and whether she’s reported it to her company. Lawyering up is excessive when it’s highly likely that her company is going to put a stop to this once they know about it. If they don’t, then yes, lawyer time — but she’s not there yet.

    2. Gaia*

      That’s an extreme step at this point. OP should clearly tell co-worker to stop (if she hasn’t already) and if it continues go to her boss and/or HR. If they don’t act, then lawyers get involved. But she needs to give the company a chance to stop it before she runs to a lawyer.

    3. Traffic_Spiral*

      Nah. Lawyers need more than Mean Girl nonsense to make a case. LW just needs to practice saying “I’m sorry, did I ask for a lecture on this? Pretty sure I didn’t ask.”

          1. EBStarr*

            Thanks. :-) My point, perhaps too subtly hinted at, was that writing this behavior off as “Mean Girl nonsense” is probably inappropriate since it pretty clearly is somewhere on the spectrum of harassment. It’s unclear to me why the person’s gender needed to be brought into it, as it seems to imply that because they’re women, their interpersonal problems are juvenile or unimportant — but I was giving the commenter a chance to clarify.

        1. MK*

          Sorry, that came off as sarcastic. What I meant to say is that whether X behaviour falls into the legal definition of harassment, as opposed to a person being a jerk, depends on many factors and is not always a clear distinction to make.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          From a practical legal standpoint, as it pertains to this situation? A recorded pattern of boundary-violation on the topic and at least some attempt to resolve through HR. OP needs to have some clear documentation of telling her she doesn’t want to discuss religion, and something like a few emails to HR going “please make her stop ranting about how much she hates religion and trying to engage me in religious arguments.”

          No decent lawyer would take the case without it.

      1. MicroManagered*

        When it comes to giving advice to strangers on the internet, people tend to jump straight to “break up” for any and all romantic relationship troubles and “lawyer up” for literally anything else.

          1. Valkyrie Ice Queen*

            not when there’s a divorce involved! then you get break-ups and lawyering up!

            – signed, a person who’s spent too much on lawyers just to break up with someone.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Understood, but it’s not necessary yet. One of the first questions anyone will ask is, ‘Did you tell Elvis to stop what he was doing?’

          It IS necessary to set boundaries at work, and the individual gets to set them. If the offender continues to violate those boundaries and the employer does nothing meaningful to stop the offender, then it may be necessary to lawyer up. But not yet.

        2. anon73*

          Well here it’s not necessary yet. It sounds as if OP hasn’t told their co-worker to stop. They need to start there, and escalate WITHIN THE COMPANY if it’s still happening.

    4. Anonymous Poster*

      That seems like an overreaction. The employer has an obligation to not let that sort of harassment continue, and most won’t let it happen.
      The letter writer should talk to HR and their boss. The offender won’t listen to the letter writer, and so they’ve done what they can directly, and so needs to escalate.
      If the employer refuses to do anything, then yes I suppose it would be time to consider legal help – but again, most employers will not let that sort of thing continue.

    5. The Other Dawn*

      I’ll never understand why someone’s first inclination is to “lawyer up” rather than, you know, just talking to the person (or HR or the boss) first. Though I’ve noticed the people I know, either at work or in my personal life, that say something like this tend to overreact about other things, as well.

    6. LadyByTheLake*

      It isn’t lawyer time yet — the company has to be told and given an opportunity to fix it first.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        It may, however, be time to document vigilantly in case a lawyer eventually becomes necessary.

                1. AKchic*

                  I like the idea of telling people that Jurisprudence shat the bed, or puked in my shoe. Especially if it’s a grumpy looking hairless or adorable calico. Maybe even “Jurisprudence got into the garbage for a banana peel and left it in the closet and I didn’t notice for a week!”

        1. MassMatt*

          I was going to say this. Tell her to stop, and keep track of what she is saying to you, as accurately as possible, with dates. If you go to HR or your boss, make note of those interactions also. If coworker continues, and your company does nothing, you now have a track record of what’s happened, and if you DO wind up talking to a lawyer (or taking it to some sort of labor board, depending on where you are) this will be really useful to proving your case.

        2. Tidewater 4-1009*

          The rule to live by for documentation: Better to have and not need, than need and not have!
          Documentation doesn’t hurt anyone. I’ve documented several times and so far never used it. It sure felt good to do it and have it, though!

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      LW1 should be crystal clear that this behavior is unwelcome, documenting each interaction and her response along with any emails/voicemails from Coworker that demonstrate harassment, and talking to the boss and to HR. Lawyering up only needs to happen if the boss and HR don’t handle the situation, and it should take the form only of counseling LW1 on her rights and options.

      I worked in the legal industry for most of my career, and I roll my eyes whenever “sue them!” is suggested as a resolution to a problem. Suing people should be a last resort. If you get beyond the consultation and sending an aggressive letter on firm stationary step, it is time-consuming and expensive. I am a big proponent of knowing your rights and consulting a professional, but I rarely see things resolved quickly and as hoped if it goes past the letter stage. Lawsuits are expensive, eat your life, and take forever.

      1. Tidewater 4-1009*

        In 2004 I was fired from a job where I had done well, by a new, chauvinist manager who thought he knew everything.
        I filed an EEOC complaint and thought about suing. I decided not to because I felt it would take me down a negative and unpleasant road and prevent moving forward. I got a job as sales consultant for a medical company, and that job impressed future employers and led me into a good job I had for 9 years.
        Maybe I should have sued – I might have gotten some sort of settlement and even better, legal record of this company’s chauvinism. But I probably wouldn’t have gotten the medical job and maybe not the subsequent ones. You can’t know for sure. Just make the best decision at the time.

    8. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      Nah, I would say “document up” before you “lawyer up.” The lawyer will likely ask “when did this occur (dates and times), who witnessed it, what was said/how did you respond?”

      I would think though it would be better to start with asking a teammate in the discussion to call the other person out “Wow Alicia, that’s a really aggressive response to the fact that Charlotte is going to church on Sunday and then going to brunch. And then going to HR. But I’m betting OP is not the only one who has issues with ‘Alicia’ it sounds like she would be one of those people who attacks anyone who doesn’t think like her, and OP is just the new person. That’s why I recommend reaching out to a teammate in the office who OP feels comfortable with to assist with shutting the other person down, or at least to get an understanding that the other person is the office jerk.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        I am replying on this one, because this seems to be the thread and I agree the first step is to tell her to stop. Don’t ask her to stop. Don’t explain to her why she should stop. Don’t debate whether she should stop.
        Tell her that you will not discuss religion.
        “Well, you said you were going to church. I guess you can talk about religion and I can’t.”
        Going to church is not talking about religion. It’s just
        “Does anyone know a good brunch place?”

    9. jojo*

      Lawyer is excessive for first contact in the company. I would record a couple of these verbal assaults on the phone to take care of the he said, she said on this matter. Despite recording laws HR will listen to them for informational purposes. Or video record them. It is a public place with no expectations of privacy. Video recording a movie of it is legal. Present the video to HR. Relgious presecution is illegal.

  3. Diahann Carroll*

    Normally you’d ship back the equipment at their expense too.

    This. When I started my fully remote, out-of-state position a year and a half ago, my company sent me return labels for everything (laptop, monitor, conference phone, etc.). When you talk to your manager to give your notice, OP, ask if they plan to send you return labels to mail your stuff back in an “of course you would” sort of way – you should not have to drive 500 miles to give back equipment. That’s insane.

    1. Katrinka*

      I wouldn’t ask if, I’d ask when. If gives them the wiggle room to say, “no, you’ll need to send them back at your cost.” At the same time, I’d ask them to let you know who to email about transitioning, open items, etc.

          1. BubbleTea*

            You could use the toddler-wrangling trick of offering them a choice, with neither option being no: “will you send pre-paid return labels and boxes or should I submit an expense report once I’ve bought them myself?” Works for getting shoes onto small children, should work for adults too!

              1. OP5*

                Thanks, everyone! I will definitely ask when I’ll be provided with labels or when IT will come to pick up my equipment. Company policy states that upon resignation, equipment needs to be turned in immediately but doesn’t specify the details. Policy makes it sound like it’s my responsibility. This company has always put employees last so not shocking. Hence why I’m leaving.

                1. Lady Meyneth*

                  I’d suggest “Since I’m so far from you, it’s of course not practical to deliver X in person. Do you have a timeline for when you’ll sed me a shipping label?”

                  And honestly, if it were me and they balked, I’d consider sending it through mail at my own expense, because after working places who “always put employees last” I’d personally just want to be done with them. I’m not saying that’s fair, or that you should let it go if you want to pursue it, but it’s a legitimate option to choose to put it behind you, and a 500 miles trip would probably be a lot more expensive anyway.

                2. Lady Meyneth*

                  Oh. I just saw below that you have a ton of stuff to send back. I take it back, do not foot this bill by yourself, it’ll be huge! O_O

                  Be sure to check all the documentation you may have signed about your responsibility in returning this stuff. Depending on that, it’s always possible to say you’re not able to take such a trip (it even sounds like too much for many small cars to take!) or front the expense of mailing it, but will be happy to cooperate with them on packing everything for them to take.

                3. OP5*

                  When I became a remote employee, I didn’t actually sign any paperwork. Luckily I have an SUV :) That’s how I brought everything down to my new home state the first time.

                  I don’t mind driving if I absolutely have to. Just hoping IT sends a courier to pick everything up instead.

                4. Mockingjay*

                  UPS and FedEX will pack for you. Request shipping via one of these – your company surely has an account with one. You go to the store, they pull up the company label, and you literally drop the stuff there. They do the rest.

                5. Des*

                  That’s a standard lingo, it doesn’t mean you have to pay out of your own pocket for the return. It’s on them if they want it back.

              2. Frustrated*

                I’d rather pay for the labels for shipping a laptop than the travel expenses for a 1000 mile round trip.

                1. Malarkey01*

                  This. Although it should be 100% employer cost, if the company gives you a hard time and implies you actually need to drive 500 miles I’d bite the bullet and say fine I’ll return at my cost but I’ll be shipping it. I am absolutely unavailable to travel 500 miles during a pandemic.

                2. OP5*

                  I wish I only had a laptop to return. I have 2 monitors, a phone, 50lb printer, scanner, and desktop tower. Fingers crossed I don’t have to take the trip but I will if they force me to.

                3. Frustrated*

                  @OP5 I’d still look into shipping it. And send them the bill. Shipping all that may only be a couple hundred dollars. But how much would gas, your time and a hotel plus meals cost?

                4. Diahann Carroll*

                  @OP5 Yeah, they need to pay for all of that to be shipped back to them, OP. It’s simply not practical to expect you to drive 500 miles to them to return the equipment (in the middle of a pandemic no less!) and then 500 miles back. I live 600 miles away from my company’s US headquarters, and I would have hysterically laughed if they told me I had to physically come up to give them their stuff back when I leave. Absolutely not, lol.

                5. OP5*

                  Thanks everyone for the advice! I’ll definitely put my foot down!

                  If we weren’t in a pandemic, I would have had no problem driving the equipment back so that I could see my coworkers one last time. I have family close to the office so I wouldn’t have had to pay for any expenses other than travel.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              I think the choice is between “office sends labels and box” or “office gives an account number and OP goes to the FedEx store and uses said account number so it’s billed directly to the office”.

            2. Antilles*

              I would also not even *mention* anything about driving it back in person. Don’t proactively suggest it, don’t mention that you have family in the area, nothing. Driving 500 miles in a pandemic to deliver equipment via UPS is such a complete non-starter that it shouldn’t even be on your mind as a potential solution and certainly not one you should offer up on your own.

    2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      To build on this, OP ask HOW they send the shipping labels and for which service?
      Ex: Will I be receiving shipping labels and packaging/mailing instructions via email or in a hard copy packet?

    3. Catwoman*

      Because we’re discussing this topic, does anyone have advice for what to do when your company refuses to tell you how to return equipment? I resigned in May and still have my laptop, dock and monitors. I brought up the question weeks before my end date (I gave a month’s notice.) and have only gotten passed from one person to another. No one will even give me an address to ship to and I live over 1000 from the home office.

        1. Danielle*

          WOW. Is there an office more local to you? You could turn in everything there and then send an email to whoever(s) and say “Because I hadn’t heard from you, I returned X, Y, and Z equipment to Sansa at the Winterfell office.”

        2. StuffForSale*

          I’d research the laws regarding abandoned property for your state. Generally speaking, property left with you becomes yours at some point, but there could be steps you have to take for that to happen. If one of those steps is sending a certified notice to the owner of the property that might spur your former employer into action. It’s pretty unfair of them to expect you to store equipment for them indefinitely.

          1. Antilles*

            Honestly, no matter what the exact abandoned property law is, I’d still make sure you document the heck out of this. If you’ve been doing this via email, that’s perfect, but if you also did a few phone calls, make sure you at least recorded some information about that too. And before I completely gave up, I’d try one last email fully documenting the history just so it’s blatantly clear that you attempted to do your best to return stuff.
            But then after that…well, *shrug*.

        3. Catwoman*

          Thanks for the replies! Unfortunately, there isn’t an office closer to me, it’s just the one forever away. I have been routing communication through email and text messages. I really like the suggestion of emailing one last time with a summary of the communication. Thanks!

      1. Temp Anon*

        This happened to me, I got laid off when working remotely and while they sent me a shipping label for most of the stuff (I still had the box from when they sent it to me) they didn’t for a 2nd monitor I had. I kept getting passed around and emails were bounced (because layoffs, I assume) and at some point I decided “I’m not going to care about this more than they do”. That 2nd monitor is still in my attic, 6 years later.

  4. Gaia*

    OP 5, I’ve worked remotely for years. Resign over the phone and as you discuss how you’ll wrap things up, ask how they’ll be getting you a shipping label to return equipment. This is a normal business expense for them that they should cover.

    1. Lynn*

      I have worked remotely for years as well and second this. When a remote worker quits/is laid off at my company, they provide shipping labels for everything to go back. It is a normal business expense. I would not, in your shoes, be willing to make an unpaid trip to return things, nor would I pay for the shipping. That is just as much a business cost as it was to get them to you in the first place.

      On our last round of upgrades, IT figured out that I still had a very old ink jet printer (from my days as a traveling worker) and they didn’t want to pay for me to send it back. So they were going to pay to get rid of it at the electronics recycler instead. I did find someone who actually would use it, so saved my company money that way. But if I hadn’t, it was definitely their responsibility to pay for either the return on the recycling on their equipment.

      1. Artemesia*

        THIS. This is their expense. I’d play chicken with them if they don’t immediately send labels. When are you getting it back? ‘Oh I am still waiting for shipping levels to get it to you; when can I expect those.’ Driving it back is dangers in these times and absurd to have to do.

    2. Des*

      Yes, OP5, you might have to sign for an empty box that they send you in order to put your equipment inside and ship it back to them :-)

  5. Gaia*

    OP 2 enjoy the music. It would be different if others could hear it. But it is in your headphones so no one will care!

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      And be ready for the one random person who is just asking to make small talk,
      “What are you listening to?
      “oh, a playlist from youtube.”
      “anything good?”
      “yes, I like [name song with not a title that will prolong conversation]”
      and then get to why the person is talking to you, because that is all that person really cares about anyway.

      1. Anonny*

        If you want an entertaining conversation, ‘screaming goat Christmas carols’ is always a good answer.

        (The goat version of O Holy Night is pretty fantastic, actually.)

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      I do have a cautionary tale, though.

      I was once the lone female who worked in a room full of 20+ older men that was hear-a-pin-drop silent.
      I accidentally caught my headphones on my chair and ripped them out just as “Come here girl, let me get you out them [undergarments]” blared. The stares, the mortification, it will be embedded in my brain for life.

      Before that moment, I kind of enjoyed listening to NSFW music as a tiny little rebellion against the overly buttoned up workplace full of men who thought women should wear hose and heels to work.

      1. Mel_05*

        This is my nightmare. It wouldn’t be a big deal in the office I’m in now, but I used to work for a fairly conservative place and some of the podcasts I listen to can get a bit…blue. I was super nervous about the headphones not being plugged in all the way or getting pulled out and someone just hearing a loud string of expletives!

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        I highly recommend Bluetooth headsets for this exact reason.


        Whoops, That Was Lily Allen’s F*** You I Just Dove Across The Table To Switch From (Much To My Boss’s Entertainment)

      3. Apt Nickname*

        I can’t wear headphones and I’m mostly in a room by myself so it’s usually not a problem, but oh I LUNGE across the room when Offspring or Rage Against The Machine comes on my MP3 player.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I was actually thinking about just this when reading the OP’s letter; it’s the kind of thing that would totally happen to me! Fortunately, I usually only listen to instrumental music when working because I can’t concentrate while someone is singing.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Meant to add, on my phone; Exjob would only let us stream on Pandora and I won’t pay for an ad-free stream when I have piles of soundtrack albums. I have a free online stream I listen to when it’s allowed.

      5. PeanutButter*

        One of my favorite podcasts is comedy podcast which covers all sorts of topics from Big Foot to government coverups, to serial killers. Needless to say it’s not something I would share with anyone unless I REALLY knew them and knew they shared my twisted, macabre sense of humor. I was listening to an episode about a particularly gruesome murder on my way to an 8:00 am math class which was held in a big, echoey lecture hall with about 200 students. I got to the lecture hall and made my sleepy way down the aisle, where I took out my earbuds as I sat down. I realized I could still very clearly hear the description of the murder scene, and the totally inappropriate jokes being made by the hosts…yup, my earbuds had been partially out of the jack the entire walk to class and all the students who had already arrived got to hear that. Ever since then I double and triple check that I can’t hear my podcasts…without my ear buds in, even now when I exclusively use wireless Bluetooth ones!

        Just one of those memories my brain likes to bring up late at night when I can’t sleep.

  6. Works with Military*

    I have to disagree on LW2 because she is listening to music through YouTube. NSFW music is usually accompanied by a NSFW video, which is the real issue. Your internet history doesn’t reveal that you had the window minimized, so you’ve no way to prove you weren’t watching NSFW content. Listen to music on a streaming service.

      1. MassMatt*

        No, it isn’t, it’s a streaming service, which you are running on the work machine, using their bandwidth. By streaming device, Works with Military means something like an iPod. This would also remove the possibility of the headphones pulling out of the jack and your computer speakers suddenly blaring “I Like big butts, I cannot lie…” or worse.

        My industry requires extensive monitoring of employee email and computer use, I realize most offices are not like this but in mine this would be noticed and someone would have a tough time explaining why they were watching Youtube at work. That they were just listening to music and not watching cat videos all day would not fly. This doesn’t even touch whether the music was inappropriate or not.

        1. comityoferrors*

          It is a streaming service which is exactly what gads said, above. Yes, some places are more strict about using devices for non-work uses, but that doesn’t change that fact? Works with Military said streaming service, not streaming device.

          Also, most streaming services recognize that a device has disconnected and will pause when that happens. And a lot of headphones connect via bluetooth! Many headphones can control the stream through the device, ie my headphones can pause, increase or decrease volume, skip the track or go back one track. There is no need to pull up the browser/software if you have headphones like that.

          Not saying you’re wrong, just, in cases where an OP has a situation where their office falls well outside of norms, they usually say so! Otherwise it’s fair to assume their office has normal boundaries around personal use like this.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, I don’t think that’s true as a general rule at all. Lots of bands have band names or song titles that you wouldn’t put in your email signature, but their videos aren’t at all NSFW. (With the two examples she gave, there are a bunch of versions on YouTube, and none of them seem to be racy in the least.)

      1. Works with Military*

        Neither of those songs have, at least that I can find, official music videos. Perhaps my age is showing, but I’m used to the hip hop, rap, and punk music videos of my youth (90s and early 00s). It is a relatively recent song, but take “I’m the One” by DJ Khaled. Lyrics are ok-ish, video is decidedly not okay.

          1. Lora*

            Oh god. I used to have a job that required me to drive past and sign in / show badge at a staffed-by-a-human guard shack at the facility perimeter. I am an idiot, so one day I was listening to Joe’s Garage…and singing along, as I pulled up to the guard shack, not thinking.

            A couple of years after that, I was listening to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Murder Ballads. Yes, it was on Stagger Lee just as I was driving up. I was a little quicker with the volume button.

      2. Works with works with*

        I don’t know, I came to the comment to make the same point as Works with Military above – not just music videos, but even the still shots of the album covers can be NSFW. Maybe not in the genre of music LW2 is listening to, but you don’t want youtube to auto-play to some Death Grips with the album covers showing. Then you un-minimize the browser in order to pause the music when someone comes by your desk, and suddenly you have some very NSFW images up on your screen. You can explain that you’re just listening to music, but you’ve already flashed a dick pic at the poor administrative assistant.

        1. TomorrowTheWorld*

          If someone is listening on headphones, then they don’t need to pause the music. They can take off the headphones.

          1. Lexie*

            Even with headphones I typically pause so I can continue listening to the song once the person has left.

        2. TardyTardis*

          This is not a new problem (I still have the Sticky Fingers album and yes, the zipper still works).

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      I dunno, most of the music I listen to on YouTube is accompanied either by the lyrics scrolling by, or a still picture of the singer/artist’s face.

      1. NaN*

        Or a still picture of the album cover. Which is where you can easily get into NSFW images, depending on the genre of music.

    3. Green great dragon*

      But in a reasonably functional office, LW could just explain she had the windows minimised so neither she nor anyone else could see the videos. And I presume she’ll have a history of people coming into her office and not seeing anything inappropriate.

      1. Observer*


        And their work output would indicate that they were actually spending time working rather than watching videos, in general.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Why not just listen to it on her phone? It might still be via wifi on the company, but still seems a little better approach to me. No risk of an inappropriate video being screen-shared or seen, or that obnoxious thing where your computer suddenly chooses its own settings and plays sound through the laptop speakers for no reason. (Maybe she doesn’t have a phone, or only has a company phone, but you can get a tablet or some device that can stream pretty cheaply.)

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        She may not be allowed to have her phone out at work or her office may not have good reception for her provider’s network (I had an office once where it took 10 minutes for gif comments in texts to send).

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Metal buildings and cell phones don’t play nice together, in my experience. And once you’re on the company’s WiFi, you may as well be on the computer itself–unless there’s a specifically set up guest network that’s outside the company’s services and firewall.

          Even then, OP’s pointed out ways where it’s not the same experience from a cell phone or tablet.

    5. Quill*

      I mean, it depends on if you are listening to a music video or not in the first place. Not all songs come with video content on youtube, and some of the most controversial songs of the last few months have music videos that would be considered suggestive, but not necessarily nsfw. Especially not to the degree that the lyrics imply, because youtube is generally not going to show any nudity.

    6. Anonymous Introvert*

      There’s a good chance she’s listening to compilation playlists or versions designed for easy listening while working or studying. I use these pretty often while I’m at work if my Spotify is tied up by my boyfriend, and they usually have a cute animated illustration or picture or a collage of artists or cover art as the only image on a continuous loop while the music plays underneath. I definitely know of a few popular ones that feature Post Malone, and none of them have moving video beyond a looped illustrated animation of, like, a girl drinking coffee in a cafe. So they definitely don’t have to involve NSFW imagery. If she’s listening to a playlist using the playlist feature, I’d say the vast majority of “music videos” on Youtube aren’t the official ones you’re thinking of, featuring a full production set and the artists performing — they’re a picture of the cover art and maybe have the lyrics scrolling over the screen. If it’s a playlist designed for working/studying, it most likely is one of these two things and nothing racy beyond a lyrics in the video would show up, and she has the window minimized most of the time anyway. I can’t speak to what the YouTube Music experience is like/how it would differ since I’ve never used it.

    7. PJS*

      I was also going to suggest using a music streaming service instead of YouTube, but not because of NSFW videos. At a previous job, I would listen to YouTube videos while working. At one point, a company-wide email went out about how we had to stop listening to music on our computers because it was bogging down the network. The email included the comment that “someone has even been watching YouTube videos!” I don’t know if they knew it was me or not and I never said anything, but keep in mind that they could think you are watching videos instead of working.

      1. Smithy*

        Ah! Missed your comment – but then basically said the same thing.

        But I do think that issues with YouTube specifically – assuming that you’re overall doing well at work – are going to be far more heavily impacted by network capacity. Maybe during COVID, there are just fewer people overall in the office so it’s not a real issue, but I do think an employee is far more likely to get a blanket approval of heads up that it’s inappropriate if it’s flagged as a network bandwidth question.

      2. lilsheba*

        Makes me glad I’m working from home on MY network. I don’t use YouTube often for music, I mainly use Spotify. And I listen to whatever I want on a bluetooth speaker too. I love the freedom.

        1. neeko*

          Edit – it does occasionally pull the video. But the majority of the time I’ve used it, it doesn’t.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          I don’t know that it is a moot point. Is LW2 using YouTube Music or going to www(dot)youtube(dot)com and listening to music from there? LW2 just says “I go to YouTube” not “I go to YouTube Music.”

          1. DataGirl*

            Came here to say this. YouTube Music and YouTube are different services, but we don’t know which one the letter writer is using. I’d argue the first is fine, but the second is questionable, just because it tends to have video whereas YT Music you can toggle between ‘song’ and ‘video’ and I believe the default is ‘song’. It’s not been an issue where I work now, but past workplaces have blocked regular You Tube (and other video streaming services like Netflix) because people were watching too much content and eating up bandwidth.

        1. daystar*

          Exactly! I received a talking to at two of my first jobs for pulling too much bandwidth. One for having youtube going in the background while I designed and the second for streaming NPR. Just use Spotify or pandora if you insist on using your work device. That will avoid the possible NSFW image issue people are also debating.

    8. Smithy*

      I think for broad professional surveillance – sites like YouTube and Twitter get a generic stamp of approval (despite the potential to house very NSFW material) unless you work somewhere that features very detailed surveillance.

      A bigger question honestly, might be about your workplace’s server/internet bandwidth. I know for some colleagues outside the US, there are requests to limit videos on the internet between certain hours so it doesn’t slow down the internet too much. And even in the US, during one World Cup, our office decided to simply have games playing in a few places where people could bring their laptops because the burden of so many people streaming games on their individual computers while working was slowing down the system too much.

      Instead of asking specifically whether or not Post Malone’s music counts as NSFW – an easier way to get workplace specific advice would simply be to ask whether it’s acceptable to play music off of youtube at work for bandwidth purposes.

    9. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      my question is more about the streaming than the content.
      At my office, you can listen to music, but they don’t want 1500 people streaming on their work computers.
      OP, are you sure you are allowed to stream all day?

    10. KoiFeeder*

      I mean, I go for lyric videos or the new topic videos on youtube so I don’t have to contend with a video while I’m watching my music. LW2 might be doing the same.

    11. Environmental Compliance*

      … I have a ton of NSFW songs on my YouTube playlist, and they’re all lyrics videos. They load faster. It is a streaming service. In fact, YouTube Music exists explicitly as a streaming service for music.

  7. Gaia*

    OP 1. I’m agnostic and often lean towards atheism. Your co-worker is awful. I’ll debate religion and scripture all day long with my religious friends that enjoy these debates. But never with a co-worker and never with someone that doesn’t explicitly indicate they are interested in these debates. (And never with someone that can’t debate respectfully).

    They need to stop immediately and the company needs to ensure it never happens again. Mentioning that you’re attending Mass or helping out with the church rummage sale, etc is not an invitation to have your very personal beliefs attacked.

    1. Artemesia*

      I have never known a proselytizing atheist — I have had countless people including strangers next to me on long flights try to bring me to Christ, but not yet a proselytizing atheist. But common or not, this is every bit as obnoxious as someone trying to get you to attend his church, or give testimony or whatever. It is religious harassment and you need to shut this down definitively. If one firm demand directly to this person doesn’t shut it down, then go to your boss and HR. There is no excuse for this.

      1. SadieMae*

        I’m an agnostic (leaning toward atheist) and was once invited to join a “freethinkers” group. I went to two meetings and that was it. Some of the people there were very live-and-let-live – they just wanted some friends to talk religion/spirituality with, friends who wouldn’t try to “save” them (I live in the Bible Belt, so evangelical Christian proselytizing is everywhere). But some of them were really unpleasant, aggressive people who would denigrate anyone religious as “stupid,” “ignorant,” etc. Even the name “freethinkers,” once I really thought about it, suggested that religion is incompatible with real thought.

        Thing is: as I say, I’m not a believer, but I have many neighbors, friends, and family who are. Some are nasty, holier-than-thou people (many of whom have told me I’m going to hell and my children are going to hell too because my husband and I didn’t baptize them – seriously, on two separate occasions, people said that to me *in front of my small children* and then my children were scared they were going to be consigned to a pit of fire forever – grrrrr). But most of the Christians I know well are kind, generous, thoughtful people who live their faith through good works. My grandfather was a minister, an extremely devout man, and not only one of the kindest people I ever knew but one of the smartest as well.

        So yes, there are atheist proselytizers. Mostly I think they are insecure people who feel the need to demonstrate their intellectual “superiority.” Ugh.

        1. Artemesia*

          I am a freethinker and not going to let go of the identity because it implies orthodoxy is not free thought — but I am not going to explain to them why their orthodoxy is not free thought because I don’t want to hear them tell me why true freedom involves embracing whatever it is they believe. We should all really live and let live on this. And proselytizing is obnoxious regardless of one’s faith — beyond ONE invitation to attend church to a newcomer. Denigrating someone’s faith or lack of faith has no place at work or in social settings for that matter unless both parties are happy to debate their beliefs.

      2. MK*

        I have never known a proselytizing atheist either, but there are plenty of them who are jerks about it. In my experience religious people are more likely to try to convert you, while aggressive atheists to be nasty about other people’s faith without a specific goal, just as an expression of their contempt. Not all, or even most of them, of course, but sadly it is often the worst part of any group that gets attention.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          I think Sadie Mae writes it best:
          So yes, there are atheist proselytizers. Mostly I think they are insecure people who feel the need to demonstrate their intellectual “superiority.” Ugh.
          I think anyone who is trying to convince me that my beliefs are wrong or that their beliefs are right is proselytizing.

        2. The Rules are Made Up*

          Absolutely. I knew MANNYYY atheists like this. Usually newer ones that were way too excited to tell someone how ridiculous their belief was of their “imaginary leader in the sky.” It was always super cruel and cringeworthy. And most of these were people just minding their Christian business, not talking at length about it or trying to convert them. It turned me way off. Although I’m more agnostic, I let people do what the hell makes them happy. If they have bigoted *beliefs* I’ll challenge those, but that can happen regardless of religious affiliation. What I won’t do and what I’m not okay with is mocking or harassing someone for believing in something just because I don’t, and because for some reason I think that makes me smarter than them. This coworker is a huge jerk.

        3. JM60*

          without a specific goal

          Sometimes when there doesn’t seem to be a specific goal, the goal is just amusement/entertainment. But often it’s catharsis due to the harms caused by religion (directly or indirectly). A good example that affects me is that the most homophobia I’ve experienced has been due to religion (and even homophobia that isn’t directly cause by religion tends to be affirmed by religion).

          Occasionally, there are atheists who are jerks in general, including about religion. But in my experience, many atheists who are perceived as “jerks” are expressing justified outrage in the form of IMO well-deserved mockery.

          (Note: While I think some ideas deserve to be mocked, there’s a distinction between mocking ideas and mocking people. I would never do what the atheist in letter 1 does, partly for this reason, but also because I don’t talk about religion at work.)

        1. Artemesia*

          It has happened to me more than once. ‘Do you know where you will be spending eternity’. to which I ALWAYS respond ‘yes’ and that doesn’t stop the spiel.

          1. Forty Years in the Hole*

            “Yes I do … sitting on a flight next to someone like you…” Adjusts headphones, and orders a double single malt.

          2. Lizy*

            Ugh that’s SO ANNOYING. (And I say this as a very conservative Christian in the bible belt.) Here’s the thing – WE DON’T KNOW. We can claim all we want that we “know” someone isn’t going to heaven because they’re not baptized or saved or whatever the heck else, but we are not God and IMO saying “I know where you’re going” is likening ourselves to God. We don’t know that person’s history or future and while, yes, I would love for everyone to be saved, this type of nonsense is just going to annoy people and quite frankly, push them away.

        2. CoveredInBees*

          It is horrible. I’ve had it happen to me several times. Mostly Christian and atheist, but there was also a Hindu man across the aisle from me on a 7 hour flight who wanted me to convert and move with him to India. Luckily, I always travel with big headphones so I just pop them on and say that I’m going to be listening to music or watching a movie. Worked every time.

      3. Sasha*

        Haven’t you? Lots of “skeptics” are really aggressively atheist. Think the Richard Dawkins end of the atheist spectrum.

        I am also atheist, and have been on the receiving end of tirades from these people for not being sufficiently anti-religion (I find theology pretty philosophically interesting actually, I just don’t believe in god). They can be very dogmatic, unpleasant people.

        OP if it helps at all, the rest of your non-religious office almost certainly think this person is a complete dick too. You mentioned being made to feel out of place, and I’m sure the rest of your office would be horrified to hear that. It is just one obnoxious person.

        1. WS*

          +1, I’m a lifelong atheist, but I can’t stand the Dawkins kind of atheists who aggressively attack people’s personal beliefs, especially when they do it in racist ways. I’m fine with political discussions on, say, the influence of religion in law, but that’s not at all the same thing.

        2. Artemesia*

          LOL. yeah I have read Dawkins but I have never seen someone like him attack people in work or social settings; I am sure they exist. There is a huge double standard on this. A Christian who denigrates an atheists point of view is not viewed with the same hostility as an atheists who points out to that same Christian how ‘stupid’ their beliefs are. I think aggressive contempt for another’s faith or lack thereof is inappropriate in either direction but society generally allows a religious person to tell an atheist they are immoral, going to hell etc and is aghast if the atheist points out the absurdity of the religious position. Sauce for the goose.

        3. AnonPi*

          ugh, I can’t stand Dawkins. Had to read him in a grad class, since the prof was enamored with him. Couldn’t stand the prof either, lol

          1. Well...*

            Dawkins is so sexist and racist, I cannot stand him. It’s funny how for someone who’s made a name for himself arguing, he makes really stupid arguments when to comes to gender and race. Funny but not surprising.

            1. Deejay*

              His worst example was Elevatorgate, where he seemed incapable of realising that his very own statement that “Anyone who thinks that because X is worse than Y that means Y isn’t bad needs to go away and learn how to think” applied to him as well.

              Plus his standard argument of “I’m right because I have facts and logic on my side. You’re just emotional”. Rebecca Watson never said she didn’t care about the plight of Muslim women so he didn’t take that fact into account. And he says he’s “irritated” by Western women complaining about sexism when Muslim women have it worse. Isn’t irritation an emotion, and therefore by his own perfect logic, anything he says as a result can be dismissed?

        4. Saraquill*

          I’ve heard a number of blood boiling things from aggressive atheists over the years. One of the milder ones was someone calling HP Lovecraft “very racist, but great” because anti religious.

      4. Cedrus Libani*

        I’m from the US tech bubble (where believers are in the minority), and while proselytizing is a strong term, I’ve certainly seen the snide remarks and such. Including at work. It’s rude, but it’s a thing that people do when they know they’re in the large majority, and atheists are people.

          1. Artemesia*

            I did my career in the South where telling non believers they will go to hell (and actually telling CATHOLICS they are going to hell) is a pretty common thing. And where shunning either group ‘politely’ e.g. excluding them from social opportunities and business opportunities is also a thing.

            1. Anon for Today*

              My husband was raised Catholic and told me this is a holdover from the days when Catholics were described as papists who followed the words of the Pope over Jesus and weren’t to be trusted. It’s died down quite a bit, but there are still people out there that are extremely distrustful of Catholics (my friend from high school who is dutch reformed, dated a Catholic boy and her mother told her she’d be disowned if they got married — this was in the late 90’s).

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I grew up in a town with a lot of Southern Baptist churches; we belonged to the one, very small Catholic church. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone at school told me I was going to hell because I wasn’t saved, that I wasn’t baptized properly (a little dribble of water on my infant head wasn’t good enough; it had to be a full-on dunking), blamed me for fish in the cafeteria on Fridays, (they wanted pizza–we had that on Wednesdays), and criticized us about rosaries, statues in the church, praying to saints, etc. They’re definitely out there.

                I’m not an atheist; I’ve left the church but I’m still in a religious part of the country so I do not want to talk about Buddhism at work. I can only imagine what my schoolmates would say about that.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Just because they are in the majority doesn’t make it okay. Flip it around, if the majority of the office were one religion would it be okay to make snide remarks to the person who wasn’t the same religion, or even an atheist? No it would not. So its not okay for atheists to make snide remarks just because they happen to be a majority somewhere. The minority are people too.

          1. Anononon*

            I don’t think they’re saying it’s okay. I think they’re saying that being rude is an (unfortunate) part of human nature for some people, no matter where they fall on the belief scale. Basically agreeing with you, that it’s not their religion or (lack of) belief that causes the rudeness, but them just being rude.

        2. Sylvan*

          The US is over 70% Christian. Anyway, it’s still unacceptable when a religious minority does it.

      5. Roeslein*

        Good for you! My alma mater is strongly anti-clerical with a freethinking mission (I’m a Catholic – I never lied about it but I wasn’t practicing as the time so mostly flew under the radar thankfully). Songs about rallying for Reason against the Pope are sung at graduation. I assure you there are plenty of proselytizing atheists, at least in Europe.

        1. Artemesia*

          The US never had this anti-clerical movement like some countries in Europe did and open contempt for religion is frowned on in ways it just isn’t in for example, France.

          1. Mathou*

            French person here : we have very good reason to distrust, or yes, even despise, religion.

            There is clearly a cultural difference here. In France, saying at work that you went to church on Sunday would be a strong sign that you are a very conservative person. It would be quite strange in a lot of places. It wouldn’t necessarily change anything, but it would be seen a political stance, and quite a strong one at that. However, it would also seem as out-of-touch to try to convince a coworker to drop their religion.
            Engage in such a discussion outside of work with friends would be fine, as long as you aren’t rude about it (i.e. insulting, harassing etc…). At work, it is definitely different.

      6. Batgirl*

        My atheist co-worker wasn’t proselytizing, but she did make me very uncomfortable when she was seated next to me during a rare mass one time (we worked at a Catholic school). First she asked if I was religious, and because I’m more the spiritual than organisation type, I said no. She then embarked on mocking everyone behind her hand if they got up for communion. When the science teachers got up she was apoplectic. My responses were along the line of “lots of scientists believe in god” and “yes, they believe without any evidence or proof, it’s called faith” in a sort of shocked monotone, but I wasn’t prepared for it. I felt later that I should have pulled her up with a harsher comment about how grown ups behave around others’ faiths, because she didn’t take the hint and kept behaving like we were with people in a mass hallucination. I don’t know if this is the same for OP, but in my coworkers’ case it was indicative of bigger problems with her ability to work with others (no respect for the goals or perspectives of others) and while she was superficially popular, everyone was relieved to see her go.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I think you hit the nail on the head. The co-worker has a problem with her ability to work with others. She doesn’t listen and constantly belittles the OP. She is sowing discord by refusing to leave her co-worker alone, it’s religion today, MLM tomorrow.

        2. Chinook*

          Dude, next time she knocks Catholic scientists, ask her to look up who came up with the Big Bang Theory or was the founder of the study of genetics and then come back to talk to you.

      7. Richard Hershberger*

        Proselytizing atheists are definitely a thing. I call them Fundamentalist Atheists. They are every bit as dogmatic and annoying as any other sort of fundamentalist, with the added claim of being super rational, sometimes in direct combination with irrational arguments. Much of the time you can tell what religious tradition they came from, and are reacting against. Garrison Keillor had a line that in Lake Wobegon everyone is either Lutheran or Catholic: even the atheists. A Fundamentalist Atheist Catholic is different from a Fundamentalist Atheist Evangelical, and will couch their arguments accordingly. It makes for weird discussions, when they have this script about what they are arguing against, and I, coming from a different tradition, nod along and agree that yes, if you (for example) read scripture that way you do indeed come to a poor result.

        1. Grace*

          Dara O’Briain has a similar line about Ireland – oh, you’re an atheist? Are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?

          I’m culturally CofE and from a non-religious family – lots of people active in the Church of England are non-believers, sometimes even people holding office. It makes for a very different background than an atheist friend of mine who was from a devout Ba’hai family. We’re both non-believers, but their relationship to religion (actively rebelled against it, family based their lives and decisions around it) is very different to mine (it’s a cultural and community thing and I might go to a carol service at Christmas for the atmosphere). My friend definitely went through a militant atheist phase, because it was a way of breaking ties with their old life – I never had any ties to religion in the first place, so I’m very live-and-let-live about it.

          1. londonedit*

            This is exactly me, culturally CofE but a non-believer from a broadly non-believing family. I have my own opinions about religion and I’ll engage in a reasonable debate if someone starts one, but I don’t feel I have anything to proselytise about.

            1. UKDancer*

              I think this probably defines me as well. Mum was Methodist, Dad CofE and they were both broadly agnostic and have become more sceptical as they’ve got older. I went to the local CofE Sunday school because it was what one did to fit in but didn’t believe in any of it any more than I believed in the Greek and Viking myths I used to love reading as a child. I just thought church was like the dentist or school, something you just had to get through although it’s left me with a good knowledge of scripture and church ritual.

              As an adult I don’t go to church now because I don’t believe in it but I don’t tend to spend a lot of mental thought on it as a whole. I mean I give pasta to the food bank at the local church and am pleasant to the vicar but that’s it. I have views on some issues relating to religion but I tend to keep them to myself unless I’m asked.

              Maybe it’s a thing about a certain type of English upbringing?

              1. londonedit*

                Yes, exactly. I quite enjoyed the stories the vicar told in assembly at my CofE primary school (which I went to because it was the village school, not because of religion) but in exactly the same way as fairy tales. We went to the village church for all the usual occasions and that means I love Christmas carols and a good festive singalong, because it’s a happy childhood memory and it’s part of Christmas for me. But I don’t believe in anything in particular beyond that.

            2. SarahKay*

              Same here. I went to a C of E primary school, because it was the only one local enough to get to (result of living in the countryside) but both parents were somewhere between atheist and agnostic. I am, now, very atheist, but for me that translates as “I really don’t believe at all in a higher being at all”, and not “I feel the need to push atheism down others’ throats”. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs.
              And it’s true, I’m most specifically a C of E atheist, simply because growing up in rural England in the seventies / eighties, that was the common religion around me.

              1. SarahKay*

                Incidentally, when the law changed in the UK to specifically forbid religious discrimination, my company at the time rolled out training which included examples of what was now legally forbidden. One example of what we mustn’t do was an atheist telling a religious person that their beliefs were wrong. It’s still discrimination based on religion, and it’s still unacceptable, especially at work.
                Granted, this is UK legislation, but it sounds like it matches pretty closely to US legislation in this instance.

          2. Librarian1*

            When I used to hang out with an atheist organization, I used to say that we needed a support group for people who were coming from very religious backgrounds because a lot of conversations revolved around bashing religion (mostly Christianity because that’s the background people came from), but I’m from a secular background and those conversations were so boring to me.

          3. The Rules are Made Up*

            This was me! I called my family “Passively religious” in the sense that if you ask my mom if she believes in God she’ll say yes but we never went to church nor did she preach about it or base parenting decisions around it or have opinions tied to it. We did say grace before dinner (when I was little. We stopped when I went to High School). So I did not have the Atheist FERVOR that some of my acquaintances did who grew up in super religious households and were not hitting a 180 hard in the other direction.

            My maternal grandma even faded out of it (she apparently made my mom go to church every Sunday which is one of the reasons she didn’t make me go). I asked my grandma recently if she missed church (since she no longer goes herself) and she said no. One of the reasons is because when they sent her one of those “We haven’t seen you in a while” cards it asked for a donation first and asked how she was doing second lolll.

        2. Artemesia*

          Love this. I was raised a Baptist and I will always have all sorts of values and rigidities that come from that even as a Freethinker. My husband was raised a Catholic and has the same issues. We are of our culture and those early elements installed in us by our culture make it hard for us to fully understand another culture or religion.

      8. Jennifer*

        I’ve met many who proselytize, unprompted. I thought it was pretty well known. They can be as bad as self-righteous, judgmental religious people.

        1. CoveredInBees*

          Yup. I’m part of a Jewish group of Tweeters and we frequently get atheists busting into conversations like those old Kool Aid ads. They just bust in to mock what they think religion is (generally based on a loose understanding of American Evangelical theologies) without the slightest engagement in the topic we’re discussing.

          1. Jennifer*

            I chuckled at Kool Aid ads. That’s exactly what it feels like. I’ve been reading religious texts on my own, minding my business, and had someone come up to me and start ranting.

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          Yep, especially at college or young adult ages it’s pretty common and the condescension can be just as bad no matter what they’re proselytizing about, religious or irreligious. The most annoying part is the “cannot let a comment even tangentially related to religion pass without a snide remark” factor, even stuff like OP mentioning that she was going to church that weekend, which is clearly no kind of invitation. You just wish that even once they would let the conversation progress smoothly without needing to throw in their wrench. It’s a maturity thing.

      9. Nic*

        Oh I have – twenty years ago at university, I went to a formal dinner wearing a cross necklace, and wound up sitting next to a guy who wanted to know why I was wearing it (was I religious or wearing it for fashion?). He then cross-examined me to check if I knew the full meaning of the symbolism, and would I also consider it acceptable to wear a guillotine, noose or other execution/torture device as jewellery. Finally he proceeded to lecture me about his own atheistic/Darwinistic beliefs, and how his parents’ only purpose in life was to look after him…It was a long and wild ride (emphasis on the long!), and I wound up avoiding him for the rest of my degree. Because really!

        1. UKDancer*

          Gosh he sounds like a bundle of laughs (not). I’m not surprised you avoided him for the rest of the degree course. It reminds me of a couple of really bad internet dates I’ve been on.

          I think people who try and lecture on anything when you don’t want it are awful. It’s not like it ever changes anyone’s mind having someone bore on about a controversial topic over the hors d’oeuvres. There is a reason that recommended small talk topics in the UK are things like the weather and that people are discouraged from discussing religion with strangers.

        2. Anon for Today*

          “Was I religious or wearing it for fashion?” Good lord, I hate gatekeeping of any kind. There is no way to answer this question that doesn’t cause an exhausting debate. If you say you’re religious, you get drawn into a goulish conversation if it’s for fashion, then you’re a silly poser.

      10. Quill*

        Teen me found atheists on the internet shortly after becoming one and INSTANTLY fled. (Internet atheism in the 00’s was deeply belligerent…)

        I mean, I’m still an atheist, but I’m also well aware that some of the same people who were doing this on the internet are probably also expounding at length about how much smarter they are to not believe in religion in real life.

        (fortunately I haven’t met any irl in the last 10 years or so.)

      11. yala*

        I’ve encountered a fair number of them. Sometimes it’s not full on conversations. Sometimes it’s just petty “Well, all religion is evil” comments that come up out of nowhere, that they’re just WAITING for someone to respond to so they can go off at length.

      12. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

        Consider yourself lucky! There are many out there. Sometimes it feels like every single one wants to proselytize at me specifically, regardless of polite lack of interest or being directly asked to stop.

      13. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

        I once worked with a proselytizing atheist (he was also a proselytizing vegan). He was very tiresome.

      14. PeanutButter*

        I’ll raise a hand and say that when I first deconverted, after being raised in a fundamentalist Pentecostal church (think speaking-in-tongues, the whole nine yards), going to religious schools and colleges all of my life, if I hadn’t been so physically isolated at the moment (working a graveyard shift with two other people on staff in a remote, rural critical access hospital) I probably could have gone proseltyzing atheist for about a year and a half after losing my faith. I was so bitter and angry at the people who I felt had lied to me my whole life – eventually after the initial hurt faded and I had some space and time between my current self and my past religious self, I became much less angry and bitter, and realized that the reason I was so gung-ho about deconverting others was that I felt foolish for all of the nonsense I had believed and parroted in the past, and somehow felt like I could erase that if I helped remove the wool from others’ eyes.

        Eventually while synthesizing my own moral code separate from the one I had been raised in, I realized that my new goal in life was to lessen the suffering in the universe, and if others felt that their religion lessened their suffering, then it was nonsensical for me to want to take that away from them. So, I can definitely believe there are some out there because I was in that headspace for awhile. Good thing for everyone else (and myself!) that I wasn’t in a position to ACT on it IRL, because I’m sure I would have been *horrible*.

    2. ThePear8*

      This! I’m atheist and had a lot of very Christian friends in high school. They never tried to convert me and respected my stance, and likewise I respected that they were free to practice their religion, and we occasionally had some really interesting healthy conversations about it. I really like Allison’s analogy that mentioning religious activities doesn’t invite religious debate any more than mentioning a same-sex partner inviting gay rights debate. People live lives, and each person lives a little differently from everyone else. People should be able to talk about their routines without it being subject to constant criticism.

    3. allathian*

      I’m a secular humanist. I don’t consider myself agnostic, because that implies that I’m searching for a spiritual identity. I’m definitely not atheist either, because I don’t have a firm belief in the non-existence of a deity any more than a belief in a god. I don’t usually talk about my beliefs, or rather my lack of belief, because I just can’t deal with the debates. I’ve had some pushback from religious people and from atheists and mostly I’d just rather not deal with it. It’s definitely not something I’m willing to discuss at work. I have engaged with a Russian Orthodox coworker who mentioned doing a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Easter, but we didn’t talk about our respective beliefs, just the trip.

      OP, I hope you can get the aggressive atheist to stop harassing you at work. Talk to her and ask her to stop. If that doesn’t help, talk to your manager. No matter what your manager’s personal beliefs are, she should be concerned that one of her reports is being subjected to what could be a hostile working environment.

      Your religious identity is obviously important to you. You have the right to mention you’re going to Mass or celebrating Ash Wednesday without having someone aggressively attack you for it. Your faith is not up for debate and it’s time your coworker understood that.

      1. Pennyworth*

        How interesting – my personal take on atheism is that it means absence of belief in deity/deities, rather than a definite belief in the non-existence of any. I don’t believe in gods in the same way I don’t believe I have a third arm. Neither of these things occupies my mind.

        1. MK*

          Not to derail, but it’s not the same thing: you have definite proof you don’t have a third arm, while you don’t have that for the non-existence of deities, just absence of proof either way. Which is how I always considered agnosticism: people who aren’t prepared to accept either the existence or the non-existence of God without proof; I never thought it had anything to do with searching for an identity.

          1. TechWorker*

            I’m about as certain there isn’t a god as people who are religious are certain there is one. Atheism is a better description for that than agnosticism – do I think there ‘might’ be a god… not really. If you call yourself Agnostic often people take that to mean ‘questioning’, whereas Atheism is the absence of belief.

            1. allathian*

              Absence of belief? Judging by some very dogmatic atheists I’ve met that’s not really true. At least in their case, it’s rather a belief of absence. I’ve encountered hostility when I was younger and more willing to engage in a debate, some people on both sides of the divide found it impossible to accept that I had no opinion and couldn’t care less. I don’t know if there’s a god or not and there’s no evidence I’m prepared to accept as such either way. Absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence. I just don’t care, whether there is a god (or several) or not doesn’t make a blind bit of difference in my life, and I’ve found I have better things to do with my time than to speculate on the unknowable. These are my very personal beliefs and I’ve never felt comfortable sharing them at work.

              1. Grace*

                I call myself “apatheist” – apathetic to the idea of theism. Short-hand: don’t know, don’t care.

                No, I don’t know if there’s a higher being, I devote precisely no brain cells to considering it, and even if it was revealed without a doubt that there was a higher being or two, I would have no interest in joining an organised religion. Atheist makes it sound like I made a reasoned decision on where I stand. I didn’t. I was raised non-religious and didn’t even realise that people did believe, beyond it just being a cultural tradition, until I was a teenager.

                1. LPUK*

                  This is me too! Don’t give myself a label because I don’t have any interest in the subject at all – I don’t care enough to have an opinion… which is saying something because I have a Lot of Opinions about life generally!

                2. Thankful for AAM*

                  Apatheist is a great term!
                  I disagree with Pennyworth, I do think agnostic carries the connotation of questioning. The definition might not (idk, did not care enough to look it up as I’m apatheist).
                  After a couple of years of marriage it suddenly occurred to me that I had never really asked my husband about his views on religion/god, so I asked him about it. He answered, what difference does it make if I believe or do not believe? Apatheist describes us perfectly, thanks for that.

                3. Jennifer*

                  @Thankful I’m fascinated that that topic didn’t come up until long after you were married. Not saying that it’s right or wrong. But I guess it makes sense if it’s something you’re apathetic about. If it’s important to you, it’s something you’ll establish early on.

                4. Zanele Ngwenya*

                  Oh my- I love this term! This describes me exactly. I’ve never felt comfortable using the terms atheist or agnostic- this is a fantastic alternative!

                5. Autumnheart*

                  Me too. Wasn’t raised in a religious tradition at all (maybe if you count watching “Jesus of Nazareth” on television at Easter). Religion carries about the same weight and place in my mind as Tolkien. Which is not an insult, certainly there are a lot of really amazing sci/fi and fantasy worlds that have been developed to an astonishing degree, with amazing writing supporting them. I wouldn’t say that it means I consider the Bible a fantasy novel, more that the idea of “one true faith, and all the others are BS” doesn’t ring true to me, any more than there could be one true novel that’s better than everything before or after. Writing and the exploration of the human condition (well, the personal condition, since a lot of these novels don’t have humans, heh) are valuable. But I don’t need to believe IN the characters.

                6. Quill*


                  Gonna be over here in my corner committing to making life on earth create the minimum amount of harm. I mean, I DID decide to leave organized religion but it was at least as much based on moral opposition to the teachings than lack of belief.

                7. File Herder*

                  I would like to drop a link here to the Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic, which may or may not be what’s being referred to. It has some interesting essays, some of which are relevant to “Is your colleague imposing their belief system on you? No? Then offer them the same courtesy.”


              2. TechWorker*

                …and that’s totally fine?

                I was intending to explain what atheism means to me – I am not denying there are unpleasant people on all sides of the religious and non religious spectrum.

                I just think it’s pretty rubbish for someone (Pennyworth) to say they’re an Atheist and someone else to jump in with ‘actually you sound Agnostic, can you *prove* there’s no God?’ which is…. kinda what happened above. Let people define themselves as they please *shrugs*.

              3. Deliliah*

                I finally settled on atheist in my heart, but agnostic in my brain. I live my life as if there is no God, but I also know I can’t know if there is a God or not. But I also don’t devote a lot of time to thinking about it.

                1. Filosofickle*

                  That’s exactly what I say, too! I can’t know one way or the other but I feel sure there isn’t.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  That sounds like something I asked James Randi about once, when I was doing research for my book. He’s the famous magician/skeptic who once offered a large reward for proof of life after death. Since my book dealt with ghosts actually in the physical world, I asked him what he would do if someone showed him tangible proof to his face that it was true. His answer was basically, “Depends on the proof.”

                  Since he just died recently, I guess he found out.

            2. MK*

              Not to nitpick, but you do realize that you stated that atheism is the absence of belief, almost in the same breath that you said you are as certain that there isn’t a God as religious people are that there is? That is not absence of belief, that actual faith in a truth you ascribe to.

              In my opinion, agnosticism is the true absence of belief, but there is a spectrum between “there might be a God, we just don’t know” to “I actually don’t believe there is a God, but since there is no proof, I don’t state that there isn’t one either”. And in my culture agnosticism doesn’t equal questioning religion, it’s a pretty firm stance of non-belief, but that can vary, of course. That being said, I wouldn’t question (I hope mupy comment did come off as that) anyone’s labeling themselves in religious matters according to their own perception of what it means to be atheist, theist, agnostic etc.; moreover that in other areas, the definitions can be hazy.

              1. TechWorker*

                Okay clearly I messed up that sentence, I think what I really meant was ‘the absence of belief *in a God*’.

                I do not subscribe to the ‘only Athiests are truly rational’ view, or that not believing in God means you don’t believe in ‘anything’. But it did come across a bit like telling people how to define themselves (so I’m glad that wasn’t the intention!) – and it can be a bit frustrating to be told that not believing in God takes the same level of faith as believing in God. (I’m aware that’s what… lots of people believe… and that’s ok – but it’s just never felt like that to me! It feels like trying to define yourself in opposition to something which is not really the case).

              2. JM60*

                Not to nitpick, but you do realize that you stated that atheism is the absence of belief, almost in the same breath that you said you are as certain that there isn’t a God as religious people are that there is? That is not absence of belief, that actual faith in a truth you ascribe to.

                If you actively believe X is false, then it necessarily follows that you also lack a belief that X is true. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

                BTW, not all beliefs are “faiths”. The word “faith” is usually used for beliefs that lack adequate evidence (e.g., I sometimes hear people say, “You’ve got to take it on faith”).

            3. Miso*

              > If you call yourself Agnostic often people take that to mean ‘questioning’, whereas Atheism is the absence of belief.

              Eh, I don’t know. I always understood agnosticism as “we can’t prove it either way and so we’ll never know unless (some) God comes down on earth personally”. And personally I’m an atheistic agnostic – I do think we’ll never know, but I’m pretty sure they don’t exist.

              1. TechWorker*

                Idk, I’m sure a lot of religious people also believe it’ll never be ‘proven’ either way, yet have their own strong beliefs. I guess it depends whether the agnosticism is about the belief or about the proof :)

                1. kt*

                  Good point :)

                  I’m a fairly religious person, but also a mathematician. Do I know if there’s a god, or many? Not at all. Do I need proof of any of these religious claims? Not right now. Do I need proof that I like banana chocolate ice cream? Do I need proof that this soup needs some herbes de provence? Do I need proof that I love my spouse? How can you prove a feeling? I dated a very strong atheist for a time (also a mathematician) and this was a conversation — to what extent do we need proof of these non-quantifiable things, and how do we make decisions in the absence of proof?

                  Bizarrely for the US, my relationship to my religion is one of cultural grounding, mythical language, common understanding, not fact/dogma/propositional belief system. I only came to this place after thoroughly rejecting what I saw in my teens as hypocritical and nonsensical (the way that some parts of religion in my community aped geometry proofs for their ‘proofs’ that a particular god existed, as if mathematical proof is the only measure of truth — and I say this as a mathematician! c’mon people, religion served people before the enlightenment!) and then being exposed to the religious attitudes of people on other continents, for whom my religion was not a series of yes/no statements but a structure for relating with the world. It sounds a bit like the people above who talked about the Church of England. It took some time to find other people in the US with this stance, but I’m pretty happy with those I’ve found!

          2. JM60*

            Agnosticism and atheism aren’t mutually exclusive though. Agnosticism is about knowledge, while atheism is about belief. You can be an agnostic atheist, i.e., someone who lacks belief in a god but doesn’t know that a god doesn’t exist. To take Carl Sagan’s analogy from The Dragon in my Garage, I’m an agnostic atheist in the same way that I’m an agnostic non-believer with regard to you having a dragon in your garage who is silent, invisible, odorless, etc. I can’t strictly speaking know they don’t each exist, but I go about my life as if they don’t.

      2. Observer*

        No matter what your manager’s personal beliefs are, she should be concerned that one of her reports is being subjected to what could be a hostile working environment.

        . . . snip . .

        You have the right to mention you’re going to Mass or celebrating Ash Wednesday without having someone aggressively attack you for it. Your faith is not up for debate and it’s time your coworker understood that.

        Very much this. It needs to be shut down.

      3. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

        My son describes himself as a militant agnostic: “I don’t know what’s out there and neither do you!”

    4. Allonge*

      I am an atheist, and, maaaaaybe if somebody looked very very upset by how their religion was influencing their life, I would mention that there is life outside of religion. But that is just about the only framework I can think of when I would even try to approach talking people into atheism. Your coworker is acting horrible, OP – tell them to cut it out, tell HR about it, tell your boss etc.

      Yes, there is a pandemic going on and people are frustrated and need emotional support. All the more reason to be kind to each other, not just members of the team who were there before you, but also to you.

    5. pleaset cheap rolls*

      The issue in #1 is not religion or the existence of god, but that the coworker is obnoxious.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        This. And a specific sort of obnoxious. The coworker is a bore: one of those people you have to tiptoe around, because any mention of certain subjects will set them off.

      2. Snow Globe*

        Well, religion is a big part of the issue, because that is what makes this particular brand of obnoxiousness illegal in the workplace.

      3. MissDisplaced*

        Religion talk (unless you work at a church) does not belong at work.
        But the real issue here is that one coworker is harassing another, and that harassment could’ve been about anything. The obnoxious coworker needs to be told to STOP very clearly and immediately. If they continue, report it.

      4. Sylvan*

        Well, yes, but they’re also being obnoxious about a protected class. Just because they’re a minority harassing someone who’s part of the majority religion doesn’t change that.

      5. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes, exactly. There have been letters in the past regarding a coworker policing someone’s food and the pattern is remarkably similar. It’s not about the topic, it’s about the behavior.

    6. Caroline Bowman*

      It’s also quite bizarre that it’s happening during what sound like casual, office chit-chat conversations. I mean, I’m an extremely hardline atheist who has had to deal with people feeling A/ that everyone is religious so OF COURSE ”we all believe that X is true and right” and B/ feel very much at liberty to grill me about my lack of belief, but at work that’s just a serious overstep and rude, aggressive and unacceptable thing to have happening.

      If you are feeling generous – I wouldn’t be, but you sound much nicer than me generally – you could *one time* brace yourself and when the person starts with their rudeness, say ”I never want to discuss or debate or in any way hear any further thoughts on my personal beliefs. I don’t like it, please stop immediately and forever”, then escalate to whoever is in charge. It might feel uncomfortable to do, but it needs to happen, clearly, in firm tones and ideally with at least one witness.

      Your beliefs are your own and that’s the end of the matter.

      1. AKchic*

        I think that the coworker is *fishing* for reasons to go off on these lectures, though. The coworker is purposely asking these seemingly innocuous questions now that they know the LW is religious and that her private, non-work life is pretty faith-based, knowing that at least some of LW’s plans will have a religious aspect to them, in order for the coworker to be able to release that pent-up whatever it is emotion/reaction/rant they want to vent out. If the chance to do it with an audience isn’t presented (and who knows, maybe the other coworkers are purposely avoiding the chance for this coworker to have an “innocent” chance to ask that question in turn as a part of a natural conversation by assuring conversation doesn’t get directed that way), the coworker instead ambushes (which is what it sounds like).

    7. Guacamole Bob*

      + 1,000 to the idea that mentioning that you’re doing something affiliated with a religious congregation does not mean you want to talk about your personal beliefs or even that you subscribe to everything the religion espouses.

      I am active with a religious congregation and it enriches my life – friends, a sense of community, mutual caring through tough times, organizing around community service, etc. – even though my own faith could probably be best described as agnostic. That’s something that this particular religious group welcomes and that others in the congregation share, so there’s no conflict there. But just because I mention an activity as part of my weekend plans does not mean I want to discuss theology or my personal beliefs.

      OP is Catholic – that doesn’t mean that they personally vouch for everything the Catholic Church has ever said and done or that they are up on the details of every single bit of doctrine. Many of my American Catholics friends have a complicated relationship with the capital-C Church and some of its institutions, even, while their personal faith and their involvement at their local parish enrich their lives. They probably don’t want to talk about all the nuances of that with you, random coworker.

      1. King Friday XIII*

        Yeah, this. In the Before Times I used to be pretty involved with a local Universalist Unitarian congregation on weekends for community, but anyone who made any assumptions about my personal beliefs because I said I had plans for Sunday morning would probably be in for a pretty big surprise. XD

      2. Anon for Today*

        Exactly. My in-laws are very liberal Catholics and quite devout. I always wondered how they could be a member of a church that would deny the humanity of my BIL (who is gay), but my husband states that it’s just something they work around because their particular church is liberal. My husband, on the other hand, converted to Lutheran (my denomination) after the bigwig of the diocese in our state sent out a lot of ant-gay material (that was pretty spendy) when marriage equality was up for a vote, while pleading poverty after closing schools and avoiding settlements for people who were abused.

    8. OhGee*

      Seconded, I’m an atheist, and I would never bully anybody about their faith — especially a coworker. I hope that LW will tell them directly to stop and then go to their manager if it doesn’t. I’m sorry they are going through this, it’s garbage behavior.

    9. Hats Are Great*

      I have worked at organizations that specifically work to protect individuals’ religious freedom from Christian overreach and *this would be harassment there* and immediately shut down. Like, our whole reason for being was protecting atheists, agnostics, and religious minorities from Christian bosses/government officials/whatever trying to impose Christian norms or proselytize Christianity at work, and that would have NEVER happened in our office, which employed a bunch of atheists and agnostics, but also a number of Christians who took their faiths seriously.

      In our office it would have been like, Catholic: “Is it all right if I come in 90 minutes late Tuesday morning?”
      Atheist: “Oh, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, right?”
      Catholic: “Yeah, gonna hit early Mass.”
      Atheist: “That sounds nice! Yeah, I’ll cover the phones for you, no problem.”
      End of conversation.

      (b/c we worked on religious issues we were all super-aware of obscure religious holidays, lol)

    10. Momma Bear*

      OP, they are making fun of you for Christmas? A lot of people celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday. Did anyone else get hassled about holiday time off?

      I had to put one of my old managers on an info diet. Maybe do that with this coworker, in addition to being clear that you won’t discuss your religion with them. I’d be direct – “Coworker, this is not a topic I will discuss with you. Stop harassing me about my religion.” If it continues, then that’s a manager/HR problem. I would feel similarly if someone was militantly religious and didn’t leave people alone about not having the same beliefs.

  8. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    OP 5 – when I retired from my full-time gig, my boss was 1500 miles away, etc. And we got into a stink (not of our choosing) because I had to return two laptops – and corporate was 2000 miles away, and the materials management group is in India.

    They got into (for lack of a better term) a pee-pee contest as far as who was going to provide me with a FedEx box with a shipping label. This went on for two weeks after I had left the company.

    Finally, I said “I’m through trying to get your stuff back to you. I’m not playing your games anymore. You want it? Come and get it. I don’t want to get involved in a ridiculous political battle between two offices thousands of miles away from me.”

    Boss sent an e-mail = corporate will send you a box with a shipping label. They did. Finally.

    1. OP5*

      Congrats on your retirement! I’m sorry you even went through this. I will be firm if they try to get me to foot the bill. I have 2 monitors, desktop tower, 50lb printer, and scanner to return. It would make more sense for them to send a courier from their IT dept to pick it up. I know IT normally sets everyone up in person from out of state but not sure what protocol is cause of covid right now.

      1. Ali G*

        It might also depend on how old the equipment is and if they can reuse it or not. I could see them not interested in the monitors, unless they are very new and/or they have an immediate use for them. The tower they will want for the data on it. If they are used to working on site for remote workers, I am sure they will have some procedure to take care of it.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          That’s a good point. It might cost more to ship the printer than it’s worth at this point!

          1. Lynn*

            Then the question becomes “is it cheaper to ship or recycle/dispose of the thing.” Either way, I would be insisting that the company pay to get the equipment out of my house and to wherever they want it to go (HQ or the recycling/trash).

      2. Person from the Resume*

        Ugh! You have a lot more than the “normal” remove worker who may have a laptop and extra monitor.

        You can offer to return it yourself if you want during your 2 weeks notice period if they pay you travel and mileage.

        My org provides shipping labels and you provide the box. That’s never been an expense for me because I have boxes around the house, but that 50 lb printer? Ooof! That’s a problem.

        1. OP5*

          Haha for sure! I basically moved down my entire office when I moved out of state! Yes, if I absolutely have to, my plan is to offer to travel my final week employed.

            1. OP5*

              I wish they would but that’s one piece they did add to the employee handbook. Absolutely no reimbursement for mileage to/from the office.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                Is that in the normal course of your employment, or did they specify that this policy also includes a case like this where someone is returning property? Because my company also has a policy that states they won’t reimburse employees for travel expenses in between their home and the office as that’s a regular expense they would have made regardless, but they don’t extend that to include remote employees coming to home office or one of the many satellite offices for any reason – the latter gets reimbursed.

  9. Caro*

    OP 3 – I’ve been in your shoes and I know its not fun.

    The advice that got me through (I think I got it from AAM) is that your definition of success can’t be that this person understands the seriousness of the conversation, it can only be that you had a conversation that 99% of people would understand the seriousness of.

    In my case, and for multiple reasons, I took my manager along to the PIP conversation as an observer, and I gave her the task of judging me by that second criteria. Afterwards I got the feedback of “You were great, you couldn’t have said it better, but he didn’t understand how serious that conversation was though.”.

    From that point on every interaction with my staff member was in writing, or confirmed in writing afterwards, so that I had evidence to back me up if things progressed to termination and he tried to claim to HR that he was unaware. Thankfully he found a new job not long after so that evidence never had to be tested

    1. Generic Name*

      Yes, this is the way to go. I could be misreading, but I’m getting the sense that your boss wants your employee to not only understand the feedback, but to agree with it and maybe even feel good about it. (I was surprised that your boss is coaching you to soften your language in this instance). Frankly, that’s never going to happen. And I think it’s likely that your direct report will continue to Not Understand your feedback, so the best you can do is use terms that normal and reasonable people understand and put it in writing so you have proof of the conversations.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Yes, I was really concerned that the OP said, “I prefer to be direct and detailed. I’ve been working with my manager on softening my approach.”

        What this says to me is that the OP has been saying, “Fergus, you need to completely clean all of the llama stalls every shift. This means you muck the stall and put down fresh straw, clean the feed trough and refill it with fresh feed according to each llama’s diet plan, and clean the water trough and refill it with fresh water. It is important the llamas are properly cared for, otherwise we will have to let you go.”

        And OP’s manager has been saying, “Noo, that’s too mean! Fergus is going to think we’re going to FIRE him. We want him to think we’re going to SUPPORT him!” Which is why Fergus thinks this is a helping situation and why it’s taken over a year to put Fergus on an actual PIP despite him doing poorly at his job all that time.

        OP, you have a manager problem.

    2. Grey Coder*

      That is a great metric! It can be very hard for people to understand how serious a situation is, especially when their own egos are involved. I’ve had difficult conversations where “You aren’t doing X. You need to do X” is countered by a list of excuses and the employee thinks because they had the excuses it’s all fine. I know OP#3 says they are softening their approach, but there are times when you have to be crystal clear. I would go even farther than Alison’s “need to let you go” and say “need to end your employment here”.

  10. Jessie*

    Op 1 I had a similar experience. But she got on my FB and would make a sarcastic comment every time I posted something religious. I’m not even that religious but I like putting occasional prayers. In the end, we had a huge argument on FB.
    I can’t believe your colleague does that in the office!!!

    1. LPUK*

      Yup, that’s just rude! I have some family who are religious and sometimes put that stuff on Facebook – I give a little snort and carry on scrolling… it gives them comfort and they don’t use their religion to put down other people ( the people I like to call Christians In Name Only) and in fact we share some lefty politics. The only time I ever said anything about it was when one of them said we ought to bring back religion in schools and I said, ‘perhaps not – how about we leave that up to the parents’ . They didn’t respond, I have never said anything else. I wouldn’t dream of bringing someone’s religion up and disparaging it or them.

  11. Malika*

    I always knew it was 3pm on Friday, because two colleagues, a Sikh and an Atheist, would start debating the existence of god. As much as we would roll our eyes, we knew it was good-natured debate before heading off to the pub. That kind of debate is all i have ever experienced, i would find it worrying and brutish to keep mocking your beliefs in an aggressive manner. If she is walking up to you and picking a verbal fight, she is trying to pick a fight (maybe in a very inappropriate way trying to heal trauma from Dysfunctional religious background). You have every right to discuss mundane details of your private life without being attacked. Imagine being homosexual, and not being able to talk about said jumble sale with your girlfriend. That is also discriminatory. Your manager will sympathize, and your coworker might see the light and keep her thoughts to herself once this has been adressed calmly.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Good natured debate? At this time? With this climate? Can I see it?

      1. LPUK*

        By use of the term ‘pub’ I think you’d have to come to Britain to see that good natured debate. We are becoming less so but due to our culture of taking the p@@@ out of anyone that takes themselves too seriously, it’s mostly relatively good humoured.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          I love the idea of taking the piss out of people who take themselves too seriously. We could use a bit more of that here in the US. :-D

    2. kaittydidd*

      I chuckled. Until I read “pub” I wondered if we had worked in the same place. There were a pair of guys who did almost exactly this at my first job. I was only newly calling myself and atheist and very junior in the office, so I just stayed completely out of it.

  12. Sarah*

    About #3…
    Maybe the reason people don’t understand you will let them go if you don’t see XYZ by April 20 is you are saying you would let them go. Say you will let them go if that’s what you mean. Saying you “would” is too wishy-washy and many people construe it as you “might.”
    If you mean you “will” then say that.

    1. M.*

      I don’t think Alison literally said “I would let you go”.
      I think she is using reported speech where ” I said ‘I am going to let you go'” is grammatically converted to “I said I was going to let him go” and “I said ‘I will let you go'” becomes “I said I would let him go”.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        +1. “Would” is the past tense of “will” and “Should” is the past tense of “shall” in addition to their roles as helper verbs in English’s composite future and conditional tenses.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My inner grammarian loves this conversation and has to be held back from the keyboard.

          1. Heather*

            Right, I thought there was a joke in there about the person getting fired for smoking on the job or something. Never mind.

    3. anon73*

      Semantics…I don’t think that was a direct quote when she’s making the point that OP needs to make sure the employee knows clearly and directly that they will be let go by X date if they don’t improve.

    4. Littorally*

      I think this gets into much too much granularity. Someone trying to make the argument, even to themselves, that there’s a significant difference between being told they would be let go versus they will be let go is already someone who is in denial about the seriousness of their working problems.

      OP is not responsible for this person twisting their words around looking for an escape.

      1. Le Sigh*

        There is a “legendary” story in my family about the time my younger cousin just would NOT stop debating the meaning of “would” v. “will.” For hours. It was mostly annoying and a tiny bit funny…but he was 7 and not facing a performance improvement plan. We give him a hard time about it even now.

  13. Jules the First*

    LW2 – you might also want to check your company internet use policy…ours prohibits streaming music or video over the company network during working hours, not because we’re killjoys but because we’re trying to protect bandwidth.

    1. Agency Escapee*

      This! At an old job a few years ago, there were internet outage and slowdown issues even affecting our ability to send large files to our clients. Turns out most of the company was streaming music or tv shows on company wifi, so they banned any streaming to preserve the bandwidth. Someone who came in after the rule started got in trouble (and contributed to her firing) after continuing to stream Youtube on her work computer for music.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        We still joke about the former employee who was downloading “The Lord of the Rings” daily when the network gets slow, years later.

        1. Berkeleyfarm*

          We ended up blocking a lot of sports sites after someone decided to live-view the entire Super Bowl on the Monday afterwards. We got a LOT of complaints about slow network.

          (The admin team liked sports, but watched at home.)

    2. Rebecca*

      Seconding this – we’re allowed to watch a brief “how to” video on a work related issue, think an Excel problem with illustrations, but not music videos, TV shows, or anything like that. Basically, no streaming services for video or music, and not because the company is a killjoy, it’s because if hundreds of us do that all at one time, it would slow everything to a crawl.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is where we are – YouTube has tons of great resources on the software how-to front, so it’s not banned, but, if 75% of your floor’s bandwidth is being sucked down by streaming, someone’s going to pop by to see what’s up.

        And very little pisses the Help Desk folks off more than someone who calls to complain their computer is running really slowly only to find they’re streaming and have a bunch of non-work-related websites running code in the background.

    3. Snow Globe*

      Particularly these days, with many people working from remote locations – more bandwidth needed for conference calls, etc.

    4. Lynn Whitehat*

      Yes. I work in network security, and we have very few rules about Internet usage. Sometimes people need to go to the shadier side of the Internet for research purposes. The only things absolutely banned are criminal acts, porn, hate speech… and streaming music and video. Because of bandwidth.

    5. pbnj*

      Same, I’ve seen that at all my employers. I’ve also seen them punitively block Youtube completely for everyone since some people wouldn’t stop streaming. Personally I would download a playlist to my phone and listen to that.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      Yeah good point; this is why we were only allowed Pandora at Exjob. I have 80 million albums on my phone’s microSD card so didn’t need it anyway.

  14. cncx*

    re OP1, what has worked with me is being aggressively disinterested. People love to try to get into it with me over religion (fwiw, Islam) and i just pretend like i didn’t hear or say uh huh or whatever. i save the calling it out for when someone is saying something blatantly bigoted towards muslims as a group…for the rest i make it not worth their time to engage. it has taken a few years but people know it’s a non-starter with me now. I’m at work to get paid!

    1. Batgirl*

      Grey rocking the drama is always the first move imo. “I don’t know”, “I don’t care”, “Why are you so invested in this?”

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        “Why are you so invested in this” might give her an opportunity to monologue, so it might be better to go with “You certainly seem invested in this”- a statement rather than a question.

    2. EPLawyer*

      This isn’t a grey rock situation. OP is asked what is she doing this weekend and says Mass and Brunch. Co-irker then goes off on religion. OP is already being boring by not giving details. She can’t GET any more boring. The co-irker is choosing to be aggressive no matter what. It’s harassment and needs to be addressed as such.

      This is not ignoring boundaries and prying into personal life because they are nosy. This is plain and simply harassment based on religion. This needs to be told to stop immediately and HR needs to be involved. No less than if the person were making a sexual remark every time OP mentioned her weekend plans with a significant other.

      1. Littorally*


        OP deserves a workplace where she can exist as a person who has religious beliefs and not get harassed about them. So do you, cncx; I completely understand choosing your battles on this front as it sounds like you could otherwise spend a whole lot of energy on them, but please understand that isn’t an obligation on you.

    3. Observer*

      How much more disinterested CAN the OP get? The OP does not bring up religion. They have repeatedly tried to disengage. At this point, the only way that they can do less is to actually never be withing CW’s field of vision.

  15. PeriPeriwinkle*

    Similar situation to #4, I recently applied for a part-time job at a small company that I VERY much would love to work for – they’re a media company that produces one of my favorite podcasts, and although the job is remote, they did point out that it’s preferrable if the candidate is local, which I am. It’s a REALLY small company and I recently ended up meeting a guy who works for them as a performer for one of their shows. he has a side gig that was giving a presentation outdoors back in august, so I went, we had a quick, friendly banter both before and after the show, and then I attended a second show the next week but didn’t get to speak to him as much as I was with a friend, although we did end up chatting a bit on Twitter afterwards.

    how ideal would it be for me, in this situation, to ask if he can put in a good word for me at the company? the LW on #4 met the acquaintance on a business lunch, so I’m unsure if the same rules would apply for me here.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      I’d send a quick note similar to Alison’s script above (really enjoyed our chats, saw the job posting and decided to throw my hat in, excited that we may have a chance to work together in the future!). That way you’re not explicitly asking for him to put in a good word based on a social connection, but he can pick up that line of conversation if he would like.

    2. Dr of Laboratoria*

      I wouldn’t use this person as an “in” to this company.

      BUT, if you get an interview…

      If they ask how you heard about the company etc., definitely bring up this interaction. You thought So and So was a super cool person from listening to their work, you went to an outdoor seminar given by them. You had a chance to chat with them afterwards. With such a good guy on their team, they must be a great place to work yada yada yada.

      1. PeriPeriwinkle*

        thank you everyone! I appreciate the comments and suggestions. Dr’s comment is more or less what I was thinking of doing; I was almost sure that trying to reach out to him wouldn’t feel super good and I don’t want to come out as desperate, needy, or trying to take advantage of anyone to get a leg up on the process, and it’s good to hear you agree more or less – heck, even nowadays whenever I interact with people or leave positive comments on the company’s discord server or twitter and am just my usual, nice self, I sometimes worry people might think I’m amping up the act to make it seem like I’m nicer because I want the job, when I know I’d be like this whether I had applied or not. impostor syndrome is doing one hell of a job to my already fragile psyche these past few weeks since I first applied and its not fun let me tell you = _ =

  16. DaisyGJ*

    OP5: My team is mostly remote (currently fully remote). When someone leaves, they usually resign by phone then follow up with an email. According to policy, they are supposed to drop off any equipment at their local office (there are about 30 offices across the UK), but in practice managers claim ‘special circumstances’ and get IT to arrange a courier collection from their home.

    1. OP5*

      I am hoping they can collect by courier. In my company policy, it says employees need to turn in their equipment immediately but doesn’t specify how or what the situation is now due to covid.

  17. Twisted Lion*

    OP1 I had a boss who was obsessed with me being catholic (like you it was because I had requested a religious holiday). She was very combative about it (she went to a evangelical church) and went so far as to give me a bible as a gift with some snide comment about how Ive probably never read it. Be firm in shutting this coworker down. “Why do you keep bringing this up? Can we focus on work please” became my mantra. Finally I lost it and had to tell her i came to work to earn a living and not discuss religion. Loop in hr or a grandboss. Anyone who cites scripture to me at work gets a deaf ear and a blank look.

    1. Caroline Bowman*

      WTF?? Gave you a bible!! I am aware that the more hardcore evangelicals like to think that they Invented Christianity, ”real” Christianity (I am an atheist, so this always makes me snigger), but that is incredibly rude and hateful.

      I appreciate they were your boss, but I’d be so offended and insulted. It’s actually real harassment, calculated religious nastiness.

      I hope you got away from that person fast.

        1. Paperwhite*

          No it really wasn’t “rude and ignorant”, it was accurate and true. As an ex-Evangelical I can attest that I was indeed taught that Evangelicals were the only ‘real’ Christians and that Catholics never read the Bible but had priests describe it to them. In addition to knowing Caroline Bowman is describing an actual widespread attitude I share her horror at the religious harassment Twisted Lion’s former boss put them through.

          1. Evan Þ.*

            Meanwhile, as an Evangelical who grew up Evangelical, I was never taught that. I know some churches are saying it, but it’s thankfully not universal.

            (Also, I hear my Catholic grandparents never read the Bible till very late in their lives, so that does happen too. But, I know some other Catholics who read it regularly.)

            1. Paperwhite*

              I’m glad it’s not universal, but I also heard about it on ‘Family Radio’ (remember Family Radio, that fun chain of Evangelical radio stations? That was on in my house ALL the time growing up) so I wouldn’t call it precisely unheard of outside a few churches.

              I’m not surprised there are some Catholics who did not read the Bible — there are many people in the world. But I don’t think that justifies Twisted Lion’s former boss giving them a Bible out of the assumption they’d never read it.

          2. kt*

            Just to add to the fun stories, I’m Protestant & my best friend is Catholic. We were sitting on a bench in high school waiting for a bus and a protestant-variety proselytizer came by to try to save our souls. My friend is Very Religious. The guy asked her if she was Christian and she said yes, I’m Catholic. He said, “You can still find Jesus — there’s still time to save your soul.” I’d never been exposed to this type of thinking and so (knowing my friend and her relationships with Jesus etc) I burst out laughing, so hard I nearly fell off the bench, just couldn’t stop guffawing at this guy. My friend was upset (as she’d experienced this type of thing before) and I soon felt bad…. but me just laughing and laughing at the bizarreness of the statement as I saw it did get the guy to go away….

            1. Paperwhite*

              Heh, I think laughing at him was the perfect response, though I’m sorry your friend was upset.

        2. Firecat*

          ? I didn’t see anything rude or ignorant?

          As an atheist in an atheist family, I can tell you it’s very common for my family to know more about the Bible and history then those trying to convert us. This attitude of “ours is the true church that never left Jesus’ teachings while every other denomination is fallen/false etc. is a common attitude and frankly laughable if you have any knowledge of the evolution of the Abrahamic religions.

          1. TiffIf*

            As an atheist in an atheist family, I can tell you it’s very common for my family to know more about the Bible and history then those trying to convert us.

            There was a study I read about that actually found that athiests and agnostics are more likely to know more about the Bible and religious history than those who identify as religious.


        3. c-*

          Nope, describing what the boss did as “hateful” is correct, because it was a hateful and harmful thing to do to Twisted Lion. Some Protestants can be very shitty to Catholics in countries where the latter are in the minority or subjugated in some way, this is not news. The opposite is true in countries where Protestants are opressed or in the minority, as well. Turns out, people will use all sort of excuses to justify hating others, Christians are not exempt from this by a LONG shot.

        4. Ana Gram*

          Not really. Heck, I’m Catholic and my Pentecostal husband is still vaguely appalled that I can quote the Bible to him.

          A few years ago, I went on a work trip to an Independent Baptist Church affiliated college (we recruit at all sorts of places) and I popped in the bookstore to get some gummy bears. They were located right next to the section of books about how to save your Catholic friends cuz they’re gonna burn. Sigh. No gummy bears for me…

          There’s definitely some Evangelical/Catholic animosity out there.

        5. Salymander*

          I grew up in an Evangelical Protestant family, attended a private Evangelical school, and went to several dozen Evangelical churches in several different states. The disdain for the Catholic church was ubiquitous in all of these places. And we are talking fire and brimstone type preaching against Catholicism and mocking of Catholics and their supposed lack of knowledge of the bible. Many Evangelicals do not believe this stuff or harass people about it, but enough of them do for it to be a recognizable thing. In fact, it was this sort of bigotry that caused me to begin questioning my own beliefs at an early age. Giving a Catholic person a Bible because they are supposedly ignorant or going to hell is really terrible. Also, it isn’t really the kind of thing someone does if they are genuinely concerned for that person’s soul, is it? Sounds a lot more like bullying and a feeling of smug superiority. Very similar to the militant atheist who harasses their co-worker. I am an atheist now, but I don’t want to hear about another person’s atheism any more than I do their religion.

          I don’t think Caroline Bowman was rude or ignorant. Sounded more like someone who had to work with one of the members of the church I grew up in. They were exhausting people for anyone of a different (or no) faith to deal with, and might prompt someone to make an exasperated remark. After the 100th plea to “get right with God,” I might be tempted to snark a bit too. Just like I would if a militant atheist were interrogating me about my beliefs. It is just obnoxious either way.

      1. Twisted Lion*

        FWIW this boss was awful to me the whole time I was there. I think she was just a angry person and she thought I would make an easy target. I was happy when we moved out of state because it was such a toxic work place. I got written up for not wearing makeup among other things.

        I feel bad for OP because honestly it gets exhausting having people come at you for things you’re not even trying to talk about.

      2. Chinook*

        What makes this even funnier to me, as a Catholic, is the Bible they gave her would actually contain LESS books/pages than the one the Catholic reads. If this were me, I would return the favour by giving her the Catholic version so she can ensure she has “a complete set.”

        1. Salymander*

          My evangelical dad was apoplectic when I went to a Mormon religious service with one of my friends. Then I told him that I had read the Book of Mormon and the Catholic bible, as well as books about a number of faiths, and that I had decided that I didn’t believe in any of them. Poor old dad just didn’t know what to say or do. To this day he still thinks that being too educated is what made me lose my salvation, and that the Mormons made me an atheist. I read too many books, you know? When I quoted scripture to counter his arguments, he told me that the antichrist will quote scripture in order to do evil. So I guess the Mormons and Catholics and all my reading of books turned me into the antichrist? I dunno.

          I had a militant atheist classmate try to harass me in college. He seemed to think that my being an atheist wasn’t enough, as I had been born Christian and was one until I was maybe 7 or 8. I kept telling him to back off, but he just wanted an argument. I finally just screamed at him to leave me alone. Probably not the best way to handle things at work, but enormously satisfying.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      I had a proselytizing born again dude reporting to me who would try to “save” people. I spoke with him about it already, and he was on a PIP for work performance issues. When I caught him telling his gay coworker that his same-sex marriage was akin to bestiality, I put a hard stop to it. Born Again Dude apologized but said he didn’t want to have “some gay guy throwing his lifestyle in my face.” I replied that the man was speaking about his family and that’s perfectly normal and acceptable but religious harangues are not. Born Again Dude said “It’s bias when you tell me I can’t discuss religion at work. If those guys can discuss lawn mowers, why can’t I discuss Jesus? Jesus is my interest, Jesus is important to me. Spreading the word of Jesus is important to me.”

      At this point, I did a very unmanager-like thing and said “Will Jesus be helping your currently abysmal work productivity? If you can pray to him right here and have him get you to meet all of your deadlines for a change, then I’m fine with that. Otherwise, knock it off.” This was in cubicle-land where some people were my direct reports but most people were not. Everyone heard and applauded. I kept waiting for an HR phone call but it never came. I documented everything for my own manager, who laughed hysterically. Born Again Dude never did anything like that again. His productivity increased as well and our PIP check ins were not as terrible. Go figure.

      1. AKchic*

        I guess once he focused on his work and less on pushing his buddy Jesus on all of his coworkers, he actually got some work done, eh?

      2. Lizy*

        Ugh this bothers me, too. And I’m pretty darn conservative Christian. But some guy being gay isn’t “throwing his lifestyle in my face”. It’s just… being gay. Discussing religion and being an asshat are two different things.

    1. not down for working in silence*

      I’m not OP, but there are two reasons I would use my laptop instead of my phone.

      1) My laptop has my work phone forwarded to it as well as our instant messenger. Putting my headphones into my phone means that I would potentially not hear those two things if they were to go off on my laptop, or, if someone were to call me, I’d have to disconnect my headphones from my phone, connect them to my laptop, and then answer the call. That takes time and my phone doesn’t ring that long.

      2) My phone battery is awful, and would 100% die on me if I used it to listen to music all day (yes, I have a charger, but all of the outlets where I am working are otherwise occupied by work tech).

      1. AnotherAlison*

        There are workarounds to solve both of those issues. Certain bluetooth headphones can connect to two devices at the same time. You can get an outlet splitter for $3, or get a power strip, or plug your phone into a laptop USB. Or get a cheap tablet for $30. No one is saying OP has to do that, but if it’s the risk of sharing a NSFW album cover during a Teams call or finding a way to use my phone, I’d personally do the second.

  18. Duke Flapjack*

    1.) Gah, these people annoy the ever-loving hell out of me. I am an atheist, but you know I keep it to myself. Just like whatever your personal salvation is is no business of mine I am not about to try to tell somebody else how to live.

    Allison’s answer was spot-on, though. Just like the other way around would be true, this is descending into harassment territory. Give this jackarse one last chance, perhaps, then go to HR.

  19. Jennifer*

    I enjoy having discussions about faith that are respectful – outside of work. This chick is a bully. I agree that talking to a lawyer is too drastic, not to mention expensive, at this point. But she needs to be told once and for all to stop. After that, maybe HR if they are competent.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yep. She either learns to contain it or leave. I can’t think of any workplace where endless remarks about someone’s religious beliefs would be okay. So good luck to her finding a job that suits her.

      It’s funny/odd. People read so much into a passing comment. I have a family member who is a dear, dear person. I think they are afraid of being preached at but it could be that it just angers them. No matter as I just avoided talking about any religious topics and it was no problem because we had dozens of other things to talk about. I did notice that they tensed up once in a while. This would happen if they asked what I was doing tomorrow/this weekend/etc. and I answered with something churchy. Finally I said, “Look. I am just answering your question. I am not telling you to go to church, no more so than I am telling you to go to my knitting club on nights I meet with them.” Of course, this was actually funny but it made the point clearer. No way were they going to learn to knit and that was just an automatic assumption. So why not have the same automatic assumption when I say I am doing something churchy. I was just answering a question that’s it. It’s either that, or don’t ask me what I am doing.

      Because they’re family there is more context, more running in the background to strengthen the relationship. Co-workers don’t generally have this added layer between each other. And we did have many other interests in common.
      It sounds to me like this angry cohort is jumping in on other people’s conversations? And it hits them on a personal level somehow or else there would not be all this anger. Not up to you to sort all this, OP. Nor is it up to you fix it. Cohort needs to stop, cold and hard stop. Period. People are allowed to say what they are doing this weekend or tonight or whatever. Additionally, people are allowed to have conversations with each that are free from outsider commentary. And the bottomline is management cannot let this go on, because this is looking pretty illegal. Unfortunately that last here is probably the only way cohort is going to understand to stop it.

      In as much as my family member is a non-believer, they had a softness about them. People on both sides of this subject do not to have a razor sharp edge. It does nothing but push people away.

      1. Jennifer*

        Exactly. You asked what I’m doing with my weekend and I told you. Nothing more. If you’re curious about my religion, we can talk about it outside of work or you can do your own research.

        I’m wondering if this coworker was hurt by the OP’s church in some way? Doesn’t make her actions okay, but does explain her anger. She needs to find a different outlet for her anger, and stop painting all religious people with the same broad brush.

        1. Paperwhite*

          *nod* I was wondering the same thing you were, if the coworker is lashing out because of residual pain. If so I almost wish I could talk to her about how inflicting pain on someone else won’t help heal hers. There were some years right after I left the church of my childhood when, in part because of my lingering emotional pain, I had to bite down on comments about all religion being fake, etc, whenever someone mentioned something religious. But I didn’t ever say things like that because 1) deep down my conscience knew I would be trading one kind of Fundamentalism for another, and 2) it obviously would be disrespectful and unnecessary. Answering a religiously-based challenge such as “it’s a sin for you to have a girlfriend” is one thing but making nasty comments anytime someone even breathes about religion is very different and utterly obnoxious.

        2. Person*

          The pain people can experience from organized religion is real and deep–I say this as a Christian. There is no excuse for this coworker’s bullying behavior. But I do hope that those practicing a religion will be mindful of the real ways religious orgs have and continue to discriminate against and hurt people, push for change within their organizations to eliminate discrimination and attempt to make amends, and act with care for everyone around us. We don’t deserve unfair treatment, but I’d like to see us be aware of the ways we might represent bullying to others and act accordingly.

  20. Neon*

    My standard answer when somebody brings up their atheism in an overly-aggressive or inappropriate way is to say “Hey, alright a water carrier.!I’m a Capricorn myself.” That tends to shut them down fairly quickly.

    I’m irreligious and don’t mind atheism as a concept, but I think the whole theist/atheist debate is boring and dumb and definitely not something to bring up at work.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I totally agree with you. And I am a church person myself. The endless debates are boring because they are a huge energy and time suck and in the end no one is going to budge anyway. I’d much rather have pleasant interactions as I am not big on debating ANYTHING. People find their own way in this world and this concept covers a lot of things from religion, to politics, to foods, pets, the definition of family and on and on.
      The amount of anger OP’s cohort is carrying around is jaw dropping. If cohort can’t rope it in on their own, I hope they get help with their anger.

      1. Sylvan*

        Anger’s a common enough reaction for someone who’s not in the religious majority. It’s just not an appropriate reaction to the OP, who’s not doing anything aggressive, and it’s not remotely acceptable at work, where religion is a protected characteristic.

      2. PersephoneUnderground*

        I would exclude politics from this statement because it by definition is about how we function as a society, so it is a collective issue where we’re talking about real consequences of the beliefs people hold and legislate. It’s personal and contentious, so as much as possible should be kept out of work, but it’s not personal in the “doesn’t effect me, none of my business” way that religion is. If someone supports candidates that think my husband being at higher risk of being shot by a police officer is fine and dandy (or at least don’t care enough to try to prevent it), then that’s not a matter of “live and let live” anymore.

        But of course context is still important in deciding whether to raise the issue, and at work I’d just prefer not to know that about my coworker so I can continue to work with them.

        I don’t want to derail here, but wanted to flag that I draw the “we all find our own way” and everyone is entitled to their own beliefs line at politics because it’s not about personal beliefs anymore when it’s about setting public policy.

      3. Paperwhite*

        The amount of anger OP’s cohort is carrying around is jaw dropping. If cohort can’t rope it in on their own, I hope they get help with their anger.

        Entertainingly, I agree with you, but not so dismissively. There are people who have been very hurt by [mis]applied religion, and if LW#1’s coworker is one of us, I kind of wish I could suggest one or another of the groups I’ve known, places where she could heal from that hurt. Not least so she learns ASAP that hurting LW#1 will not help her (and would be wrong even if it would).

        Also, I concur with what Persephone said about politics. It both is and isn’t personal.

  21. Foo Foo*

    Im Agnostic and many of my friends and colleagues are either religious or atheist or agnostic, but you wouldn’t know it cause don’t bring it up unless asked.

    I don’t know why people feel the need to impose or insult and taunt people for their beliefs.

  22. jcarnall*

    LW3 – I think you do need to have a clear conversation with your employee where you specifically say they need to improve (whatever issues they’ve been struggling with) or this could mean losing their job but OF COURSE YOU HOPE IT DOESN’T COME TO THAT. No judgement about which is better, but the way you describe their communication style compared to yours does strongly suggest to me that at least, you need to know that they understand that either they do better according to the goals in the PIP, or they’re gone.

    LW1 – As an atheist I would find this obnoxious. Someone saying “Mass then brunch are my plans for Sunday” is not proselytising their religion.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      I agree. Lay it out very clear, with no area of misunderstanding. It is really hard to say “…or you could be let go from the job” but an important part if it is true. I don’t think softening language is helpful here even if the person communicates that way.

    2. Purrsnikitty*

      I also think being direct is the way to go when facing someone who clearly has trouble getting it. What about “If your performance is still as it is now by April 20th, you *will* be let go.” ?
      Also making it clear that while you are willing to work with them and support them, you also need to see action on their side. In the description I did not feel much expectation was explicitely declared, possibly because of all the “softening”.

  23. Delta Delta*

    #5 – Phone is best. Cod is also a good resignation medium, but impractical from 500 miles away.

        1. Blue Eagle*

          This suggests a third option (rather than just a phone call or personal visit) of texting or e-mailing a photo of the fish message.
          {Got to say that “quit” was a classic!}

          1. Quill*

            I mean, if I have to talk to my mom one more time about whether or not I will FLY to hers for christmas I will make a collage out of viral transmission papers and email it to her at the largest file size the internet can support, so…

  24. Pretzelgirl*

    #1- I sincerely dislike people like this a lot. I am Catholic but rarely bring it up unless someone asks or presents itself in conversation. I have a friend who I saw off and on for several years. She is also and aggressive atheist. Somehow we got on the topic of religion and she found out I was catholic. It was awful. I don’t get a flying hoot what others practice, never tried to “convert someone”. Everyone has the right to believe what they want. She was so aggressive towards those that practiced any kind of Christianity. We are not friends anymore because of her aggressive behavior.

    1. allathian*

      I’m so sorry you went through that. It just goes to show that atheists can be just as dogmatic, sometimes even more so, than people of any religion. It also goes to show that it’s possible to identify with a traditionally proselytizing religion, such as Catholicism, without trying to convert anyone.

  25. Nuke*

    I, myself, am a pretty serious atheist. I’ve got big issues with religion as a whole. But, um, this stuff doesn’t belong at work at all. If a coworker told me they were going to a mass over the weekend, I’d tell them that sounds like fun, or whatever. You know, how you respond to anyone else telling you their weekend plans! I really feel like the atheists that have to start yelling at completely innocent stuff like that are really insecure and need someone to yell at. I’ve got my own beliefs and keep them to myself… The idea of starting religious arguments at work is inconceivable to me.

    Because this isn’t about beliefs or lack thereof. It’s about being respectful to other people, specifically your coworkers. You really gotta know how to leave some stuff at the door when you come into work, and it’s a shame a lot of people don’t know that. Doesn’t matter what your beliefs are – a bully is a bully. And this coworker’s a bad egg.

    1. Shenandoah*

      Yeah, this is exactly where I am. Big problems with religion, lots of frustration about the church and state not being as separate as they need to be. A coworker telling me about their plans going to mass over the weekend is not the same thing as say the coworker telling me about their plans to go to a rally for school prayer, etc. (And honestly, even if a coworker did mention the latter, I would probably just make a “oh” remark and remember not to ask that coworker about their weekend plans in the future.) OP1’s coworker really is no different than every evangelical who has told me I’m going to hell.

      OP1, I hope your coworker knocks this obnoxious shit off and you can mention your brunch and mass plans in peace!

    2. Elenna*

      This. I’m agnostic, but if someone told me they were going to mass I’d respond the same way as if they are going to, say, a rock concert, or basically any event I wouldn’t be interested in going to (pre-Covid obviously) – “Have fun” or something similarly noncommittal aloud, even if I would personally not understand what the coworker is getting out of it. To steal a line from Captain Awkward, LW isn’t going yo mass AT her coworkers, she’s just going to mass.

    3. azvlr*

      I had a coworker who is a member of a particular church that more or less ruled the town where I grew up. My childhood is full of incidents where parents wouldn’t let their kids come to my birthday parties, I wasn’t chosen for a particular team, and received a fair amount of bullying and proselytizing as a non-member. I should mention evangelism is a major part of their practice.
      So imagine my discomfort when I first met this coworker, since it was clearly evident that they were a devout member of this church. Their faith is very much a part of their daily life and and takes up a good deal of their time and conversation. It’s just a part of who they are. But not once in the entire time I worked with them did I feel judged or proselytized in any way. In fact, some of the conversations in our little corner of the office sometimes came around to topics that I would never imagine they should have any knowledge about based on what I know if their religion (addiction in particular).
      I gained an enourmous amount of respect for the way this person listened to other’s stories in a non-judgmental way and even had some great advice at times.
      I sometimes cringed on my religious co-workers behalf when an over-sharer in the group would discuss details about their married life, even though I personally didn’t mind. There are topics I steered away from since I knew they would make religious coworker uncomfortable, to the point that I named it “The Alex Rule”. If it’s something I wouldn’t say in front of Alex, it has no business in a work conversation.

  26. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    #1 – I’ve been known to say “Bless your soul” to people who are aggressively anti-faith and on my last nerve. Usually that’s a relative, not a coworker. With a coworker, I’d just say “duly noted; thank you.” and continue on as if nothing happened when the tantrum starts.

    #2 – Just make sure you don’t inadvertently sing along and you should be fine. =)

    #3 – Be prepared to lose your employee. It might not happen, but the common perception of PIP is not the same as the nuanced view you’ll get here. Consider cross-training, documentation, etc–whatever you’d need to survive his being hit by a bus–before you turn your employee’s life upside down, lest the favor be returned.

  27. Phony Genius*

    Does the answer to #2 change if the music contains extremely offensive lyrics, such as the n-word? (Assuming nobody else can hear it, but someone could notice it as Alison describes.)

    1. RagingADHD*

      Well, I can only think of 2 contexts in which that word would be a lyric. And one of them is neo-Nazi.

      You definitely shouldn’t play neo-Nazi media at work or on a work device. Otherwise, I don’t think it matters.

  28. Quill*

    1) Allison’s advice is, as always, sound, but it may be useful to see if there are any other colleagues who the aggresive atheist colleague is bothering. Generally, pushy people are pushy on more than one subject.

    3) “I prefer to be direct and detailed. X tends to use generalizations and can take an entire minute to think and gather his thoughts before answering a question. ”

    I noticed this because in my experience, it’s common for people in their first job working for reasonable bosses to not know that “I need to check on that in order to be more specific” is an acceptable response when your boss asks you for details. Of course, there are probably other reasons for the PIP than “verbally answers questions slowly” but for the sake of being very clear with your employee about your expectations, please do indicate when “I need to get back to you on that” or “I need to check documentation” is a better answer for you than waiting for a vague general statement.

    1. Gumby*

      Yes, that part of the description of the problem with the employee also struck me. Normally “thinks before speaking” is not actually a bad trait to have. There might be some particularly fast paced or high pressure jobs where it is a problem – like medical professional in an emergency room or a bomb disposal technician or whatever – but for most jobs I wouldn’t see that as too problematic. (‘Likes to think through an issue before saying stuff out loud’ is also, according to Susan Cain’s Quiet, a trait that is amplified in introverts on average.)

      I’m sure there are other contributing factors that warrant the PIP, but I would hope that it has been made explicitly clear that “I don’t know, let me go find out” is an acceptable and welcomed response.

  29. FuzzyFuzzyCat*

    OP1 I am so sorry you are being harassed like this! As an atheist myself please know this has nothing to do with atheism/religion, your coworker is just a terrible person. You deserve to feel safe at work. You can do this!!!!!

  30. theletter*

    #1, I’ve very intrigued by the mention of her teasing you over taking off Christmas. I’m Catholic too, but I’ve come to realize that the timing of the holiday lends itself to general acceptance, along with so many traditions that have been incorporated into the celebration that are not necessarily Christian (the tree, for example).

    Given that it’s the end of the year, and the coldest time of the year for half the world, with short days and long nights, it’s easy to see how it’s really a moment for a holiday, and Christmas is a holiday for that moment. Many other religions have holidays leading up to and during Christmas that also focus on lights and expressing affection for those close to you.

    This is a loong build up to me asking: what is her problem with people taking off Christmas? Is it really that challenging for her to imagine that people have noticed seasonal depression subsided after the winter solstice and decided to mark that day as special? Would she seriously rather we all plow through that awful week as if nothing is happening with weather or frayed nerves?

    I’m not suggesting we all go argue with her, more so to point out how aggressively ridiculous she’s being. Time off in that last week of the year, especially for people in very cold climates, can be a critical component for mental health and work/life balance. She’s asking for a lot when she suggests people shouldn’t take that time off, or any other time that is designated for self-care, family gathering, and reflection, spiritual or otherwise.

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes, I mean practically everyone, religious or not, in my company takes time off over Christmas. I’m in a fairly white collar job and while the company closes on the bank holidays (25 and 26 December) I’d say 90% of the employees take extra time off before / after. I’ve no idea how many of them are actively doing so for religious reasons and how many just because it’s a good time to take the time off and means you use fewer leave days.

      Obviously in retail and other sectors you don’t have as much flexibility (and retail is particularly busy before Christmas) but in an awful of white collar jobs, people take time off over Christmas but taking holiday over Christmas isn’t an indicator of any level of religious devoutness in the UK.

    2. eshrai*

      This caught my attention too, because I take Christmas off, and I am atheist. Lots of atheists celebrate holidays, we just leave religion out of it.

      I worked in a group where I was the religious minority (not having one) and for the most part it was fine, I don’t bring it up unless specifically asked, and I won’t debate it. I have had multiple coworkers give me religious books, or pamphlets in an effort to save my soul though. There was one particular time when several of my coworkers started hounding me on being atheist and explaining why I was “wrong.” I took this as an opportunity to explain to them why their religion was “wrong.” They didn’t like it, I pointed out the hypocrisy and let them know I am fine not bringing it up if they never bring it up again either and we all got along again after that. People just need to learn to leave that stuff out of work.

    3. I edit everything*

      I have a strong suspicion that the letter writer is certainly not from the US or UK, and likely not European, either, because of the comments about taking off for Christmas. I mean, in the US, it would be weird if the office was even *open* on Christmas, and if it was, odd that the newest employee would be able to take such a high-demand day off.

  31. Beth*

    I’m very definitely not Christian (and at presenting, not practicing anything), and I really detest fundamentalist atheists! They’re rare, but even one is too many. (My brother is one, alas, and he’s a jerk in many other ways as well.)

    Shut that stuff down. This isn’t about Christian privilege (which is a thing, true), it’s about the other person being an a-hole. Fundamentalist BS is fundamentalist BS.

  32. VanLH*

    LW2 made me once again realize that I am a Certified Old Person as I have never heard of those groups or songs. And my wife and I built our house around our stereo system (no joke).

  33. employment lawyah*

    1. My atheist coworker hassles me about my religion
    I say this as a die-hard atheist: She’s a jerk; that’s probably illegal; you should talk to HR.

    2. NSFW music on work computer
    1) Headphones are key. Get good closed phones which don’t transmit sound.
    2) Be VERY careful of singing along.
    3) Sex is a lot safer than, say, the n-word. Be VERY VERY VERY careful of singing along or making it audible if you listen to music with that word, ESPECIALLY if you are not Black. That can be a career-ending error.

    5. How to resign when I’m working remotely
    Cal your boss; confirm the conversation in an email.

    You should NOT have to drive 500 miles. You MAY have to drive to the closest UPS store to drop stuff for shipping.

    1. Firecat*

      I think it will be interesting when today’s teenagers are in the workforce. It’s apparently more acceptable to use the n word amongst friends regardless of race. Not sure how wide spread that is.

      1. Salymander*

        I don’t think this is true at all! I think some people who like to say racist things will use lame excuses like this in order to get away with it.

  34. Amethystmoon*

    #1. I am surprised the atheist is that much out of the closet. Where I live, I would be discriminated against if it was known I didn’t believe. That being said, it’s not morally right to put the shoe on the other foot and discriminate against the other side. People need to learn how to live and let live.

    1. Firecat*

      #1 same here. I experienced discrimination at my prior job (one woman even went as far as to lie to me during my misscarriage in a bizzare and bumbling attempt to get me to convert by speaking to her priest. The priest was mortified and not part of the scheme.)

      That said, not saying this is the OPs case I completely believe that she is being harrased, but I have also experienced people who claim I discriminated/belittled them when it’s not the case at all.

      For a personal example, our wonderful bright young cousin is now banned from seeing us. Our crime? Daring to say “Well we don’t believe that. Folks have different opinions on those things, and not everyone agrees on that. Besides you are a bit young to talk about this – tell me more about your dinosaur drawings!” In response to our 6 yo cousin randomly exclaiming “Obama is a liar/hates God/Atheists are terrible”.

      But our uncle tells everyone “They kept filling his head with liberal atheist lies. We asked them to stop but they just kept on.” Which is such a gross misrepresentation of what was happening. Frankly we were very up front about what was happening, how we were uncomfortable with him bringing these subjects up since he is clearly too young to understand what he’s talking about and can you please coach him to not discuss these things. Our Uncle asked us to just agree with whatever he said and we refused to do that. We said we were happy to be respectful and say “Well we disagree, but let’s change the subject” but that was somehow belittling his religion and conservative politics.

    2. Le Sigh*

      Depends a lot on where you live. I lived in the U.S. South for a longtime and had a somewhat public-facing job — I had to sidestep this sort of thing all the time because (many, though certainly not all) people absolutely would have held it against me to be atheist. Though even then, that depended on what town or city I was in. But, while I don’t really talk about religion much anyway, I’ve also lived in several parts of the country where this wouldn’t be an issue at all.

      1. Shenandoah*

        Yeah, I did an internship at a public school and I was consistently asked, by teachers and students, “Are you married?” and “What church do you go to?”. It stunk and there is no way I could have been open about being an atheist without major blowback.

        1. Le Sigh*

          I often would try to say something like “Oh I was raised in X church,” but some people would keep asking if I specifically believed in Jesus or God. I sometimes just lied outright, which I didn’t like, to keep things moving.

    3. SimplytheBest*

      That is so very dependent on where you live. I work for a religious institution with coworkers who are openly atheist.

  35. Allison*

    #3, I appreciate that you want to be honest and not blindside your employee. When I was put on a PIP in my first job, not only did my manager not mention how serious the issue was and how I was in danger of being fired if I didn’t improve, he actually denied that that’s what was happening! He really wanted me to believe they were just trying to help me succeed, and that termination wasn’t a consideration. And then I got fired a week later. And look, this was seven years ago, I’m not salty about the termination, I wasn’t a good fit for that company and I’ve gone on to succeed with other employers, but I am salty about the way my manager handled my termination.

    1. WellRed*

      WTF is this? Are you actually OPs coworker? She was asked her weekend plans, she responded, she got harassed for it. Do you truly not see the problem? And who makes fun of people for taking time off at Christmas? (non church person here).

    2. Sylvan*

      Uh. I’m an atheist and against organized religion, but OP’s just saying what she’s doing with her weekend when people ask her. Also, her coworker is harassing a protected class.

      Just like we’re protected – at least in theory – from anti-atheist discrimination, Catholics are protected from anti-Catholic discrimination. Christians being in the majority and holding political power doesn’t make those rules stop applying.

    3. Former Retail Lifer*

      Mentioning that you’re doing a thing which happens to have religious relevance is not the same as “talking about religion.” It’s talking about your plans. I’m also an atheist and I agree with you 100% regarding the problems with Christians forcing their religion into the government, but that’s a separate issue. The OP is being harassed. The OP is not prosthelytizing or handing out flyers or trying to get people to go to church. All of those things are just as obnoxious as what the atheist co-worker is doing but all the OP is doing is mentioning going to mass or celebrating Christmas, which are completely normal things.

    4. Observer*

      Good grief! This is so disconnected from reality that I don’t even know where to start.

      So let’s leave it at this: Responding to a question about your weekend plans with a bland “going to mass” is NOT “openly chatting about religious beliefs”. It’s not talking about religion at all.

    5. Totally Minnie*

      So what do you recommend OP say if they are asked what they plan to do over the weekend? Lie? Not answer?

      I’ve got a coworker with a hobby I find morally objectionable. But when she says she engaged in that hobby over the weekend, I don’t rant at her about it because work is not the place for that. I roll my eyes internally and attempt to keep our interactions as polite and professional as possible, because we are adults in the workplace.

    6. c-*

      Oh, come on! What would you have her do, lie when asked what her weekend plans are? Would you tell that to a Muslim or Jewish person? Would you tell a gay man to not mention any “he/his/him” when talking about his partner, else he’d be inviting homophobic remarks?

      Someone can be priviledged on a global axis (i.e., being a Christian in America) AND harassed on an individual scale (i.e, what’s happening here). Power and bullying are rather more complex than “your priviledge on X is an absolute shield against any and all harm in the world”.

  36. White-Tie Mask*

    LW2, I had a period of several months where I could only work while listening to Nicki Minaj. You’re fine, trust me.

  37. lilsheba*

    for OP 1….while what your coworker is doing is aggressive, I can’t blame her. I’m an atheist and it seems every single time I turn around someone is talking about god or jesus or prayers or whatever. We get sick of it being in our faces all the time. I have a co worker now who always looks for an excuse to bring up prayers, how she’s praying for people etc. I’m about to ask my boss that it be stopped. I’m a big fan of no religion talk at work ever.

    1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

      OP isn’t bringing up their religion at every turn; they’re answering a question about their weekend — it sounds like with very little description — and have asked for a religious holiday off. That’s not shoving religion down anyone’s throat; it’s discussing life stuff and asking for legally protected consideration for PTO. I understand people having baggage about this stuff, but OP shouldn’t be punished because of experiences the coworker may have had with other people. Unless all Life Talk is to be banned in the workplace, OP should be able to casually mention mass when asked about weekend plans without being harassed.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      I mean, if you don’t want to hear any mention of religion whatsoever at work and you know that a colleague is a devout practicing Catholic, maybe don’t regularly ask them what they’re doing at the weekend. This is up there with “if you have a severe shellfish allergy, consider not ordering the Lobster Surprise”.

      And truthfully answering a direct question when asked and taking time off for one of the largest holidays in the US is not “in your face all the time”, it is literally just existing as a Catholic as not actively concealing it.

    3. thatoneoverthere*

      I find it odd that people keep mentioning they find religion popping up all over when they don’t want it to. I don’t believe I have ever had religion creep up at work. Maybe a short get to know you type thing. I wonder if its a regional thing? I live in the mid-west and have been working since I was 16, never once had it brought up at work besides maybe mentioning I was a certain religion or a co-worker mentioning it as well.

      1. WellRed*

        Right? It doesn’t come up in my office. I asked coworkers this year what they were doing for Easter. One mentioned online mass, dinner, egg hunt. I did not then take that as an opening to either agree or disagree on religion or even to talk about religion. Not sure why people are projecting so much.

      2. SomebodyElse*

        Sometimes I feel like there’s a lot of confirmation bias at play with religion. (Upper Midwest for context)

        I’m sure that religious topics come up fairly regularly in the way that the OP mentions themselves referring to Mass on the weekend or things like the church softball league or volunteering at the church festival beer garden. I don’t typically notice them or think too much more of them as I would notice going to brunch, doing a yard project, or watching the kid’s soccer game type of comments.

        If you’re not sensitive to religion you probably won’t really notice it, if you’re looking for this topic you’ll find it in casual conversation. If you are looking to get your socks in a twist over it, you’ll definitely see it everywhere.

      3. UKDancer*

        I think it’s variable depending on location. In the UK it’s normal to mention religion in the sense of “church” or “synagogue” may be part of peoples’ weekend plans which come up in conversation on a Friday.

        In my company we also acknowledge major holidays, for example a Jewish colleague wrote a blog recently about the importance of Yom Kippur in his life and we had an Iftar during Ramadan a couple of times last year (although not this year obviously) and a Persian colleague usually brings something particularly delicious in for Nowruz.

        But we don’t preach at each other and it’s more that we acknowledge that people have religions and celebrate particular things and understand what they are. None of the events I mentioned are mandatory. Also I think a very dim view would be taken by management of attempts to convert people. I mean in a British context that would be considered very gauche and inappropriate in the workplace. Religion in the sense of “what one personally believes” is a very private matter. I may not be explaining this very well.

      4. Le Sigh*

        I think region or town matters a lot. Have lived in places where it never came up or people just causally mentioned weekend plans. Have also lived in places where my coworker or clients (often coming from religious that feel strongly about proselytizing) tried to get me to come to their church; pressed me on my beliefs; or just generally made inappropriate comments about, say, my boyfriend and I living together.

      5. Kaittydid*

        It happens, even in the PNW. I worked with an older man in a government agency office setting that went around with jesus-y stuff at every holiday. He made balloon jack o lanterns while reciting a thing about Jesus scoops the mess out of people and puts a light in that can shine out. His script included asking if the person be was talking to had Jesus inside them. I’m atheist, so I said no. I think I don’t fit the idea of “atheist” he has in his mind, because i was a polite young lady. He paused for several seconds, then finished his spiel. He retired a year or two after that, and I’m glad. I would be more brusque with him now and opt out of those conversations at the start.

      6. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Main times it has come up at my work are:
        – Ash Wednesday and folks are taking some time during the day to go to church
        – Ramadan where you juggle travel for a month so observant employees don’t have to be out of town, or, if travel can’t be avoided, can travel at times around the fast.
        – Swapping out holidays so folks could take Yom Kippur off and work Christmas
        – People getting leave around various Native ceremonies

      7. Anon Old Librarian*

        I recall one occasion when I was driving bookmobile past a construction zone with no shoulder and a steep drop to the right. My coworker in the passenger seat pulled out her rosary beads…

    4. Paperwhite*

      I hear you about the general overweening presence of Christianity in many cultures. Definitely in the US where I’m from.

      But looking at what LW#1 describes — I don’t think LW#1 is talking about religion the way your “I’M PRAYING” coworker does. That coworker is using her religion as a bludgeon in a way I don’t see LW#1 doing. Also, responding to any mention of religion with sniping and unkindness doesn’t actually help push back against those who use religion as a bludgeon, and in fact empowers them by giving them an excuse to feel like martyrs fighting against the Armies Of Evil, etc, etc etc.

      I totally hear you on your frustration, which I absolutely share, but I do think LW#1’s coworker is harassing LW#1 rather than pushing back against excessive religiosity, and I think in general that acting like LW#1’s coworker energizes those who want to be excessive about religion rather than dissuading them. So it’s both wrong and counterproductive, you know?

    5. kt*

      I think the advice for you, though, is exactly the same as in the letter: tell your coworker directly to stop. Then escalate if it doesn’t stop.

    6. Observer*

      Wait, so it’s reasonable to harass someone at work because you are having issues elsewhere in your life? If a guy is being badly treated by his wife / GF is it ok for him to be aggressive with women at work? Or maybe it’s only ok if it’s a woman mistreating all of the men at work because she’s being mistreated by her BF/ Husband?

      The reality is that the OP is not doing anything to their coworker, and furthermore, this is a workplace where atheism is seen as the norm. So there isn’t even the excuse that Atheist CW is lashing out over work related issues.

      If *your* coworker is hassling you, DEFINITELY go to HR. But don’t start telling other religious people how terrible they are because you have an obnoxious coworker, or you know some other people who are obnoxious.

    7. Environmental Compliance*

      As an actively non-Christian person, who actually is veering into Wicca after a long time of being apathetically atheistic, this is ridiculous.

      Do I get sick of people making the assumption of me going to church? Yes. I don’t really want to have the discussion of “so what church do you go to? well why don’t you? bless your heart…”. It’s very, very tiring. I don’t want to talk about what I was raised with. I don’t want to talk about my actual faith path at work. I don’t want to hear excessively about praying for people (especially when its a difference of faith, orientation, etc…). That can be, and often is, rooted in harm and othering.

      Do I give two shakes if someone says they went to church when asked how their weekend was? Absolutely not. It’s an activity, not pushing faith or beliefs onto me. Tell me about how your church dinner went. Tell me about how this weekend your church had a volunteer effort at a homeless shelter. That’s awesome. It’s listing what you did, not shoving a belief down your throat.

      But there is a HUGE difference between mentioning in passing that you went to church this weekend and pushing prayers/beliefs/faith on people.

    8. tangerineRose*

      The OP said “whenever someone asks me what I’m doing on a weekend or what my evening plans, if I respond honestly with just “oh the usual, mass and brunch,” she launches into long diatribes on the evils of religion.”

      You really don’t blame the co-worker for launching into long diatribes because the OP answered honestly? I don’t get it.

    9. Anony Anony*

      I was abused as a child by a gay man. Does that mean it’s now okay for me to be aggressively rude and question intently every gay man I come across?

  38. Firecat*

    #1 I think it will help oif you name it for what it is: prostelyzing and attempting to convert. Both are unwelcome at work but I noticed you mentioned you are not prostelyzing so you don’t understand your coworkers behavior – they are attempting to convert you to atheism so call it that.

  39. Former Retail Lifer*

    OP #1, I’m so sorry. I’m a very open atheist but I would never combative about it at work UNLESS someone is aggressively pushing their beliefs or putting down my beliefs first, and I don’t believe that you are. I’m betting they’re a newer atheist. Like many newer vegans, they just can’t help but put down everything that’s not in line with their beliefs. I can say this because I’ve been a vegan-leaning vegetarian for most of my life and an atheist for most of my adult life and I was pretty obnoxious at first about both. Most people eventually learn to STFU and mind their own at some point because they appreciate the same. However, I don’t think you should wait for that to happen. You’re being harassed and it needs to stop.

    1. Berkeleyfarm*

      I would be willing to bet folding money that the atheist has been subject to “aggressive” remarks by former co-workers, but the cycle has to stop. None of that is ok.

      1. Former Retail Lifer*

        I’ve dealt with aggressive Christians many times in my life (and no offense to those that aren’t aggressive), so that’s why I know how annoying it is, coming from anyone. Everyone needs to tone it down at work. I’ll post some rants on Facebook that probably offend some friends, but that’s on my personal page on my personal time and to a limited audience of people that have chosen to interact with me. Definitely not the behavior I’d engage in at work.

  40. Paperwhite*

    LW#2, just beware of singing along! I learned not to listen to music at work after a couple of incidents where I found myself singing along to something I really shouldn’t have.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      I was whistling a tune that was stuck in my head quietly to myself at work one day for a little while, before I realized that the tune was Monty Python’s “Isn’t It Awfully Nice to Have a Penis?” I was very glad I realized this before I unconsciously started singing it.

      1. Paperwhite*

        You were wiser than I/ It wasn’t until I got a couple of weird looks that I realized I was singing along with “Every Sperm Is Sacred…” and I still got a talking to later. *laugh at myself*

  41. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    OP1 I agree with everything Alison said. Tell her firmly to stop. Let HR know if she doesn’t. I will not be surprised if you find out she’s done similar to other coworkers on different subjects. Bullies are bullies. She probably has strong opinions she can’t keep to herself across other subjects. If she tries to bait you after you tell her to stop, look her dead in the eyes and say in a flat voice “I’m not discussing this with you.”
    OP2 Before WFH I listened to Pandora on noise canceling headphones all day long. When a really NSFW song would pop up I’d grin like the Cheshire Cat.

  42. Le Sigh*

    Depends a lot on where you live. I lived in the U.S. South for a longtime and had a somewhat public-facing job — I had to sidestep this sort of thing all the time because (many, though certainly not all) people absolutely would have held it against me to be atheist. Though even then, that depended on what town or city I was in. But, while I don’t really talk about religion much anyway, I’ve also lived in several parts of the country where this wouldn’t be an issue at all.

  43. Mark P*

    #1, as someone who used to be the ‘aggressively atheist’ person (I didn’t harass people about it but I’d definitely speak my mind) I realized that no one is ever going to change their mind about religion of all things based on what one jerk (me) told them. So I stick to fighting back when people push religion on me. (This doesn’t really happen anymore where I live in the northeast because there are so many nonreligious people.) Tell her an atheist you know told her to stop because there’s no way you’ll change your mind! Allison is right on here.
    #2, this reminds me of when I went to an airport and my headphones, while I was singing to myself (quietly) with the volume all the way up, blaring S**t Luck by Modest Mouse. First line: “THIS PLANE IS DEFINITELY CRASHING!”
    I’m in a pretty permissive field when it comes to language (journalism, which is probably second to sailors in the F’s per minute) and have definitely talked about two of my favorite bands with coworkers: F***ed Up and The F***k Off And Dies. To say nothing of actively discussing WAP in Slack DMs. I mean, if someone puts on classic rock radio in the office and Pour Some Sugar On Me comes on the radio, does anyone bat an eye anymore?

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I mean, if someone puts on classic rock radio in the office and Pour Some Sugar On Me comes on the radio, does anyone bat an eye anymore?

      Only because we’ve heard it too many times, not because there’s anything still objectionable about the lyrics.

  44. Telly Lace*

    LW#2 reminded me of a funny story. At my last job, I was listening to an Arcade Fire album and then went into a meeting and plugged my computer in to the TV to present some information to the rest of the team. My Spotify window was open in front, and the song I was listening to was called “Porno”! I didn’t realize it for a second, and then my boss started laughing and said, “What are you listening to?!” Luckily it was a very casual environment and my boss and team just thought it was funny.

  45. Ellie May*

    1. OP has all the right words right in the letter. With a few adjustments: “You have become more and more aggressive with me about my religious choices. It has started happening unprompted with you trying to argue scripture with me. We’ve taken different paths and your path isn’t my business – and mine isn’t your business. I try to disengage and you just keep bringing it up. I don’t want to discuss these things, and it’s to a point that I don’t feel welcome in my new job. I’d like for you to just leave me alone and let me live my life.”

    And if that doesn’t work, when she starts in hold up your hand in a STOP motion and say, “I’ve asked you before to stop this,” and physically turn away.

    What a jerk.

  46. Well...*

    You probably haven’t met one because atheists are a minority.

    An overwhelmingly white, rich, and well-educated minority. So in academia in particular I’ve seen scoffing at religion become a convenient stand in for scoffing at first gen college students/students of color. I’m not cool with that.

    I’ve also seen Christian academics in male-dominated fields form networks together, and that isn’t my favorite thing. The Christian subset of people in my field definitely skews white and male (100% as far as I know of these people who mentor each other and form networks this way), and I feel like they have enough of an advantage already.

  47. Hrm*

    I feel conflicted about the OP saying they are only passing by mentioning their religion and getting this reaction from an atheist, because Christians are mandated to spread the word of God. I have never met a Christian who had a real self awareness of how often they would discuss or push God on others. No offense. Side note as a Jew I appreciated the Pope officially telling Christians to stop trying to convert Jewish people.

    1. tangerineRose*

      I wonder how many Christians you know where you have no idea they’re Christians. Not all of us are in people’s face about it.

    2. Wow*

      Christians are not mandated to spread the word of God. I have been a Christian my whole life (I am middle aged) and never once was MANADATED to spread the word of God. I have never discussed my religion at work, nor have pushed it on anyone else.

    3. UKDancer*

      I think it depends where you are. In the UK I think it’s more common to keep one’s religious views to oneself. I’m an atheist and I’ve never noticed people trying to convert me or preach to me. I mean there’s a chap who stands at Victoria Station and tells everyone the end of the world is coming and the wages of sin are death but I don’t take that personally. Even when I was a child who went to church and Sunday school we were never much encouraged to go around preaching and I don’t think it’s a very CofE thing to do. I mean there was more of a message that religion is a personal and private thing and we need to respect that others think differently.

      I don’t know which of my colleagues are Christian or what they believe although one of them did a charitable walk to raise money for his local church roof so I guess he might be. I gave him £2 because he’s a nice chap. I’m more aware which colleagues are Muslim because I’ve had to get halal food in for conferences before now. I know that one friend is a Christian because of some of her facebook postings of her children at Sunday school but I’ve no clue which denomination she is.

    4. brighidg*

      Basic American Catholics don’t tend to proselytize. That said I also suspect the LW is leaving some things out as there are some portions that make no sense for a (presumably) Basic American Catholic. For starters outside of Ash Wednesday Good Friday, there are no holidays we have that they’d need to take off. And even if she is going to mass every day, it’s usually 30-45 minutes on weekdays so how much time can it take up?

    5. c-*

      Two points of information:
      1. The only Christians who care about what the Pope says are the Catholics (which I believe are a minority in the USA?). The rest of Christendom (Orthodox, Protestants, etc.) have different leaders who ask for different things and set different rules.
      2. As for Christians being mandated to spread the word of God… that depends a lot on denomination and culture. It is true that some Protestant denominations are very in-your-face about it because their churches do command it from their members, while others don’t consider it an obligation. In the Catholic Church, the emphasis is (in modern times) to spread the word of God through good deeds (i.e., shut up about other people and focus on your own behavior -> living and acting as Jesus did). No idea about other branches of Christianity.

      So, there is no reason to disbelieve OP1’s account of events. There are some very aggressive atheists out there, just as it happens with any belief system. Some atheists who genuinely believe that religion is the opium of the people do try to enlighten/save others just as a religious preacher would.

      Last, but not least, apologies for all the antisemitic hate campaigns during the last 1000+ years, as well as the ongoing antisemitism within Christianity. It is unacceptable and we need to stop it.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Antisemitism within Christianity is hideous and so wrong. Do people worship Jesus and think he’d be OK with people being mean to his mom’s people?

  48. brighidg*

    #1 As a Catholic I’d be fascinated to know how your religion can take up so much of your time and what holidays you’d need to take off.

    1. Emi*

      Some of these are suspended for covid reasons but my parish has a charitable society, a teen charitable society, a food bank, three scouting troops, men’s and women’s group studies, a blanket-making group, a bible study, a financial management course, and a partnership with a local family preservation non-profit, as well as liturgy-related ministries like lectors, servers, choir, and the people who care for the altar linens. There’s also a rosary group and two or three more book clubs in the local Catholic community that aren’t run by any particular parish.

      Depending on the local Mass schedules she may not have a convenient option for non-Christmas holy days of obligation (there are 5 in the US, for non-Catholics), and lots of people like to do Ash Wednesday Mass in the mornings and/or take off the Triduum.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Doesn’t the Triduum begin on Thursday evening, though? Using PTO to not work on a Friday isn’t all that religiously conspicuous because it simply looks like a long weekend. The only really conspicuous absence in most M-F office settings would be dealing with Ash Wednesday Mass.

        Then again, as a Canadian for whom Good Friday and Easter Sunday are statutory holidays, Catholicism is pretty easy to be on the down-low about and you really don’t hear anyone talking about work accommodations. If you’re really involved in the community aspect of your parish, it’s stuff you do on your own time like any other volunteer obligation.

    2. Anonymous Poster*

      Why does it matter? I could worship at the altar of Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo and take off Ice-T’s, Michael Chambers’s and Lucinda Dickey’s birthdays. What’s it to you how I observe my religion?

      The letter writer says she needs that time off for religious reasons. It’s not an employer’s place to start judging what holidays they really need and the ones they’re being fake about. If it turns into an attendance problem, then deal with the attendance problem, but it doesn’t sound like it’s there. It sounds like the letter writer has a religious life that requires the time she’s dedicating to it. That’s… the end of it.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Yup. This is why it just makes sense for people to use their PTO without giving some massive 100-point justification. You inadvertently invite people to appraise why you take time off, and as we can see absolutely no good comes of that.

  49. Eclecticism is a Virtue*

    LW2, as to the idea of your employer checking your history to see what you are doing on their computer, I wouldn’t worry about that either. Multiple coworkers I’ve had over the years who worked in IT told me any logging like that is just there if they need it, but they don’t actively monitor it. So if something happened and they think an employee is using their computer to do something illegal, yeah, they’ll check the computer’s activity, but they don’t go home at night and check what you did all day just because it’s been logged somewhere. If your employer has already shown signs in other areas of being too invested in knowing how employees spend their time, that’s a different story.

  50. Brusque*

    #1 I’m an Agnostic. For me religion and atheism are equally a question of believe since there’s neither proof for one side or the other. I mostly get flak by atheists though who claim they have a scientific point of view while they really don’t. They claim they have facts, but there are no facts. In the end it is highly unlikely that there is no kind of higher power but there’s no proof in any direction, it’s all about believe. Everyone decides for themselves either to believe in God or not to and freedom of religion means that this decision is a personal one and should not be pressured.

  51. Raven*

    I absolutely ADORE Cigarettes After Sex! Sweet is one of my favorite songs of theirs, as are K. and Affection. I’m SO psyched to see them mentioned here!!

  52. Nathan*

    #5: I worked for a US company remotely in New Zealand (so, uh, VERY remotely). They terminated my contract due to a restructuring. I told them that if they wanted I would ship all my equipment back to them, but they’d have to pay international shipping. They decided the shipping fees were worth more than the equipment and told me to keep it.

    Long story short, that’s how my wife got her MacBook.

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