my employees got into a religious argument and now things are in chaos

A reader writes:

I have a situation regarding a argument regarding spiritual/religious beliefs in my office. I’m a team lead and oversee 10 people. I have two employees, Fred and George, who are the office jokesters. Both are liberal practicing Muslims. Another employee, Harry, is a practicing Wiccan.

Recently there was a situation where Fred and George began to inquire to Harry about his spiritual beliefs, which quickly became more pointed, obnoxious, and mocking of him being a “witch wannabe” after watching magic based fantasy shows and films too many times, along with teasing the silver pentacle he wears as being “the Devil.”

Harry eventually became irritated to the point where he snapped back and began to criticize them for how their particular religion has been under fire for decades if not centuries, especially since 9/11 over terrorism and about human rights for women and LGBTQ+ people. Fred and George immediately became angry and defensive, accusing him of prejudice and islamophobia. This conversation/argument was witnessed by three other employees.

Fred and George both came to me right after this incident, demanding some form of discipline for Harry if not just firing him outright. They had also looped our overhead manager as well.

My manager feels that Harry should just be let go for borderline hate speech as it’s a two vs one scenario. After speaking with the three witnesses and Harry, my perception is that while Harry may not have responded in the best way, he wasn’t really hating on Islam so much as pointing out to Fred and George that they shouldn’t mock and belittle his religion as their own has its detractors. Plus, they started this situation in the first place and up until now there has never been any conflict among these three (though Fred and George have been known to joke around occasionally and I have to rein them in, though nothing as egregious as this incident). My manager is not forcing me to discipline any of them, but still suggests Harry needs to be let go. I’ve tried explaining how by that logic, Fred and George should be let go as well for their own slander against Harry.

Harry has since taking to icing Fred and George out unless it’s necessary for their work on hand. Fred and George continue to make some comments under their breath about Harry, but I never catch what is said and therefore I won’t address that unless I catch something negative. Who is more in the wrong of this whole mess and what is your advice on how I handle this situation?

Does no one in your company realize there are laws about all of this? The law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes religious harassment at work illegal) makes it really clear how you need to proceed: All three of these employees need to be told that religious harassment is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated in your company, period.

Your manager’s idea of siding with Fred and George because it’s two against one is bizarre. You don’t settle issues of religious discrimination by counting up who has more people on their side! It’s not a vote.

All three of them — Fred, George, and Harry — were in the wrong. They all engaged in religious harassment, and they all need to be told it won’t be tolerated.

That said, it’s not irrelevant that Fred and George started it and Harry appeared to be trying to defend himself (badly and wrongly). It doesn’t excuse Harry’s actions, but it does mean that you’ll need to account for that in your messaging to him. It also makes it extra odd that your manager is proposing that Harry be the only one disciplined.

Your messaging to Fred and George should be: “It’s not okay to harass any employee here about their religious or spiritual faith or lack thereof, regardless of what you think of their belief system. This is both company policy and federal law. You need to treat all employees with respect, period, and this cannot happen again. I understand that Harry did the same thing back, and I will be telling him the same thing that I’m telling you. This can’t happen, from anyone or about any religion. I am documenting this conversation and this is serious enough that I need you to know this is the final warning you’ll get on the subject.”

Your messaging to Harry should be: “I’ve spoken to Fred and George and told them that it’s not okay to harass any employee here about their religious or spiritual faith or lack thereof, including yours. They were out of line in what they said to you, and I’ve made it clear it cannot happen again. However, I need to say the same to you. While I understand you were provoked, you cannot harass any employee here about their religious faith, regardless of your provocation. This is both company policy and federal law. In the future if you feel you’re being harassed or discriminated against because of your religion, I need you to ___ (insert reporting procedure here). I can promise you that if you do, we will take it seriously and investigate, and will ensure you’re not harassed for your religious faith. But I also need to be clear that none of this will be tolerated if it happens again — not what Fred and George said to you, and not what you said to them.”

You also need to deal with the aftermath of this among the three of them. It’s fine for Harry to decline to chat with Fred and George as long as he talks to them when it’s needed for work and as long as he’s being professional and respectful. It is not okay for Fred and George to make comments about Harry under their breath, and it’s definitely not okay for you to decide you’ll ignore it unless you catch what they’re saying. The under-the-breath comments need to stop, period; they’re creating a hostile work environment for Harry (and maybe others), it’s unprofessional, and it’s not acceptable. So, to them: “I’ve heard you making comments about Harry under your breath and that needs to stop. If you have a concern about Harry, please bring it to me and I will take it seriously and investigate. But you need to behave professionally in this office, and muttered comments about someone you don’t like are not okay.”

But you shouldn’t do any of this without talking with someone in your workplace who has more expertise than your boss apparently does — generally HR. There are legal consequences to your company if you mishandle this (another reason that it’s so weird that your boss is taking the approach he is), and they need to be looped in.

Read an update to this letter

{ 656 comments… read them below }

      1. L'étrangere*

        Especially the boss! For them to suggest firing the person first attacked (by 2 others) is so egregiously wrong

        1. AnonEMoose*

          I can’t help but think that the boss’s thought process is partly that Harry is Wiccan, and way too many people still think that it’s not a “real” religion, and/or is weird. I could be wrong, but it does seem like that could be a factor.

          1. FCJ*

            As a Pagan, I can almost guarantee that’s what’s happening. Subconsciously or otherwise, the boss thinks that Fred and George have legitimate beliefs (and therefore a legitimate complaint) and Harry is just kind of “weird.”

            1. AnonEMoose*

              And this is one of the many reasons I’m only “out” as a Pagan to a very few people at work. In my case, my activity in science fiction/fantasy fandom makes really good cover for why I’ve had things like a figurine of Bast on my desk.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                I think when I got past 40 I stopped caring so much about people’s opinions of me – nowadays I’m the one wondering which goddess to invoke to get that blasted SQL server to stop crashing at work :p

                (Love Bast btw. Got a little statue of her near my Oya statue at home)

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  I am the devoted servant of 2 cats…being on good terms with Bast is mandatory!

                  It’s not so much that I care what people think…I just don’t want to have to deal with BS because of it. If they think I’m weird because I’m a geek…well, that’s easy enough to deal with, by basically saying “Yep, I’m weird. Got a problem with that?!”

                2. Still breathing*

                  I’m not very religious, but if you can get our server to stop crashing I’ll gladly worship you!
                  In all seriousness though, what affect does someone’s religion have on their work? It’s good to have varying perspectives on any team, and religion can help inform perspective, but other than that it’s irrelevant.

              1. AnonEMoose*

                I personally know someone not allowed to discuss his (Wiccan) religion with his kids, per his custody agreement. I’m aware of cases in which social workers have tried to remove kids from a home because the parents were Pagan. And there is so much more. It’s actually pretty recent that the pentacle was approved as a religious symbol on veterans’ grave markers. People being rude, dismissive, and worse about the beliefs of Wiccans and Pagans is sadly far from uncommon. And I think that OP’s boss is being, at best, unconsciously biased against Harry because Harry is Wiccan.

            2. WitchyDeeds*

              I once had a manager as I was quitting, tell me my mental health problems were because I’m Pagan and I should be following Jesus and it would cure everything.

            3. Marzipan Shepherdess*

              Pagan here: I agree 100%! Also, the manager may be afraid of being called “Islamophobic” and getting hell from HR. It’s generally “safe” to be prejudiced against pagans, since many people share the mistaken belief that we’re all Satanists.

              Theological note here: To all who think that Wiccans are Satanists – sorry, wrong pantheon! Satan appears in the Abrahamic religions (think Judaism, Christianity and Islam, for example) but NOT in those faiths that continue to inspire many pagans (including Wiccans) today (think ancient Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian and Celtic religions.) A Wiccan would no more worship Satan than a Methodist would worship Loki! So please, folks – let’s put that whopping misconception out with the trash. And if you don’t know what a particular religion teaches or who its adherents worship – read up and find out!

              1. Anonny*

                I’ve met some religious Satanists online and most of them are pretty cool people too. Very much into questioning authority and letting people do their own thing, very much not into sacrifice and drinking blood.

          2. Aquawoman*

            This was my thought, too, that his response is actually further discrimination toward Harry. If they fired Harry but not Fred and George, I think he’d have a decent religious discrimination claim against them.

          3. Lenora Rose*

            This is exactly what I thought the boss had to be doing; in his mind, Islam is real but Wicca isn’t. And that is even worse, because it makes the OP’s job even harder, because that is NOT how the law will see it. (Note it’s also what Fred and George were using to taunt Harry, too; the “you’re only doing this because you watched too much fantasy” aspect is exactly the same thinking.)

            1. Always Anon*

              This is EXACTLY what I though when I read it.

              And, as a pagan, I can tell you there is a HUGE number of people who don’t think my religion is real.

          4. MoreFriesPlz*

            I agree. I also think there’s an aspect of it not being “really” discriminated against. Similar to people who would speak out against racism toward a Black person but tell an Asian person to ignore it. I do think Muslim Americans probably face more discrimination than any other religion and it’s egregious, but it doesn’t even begin to excuse this B.S.

          5. Elizabeth West*

            I had the same thought, but it doesn’t matter what he thinks about it. According to the law, the boss can’t do that. If he fired Harry but not Fred and George, I would take that as grounds for a ginormous lawsuit.

          6. Observer*

            I can’t help but think that the boss’s thought process is partly that Harry is Wiccan,

            I’d be willing to bet that this is true. But not necessarily that it’s not a real religion. It could just as easily be that he doesn’t think it’s as “acceptable” as a religion as Islam.

            Just recently a public school district was forced to change their dress code which explicitly singled out Satanic dress. Link to follow.

              1. Risha*

                Oh, my old school district! So not a surprise. I got a reasonably good education there and such, but they were definitely sometimes a little sketchy and/or weird about their legal obligations and such. I had a bunch of AP classes with a guy who was brilliant but had a bunch of learning disabilities, and he barely graduated because they never followed through on anything in his IEP. And both of us were in the AP classes despite having terrible grades because (aside from wanting to be, of course), we passed the IQ test they used to determine entrance – 130 minimum IQ. Talented kids with much better grades couldn’t get in because they only tested in the 120s etc. Terrible way to run a program.

                (To be fair, I graduated in 1994. Hopefully they’ve fixed that.)

          7. KayDeeAye*

            To be fair, people say some pretty shocking things about Muslims, too. Completely different kinds of shocking things, but still, pretty shocking.

          8. Denver Gutierrez*

            That was my thought as well. I think boss is afraid of disciplining Fred and George because he is worried they could file a lawsuit for religious discrimination whereas he thinks Harry can’t do that since he is not a member of a “real” religion (in boss’s mind).

          9. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Also, the boss may be sh1t scared of firing the Muslims, thinking he’ll have a discrimination lawsuit in no time. Harry doesn’t matter so much since, as you say, he doesn’t take Harry’s beliefs seriously

        2. Tisiphone*

          A classic case of grade schoo bullying, victim lashing out, only the victim’s response being seen by the teacher– er, boss — and the victim being punished.

          Everyone who’s ever been bullied knows that the teacher never sees the first strike. Only the second.

          1. Llama face!*

            Yep, been there been the first person punished under the brand new “no tolerance policy” because the teacher left me trapped in a classroom alone with my bullies with no supervision and came back just in time to see me defending myself. (Ironically the reason for the no tolerance policy was because my parents pushed for consequences for the severe bullying I was experiencing)

      2. Artemesia*

        Absolutely. The worst person in this scenario is the boss. ‘It’s two against one’ — good grief. The most important thing here is that the TWO STARTED it. Their punishment or the tone of their dressing down should be shaped by that fact. Harry was defending himself — so he gets told to cut out any religious comments in retaliation — but the tone of the reprimand should acknowledge that HE was attacked by these jerks. The boss needs to be replaced by someone with sense.

        1. MoreFriesPlz*

          I think it’s worth addressing with Fred and George, but if Harry was actually saying Islamophobic things it’s just blanket not acceptable, no matter who “started it.” Fred and George aren’t the boys Muslims on this earth.

          That’s like saying if a Black coworker called an Asian coworker a racial slur, they could call them a racial slur back. It just doesn’t work that way. Defending yourself would be saying “you can’t speak to me that way,” and reporting them for the law they’re violating.

          1. socks*

            Thank you! I can’t imagine there would be so many “they can dish it out but they can’t take it” comments if Harry had responded with any bigotry except Islamophobia.

          2. Littorally*

            Right, yeah. I’m really not here for this “who started it” thing — this is a workplace, not a kindergarten.

      3. Selina Luna*

        The letter writer also sucks here, a little bit. “Teasing” someone because of their religion should have been stopped as soon as it started. Harry probably put up with a TON of “minor” crap until the pile of crap grew to an untenable size and crushed him. This metaphor got away from me a little, but the main point is, teasing someone because of their religion or allowing it because “it’s just teasing” is another way of implying that bullying is fine if it’s low-grade enough.

        1. fueled by coffee*

          Yes, this! None of this is acceptable workplace behavior and should have been stopped from the get-go.

        2. AJoftheInternet*

          \*winds up my humor speech*
          Whether teasing is fine basically comes down to consent. Humor is created when a Something is violated, but in a way that is safe. Slapstick is funny because the moral imperative not to cause harm to people is violated, but everyone knows it’s false, so it’s safe to laugh at. Teasing is violating the code of conduct toward other people by treating them unkindly, but is funny when the teased party feels safe/is okay with the situation.

          Therefore, the line between teasing and bullying is the consent or safety of the teased party.

          A circumstance CAN be “just teasing,” but that’s up to whether the person being teased things it’s just teasing or not. In this circumstance, you’re right, the evidence points to the previous comments having been bullying instead.

        3. Denver Gutierrez*

          I agree. This is a workplace. No one should be discussing religion, personal beliefs, etc., period, teasing or not.

    1. OhNo*

      Seriously, this is just a mess. I don’t mean to denigrate the OP, but even ignoring the under-the-breath comments is leaning heavily into “this behavior sucks” territory. There’s just… a lot of people acting poorly in this situation, which makes it harder to pick apart.

      1. Expelliarmus*

        I think OP is ignoring the under-the-breath comments because they think no one will take them seriously if they don’t have proof of what exactly was said, not because they genuinely don’t think it’s bad.

        1. NeutralJanet*

          And if her boss has taken the stance that Fred and George are in the right and Harry is in the wrong, I can imagine that she’s reluctant to take action against Fred and George for anything that isn’t super obviously terrible—I mean, they have already done something obviously terrible and the boss thinks they shouldn’t be disciplined! Not that OP is doing the best possible thing here, but she’s in a weird and tough spot.

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Well, OP is right. Boss doesn’t want to take on people when there are witnesses. OP suspecting (quite rightly, I’m sure) that a look at Harry followed by mumbling will not be something Boss will handle.

        3. OhNo*

          Personally, I don’t think it matters why. It’s not good to ignore something that could be contributing to a hostile workplace for one of their employees. OP has the standing to do something about this behavior, but is choosing not to at the moment.

          Given the boss’ behavior thus far, I get that it would be hard to make the case for the boss to do something about it. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean you get a free pass to not even attempt it.

        4. The OTHER other*

          Yes, but you have to have a zero tolerance for that sort of nonsense. Seriously, I’m sure every child has tried this little trick with their parents and teachers at some point, most people grow out of it by adulthood because at some point an adult doesn’t tolerate this behavior. These two have a major maturity problem.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Yeah, I’ve been having to tell my 7 year old that muttering when she’s annoyed is unacceptable. She can say something to us, or be quiet, but muttering in an annoyed tone is not appropriate behavior, basically ever.

            OP may not be able to address the content of the muttering, but she can definitely tell them to knock it off.

        5. Imaginary Friend*

          But the problem is that it doesn’t matter what is being said when LW does know that they’re muttering about Harry.

        6. R*

          Well you know if you cough while saying something it’s impossible for teachers, managers, and other authority figures to even notice that you’re saying anything so you cannot get in trouble for it. It flies under the radar completely and even if you can hear it it’s nearly impossible to understand. The Enigma code was essentially a form of this, and it’s a testament to Alan Turing’s brilliance that he was able to decrypt it.

          1. Mr. Shark*

            Haha, I was thinking your post was sarcastic, and then you started talking about the Enigma code and Alan Turing, and was wondering if I was wrong, and then now I think you were even being more sarcastic (and doing it brilliantly). Or am I wrong? :)

        7. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          But even if all they’re saying is “good grief”, the fact that nobody else can hear means everybody else is wondering what they said, possibly imagining much worse. The fact that you can’t hear it means even an innocuous comment becomes abusive.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        My least favorite managerial stance is “I know inappropriate behavior is happening in my workplace, but I haven’t personally witnessed it so I won’t take action on it.” This is not a supervisory approach that will strengthen your team or your organization, OP. If you know inappropriate behavior is taking place, you put a stop to it whether you’ve personally witnessed it or not.

        1. Reba*

          ٍRight, you can’t wait until you personally witness it, said out loud and clearly. You’re the authority figure, and they aren’t going to do it in front of you!

          1. DogAnon*

            I’m asking this as a sincere question, not playing devil’s advocate or sealioning. But if you know something is happening or you assume (since I’m not sure how LW could know Fred and George are making comments under their breath about Harry if LW cannot hear the comments) that it’s happening based on past precedent but you otherwise have no evidence of it happening and nobody has made a complaint about it, how are you meant to deal with it?

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              At a previous job, I had a coworker who my manager highly suspected was bullying other staff. There had been no official reports made, but based on some people’s offhand statements and other bits of conversation she had overheard, the manager was convinced that something inappropriate was happening. So she and our HR rep set up individual meetings with team members where we were all asked if we had ever seen or heard anyone in our workplace engaging in bullying behavior. Some of the questions were general, some of them were more specific. As a result of those meetings, HR and the manager learned what they needed to know and within a week or two the employee no longer worked for us.

              It’s more work that way and it’s less cut and dried, but it’s possible and I’d argue it’s necessary.

            2. Gothic Bee*

              It sounds like LW has seen them make comments, but wasn’t able to hear exactly what was said, so the LW can just say “Quit making comments about Harry under your breath”. LW doesn’t need to know the actual content of the comment.

            3. Koalafied*

              The answer to that depends on how you know something is happening and what you mean by “have no evidence.”

              If by “nobody has made a complaint” you mean nobody has given you any inkling anything is happening, then I’m assuming you witnessed it firsthand. Otherwise, I’m not sure how you would have any idea anything was going on. In a case like LW’s where they couldn’t make out the words, and have reason to believe it was problematic, then that’s what you say: “I didn’t hear what you said just now, so I don’t know if you were targeting Harry again or just snarking, but in either case, muttering under your breath is not acceptable behavior and needs to stop.”

              If by “nobody has made a complaint” you mean nobody has Formally Filed a Complaint but they have told you things, or if by “have no evidence” you mean that you just have your own incomplete observations or secondhand reports but nothing is documented on video/audio/paper, none of that can preclude you from having a conversation where you 1) name the problematic behavior that appears to be going on, 2) say that this behavior is unacceptable, 3) tell them explicitly what behavioral changes you need.

              If they flat out deny everything and you’re ready to fire them over it, then you could increase oversight or gather more information from others who are around when you’re not to firm up your documentation beforehand. If they deny everything and you don’t fire them, and they fix their behavior going forward because you put the fear of cheese whiz in them, then you’ve accomplished the most important objective – rooting out the unacceptable behavior.

            4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Whether or not you can hear what someone says under their breath, you can assume it is not kind, or they wouldn’t go to the trouble of saying it under their breath. And even if it were kind, everyone present will be assuming it isn’t, so it still contributes to poisoning the atmosphere.

    2. The Dogman*

      I don’t think that is fair.

      An accurate assessment of this (from what LW wrote) is the two muslims went after the religion of the wiccan directly, they bullied him based on his religion and they created a hostile work environment.

      The wiccan pointed out that people in glass houses should not throw stones.

      The only equitable solution is the immediate termination of the two bullies for being bullies, not for their faith, and an apology to the wiccan for allowing the bullies to get away with creating such a mess in the first place.

      Perhaps everyone does suck, but not everyone in this sucks equally.

      1. somanyquestions*

        I agree, I think that people are comfortable calling Wicca “not a real religion” and therefore dismiss his rights to religious freedom.

      2. hbc*

        Not equally, but there’s a difference between saying “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” and lobbing stones back saying, “See, I could hit you there, and there, and there.” They may have deserved it in the karmic sense, but it was still unacceptable.

            1. Aquawoman*

              The definition of harassment is unwelcome conduct based on religion [or other protected class]. IOW, it’s measured by impact, not intent, with a reasonableness component. I think it’s reasonable for someone to find statements about what “might be considered negative” about their faith to be hostile and unwelcomed. However, one incident isn’t usually enough to create a cause of action unless it’s egregious.

              1. LilPinkSock*

                It depends what US state a person is in. I believe in California it *is* a one-strike-you’re-out rule, no pattern of behavior needed.

                1. LabTechNoMore*

                  Not while I was there. Coworker harassed me about my religion just about every time we spoke, even calling me a terrorist at one point. It wasn’t considered egregious enough by either EEOC or the State Labor Commission. Apparently the bar is quite high…

          1. JB*

            You are an adult, correct?

            Adults, especially in professional contexts, are expected to be able to set boundaries without attacking people.

            And regardless of what you think these two people in particular ‘deserve’, there may well have been other Muslim employees within earshot – or who had to hear about the incident later. You’re alright with that kind of collateral damage?

        1. fluffy*

          My read on it is that he wasn’t lobbing stones back, though, he was pointing out the sorts of intolerance that the bullies are subject to and saying, hey, you’re doing to me what others do to you.

          The letter doesn’t include the exact phrasing that any of the employees used, but at least the wording seems like the Wiccan wasn’t harassing the Muslims or actually being Islamophobic, he was pointing out that they should already know what this harassment feels like. There’s a *huge* difference.

          1. Retired Prof*

            Harry’s response reminds me of the old joke: Mom, Brother said that your cooking isn’t fit for a pig, but I said it was!

            Maybe he thinks he’s just making a point, but he’s doing it by poking the other two in a very soft spot with a very sharp stick. It was inappropriate. It was also ineffective! The right thing to do is to escalate, not to engage your harassers.

        2. Nina*

          I’m not clear from LW’s wording on whether it’s ‘yeah but your religion has X and Y and Z problem so shut up’ or ‘people pick on your religion because of X and Y and Z, I’d have thought you had more empathy for being in a minority religion’.

          If it’s the former, everyone kind of sucks. If it’s the latter, Harry could have handled it better, but hasn’t done anything wrong wrong.

          1. Bamcheeks*

            “You are an oppressed minority so I expect better of you” is absolutely wrong, FWIW. You cannot single out protected characteristics like that even if you mean it in a “positive” way.

            1. Nina*

              I’m not, at all, saying it was the perfect way to address it, but ‘guys we’re all from minority religions, you get picked on for ABC and now you’re picking on me for XYZ, cut the crap, this is ridiculous’ is not something I have a problem with Harry saying.

            2. marvin the paranoid android*

              I don’t know, if it was intended more as a gesture toward solidarity, like “hey, we all have to deal with discrimination, let’s not make it any worse for each other,” I would support that. It doesn’t really sound like that’s how it went down from the description, though.

      3. Empress Matilda*

        This is where I land as well. Obviously Harry’s behaviour was not good and shouldn’t be repeated, but it sounds like Fred and George were allowed to get away with this bullshirt for quite some time. I’m not surprised Harry responded the way he did – it’s not okay, but it’s certainly understandable.

        I’m curious about the “office jokesters” bit as well – even if things haven’t gone quite this far before, have they gotten close? I can’t imagine this is the first time someone has been hurt by their words, even if nothing was said at the time.

        1. ostentia*

          I agree. I have trouble believing that the “office jokesters” have been pretty much fine, only requiring OP to rein them in occasionally, up until they decided to *mock someone’s religion.* If they feel comfortable doing that, I can’t imagine they haven’t offended anyone else in the office before.

          1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

            It could be because so many people don’t see ‘Wiccan’ as a real spiritual position. Fred and George could well have never mocked anyone else’s faith because they would be horrified at the idea of belittling a ‘real’ faith like Judaism or Buddhism. They need to learn that’s not how this works.

        2. MissBaudelaire*

          You know what, I kind of think that maybe Harry did it because… Well if nothing was happening to Fred and George when they were being nasty about religion, then it must be okay in the office, right? No one cares, right?

          He was wrong, morally, to do it. But it’s hard to pearl clutch when no one wanted to come to his defense when he was the one being attacked. But as soon as the shoe is on the other foot, Fred and George want to cry about it. I have a hard time having a lot of sympathy for them.

          I half wonder if Fred and George have been allowed to misbehave because “Haw haw, such cards!”

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            I agree with you. It sounds like F&G were allowed to get away with being “cute pranksters” for too long, and were the golden children of the office. While Harry shouldn’t have said bad things about their religion, I could definitely see where he thought he could do it because those adorable boys could. But, alas, Harry is not a golden child, so the grand boss wants to fire HIM.

            This office sounds dysfunctional tbh.

        3. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

          Office jokesters tend to be exhausting, but from the way it’s written it sounds like this whole thing was one, escalating conversation.

      4. Nonny*

        It’s still religious discrimination to say that someone’s religion makes them automatically associated with bigotry and terrorism, even if it’s in response to bullying.

      5. Spencer Hastings*

        Yeah. Based on the letter, I was imagining that he’d said something more along the lines of “hey, not cool, how would you like it if someone said XYZ to you about Islam? Don’t insult my religion either!”, rather than “XYZ bad things about Islam are the case and I, Harry, endorse those judgments.”

        1. hbc*

          Yeah, but I’m thinking of a textbook from my Comparative Religions class at my Catholic high school. It started the chapter on Islam with something like “When you think of Islam, you probably think of hijacked planes and buildings being blown up.” It doesn’t really make it okay if there’s a “but…” after that. Better, but not good.

          (Luckily we had the awesome sub that day who ripped that page out and threw it in the trash to make the point.)

        2. MoreFriesPlz*

          That’s what I was thinking. A charitable interpretation might be Harry didnt actually attack Fred and George, but was pointing out that since people say equally ridiculous things about Islam, they should understand this isn’t ok, and Fred and George took issue with hearing those things listed at work.

          I think theres also a middle point where Harry lashed out and said those things sarcastically/ironically to point out how awful the behavior is, like “oh, if I’m a devil worshipping wannabe witch I guess you’re both homophobic terrorists? No? That’s idiotic? Ok.”

          But… that’s not what the letter says. I think it’s worth OP checking with the bystanders. Each situation is slightly different but anything beyond pointing out that they should know better when they’re inaccurately stereotyped themselves isn’t ok.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            This was my thought, too, that there’s a wide range of things that Harry could have actually responded in here, some of which would be absolutely Not On (“oh yeah? Well you guys are terrorists, so what do you know?”), some of which would be less than ideal (the middle point you mention), and some of which would be perfectly reasonable (“you know, I would think that people who probably have to put up with Islamophobic people calling them terrorists would have more understanding!”) So my thoughts about what should happen to Harry are pretty dependent on that. Regardless, it sounds like it was pretty certain that Fred and George were mocking Harry’s religion, which is very much in the Not On category.

          2. Hrodvitnir*

            Yes! Thank you! It’s not at all clear how Harry responded, and while I totally understand lashing out, that 0% would justify actually just being super Islamophobic in response. Hopefully it was one of the examples you gave; I was imagining the second one.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          OP wrote “began to criticize them for how their particular religion has been under fire for decades if not centuries, especially since 9/11 over terrorism and about human rights for women and LGBTQ+ people. Fred and George immediately became angry and defensive, accusing him of prejudice and islamophobia”
          “them for how” is where we see that he’s bundling all Muslims in with terrorists, sexists and homophobes, blaming Fred and George.
          “under fire” kind of implies that he could be comparing the flak Muslims get with the flak Wiccans get.

      6. MoreFriesPlz*

        I always understood the glass houses/stones thing to be saying you shouldn’t criticize others for faults you yourself have. This wasn’t a case of three people with legitimate issues with each other behavior, and they also have those issues. This was three people being bigots.

        1. B*

          Are all three people being bigots? Or was Harry just pointing out that Muslims are often mistreated, and so they should understand how it feels to be stereotyped? If anything, Fred and George proved his point. They clearly demand respect for their own religion that they are unwilling to extend to others, and that’s the nicest way I can put it.

      1. Julia*

        Said it before and I will say it again: if this comment section becomes like AITA, I’ll be really disappointed. This isn’t supposed to be a community oriented around judging people and labeling some as assholes. It’s supposed to be oriented around giving and receiving advice. I know it’s human nature to enjoy being judgmental, but I’m pretty disturbed by the tendency to pick a “jerk” in every letter and crow over how wrong they are.

        1. marvin the paranoid android*

          There does seem to be a real tendency (not just here, everywhere) to strip out the nuance from a given situation and cast everyone in hero and villain roles. I’m not sure exactly where it comes from, but it’s equal parts frustrating and fascinating. This is why I like the podcast “You’re Wrong About” so much.

        2. BuildMeUp*

          I absolutely agree. I spent some time on AITA until I realized how negative it is, and I’ve definitely noticed this comment section trending in that direction. It’s really frustrating to see. (Plus, I feel like about 75% of the posts on AITA are made up anyway!)

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah, and if you ask a genuine question because you don’t trust what Google threw up for you (or its a NSFW question), you get downvoted to hell for not already being perfect. And then you get insulted once the others have run out of arguments…

    3. Anon Supervisor*

      Apropos of nothing, I read the first paragraph as “Harry is a practicing Wisconsin” and was curious about the church of Beer, Cheese, and Lambeau Field.

  1. Rayray*

    Everybody does indeed suck here, but after and George absolutely should not dish it if they bc any take it. Not saying Harry was right but probably just reacted in a moment. It’s fair to talk to everyone and notes others off the hook because there are two of them.

    1. NeutralJanet*

      I’m fascinated by the idea that Fred and George shouldn’t be disciplined for this incident because there are two of them and only one of Harry—if anything, I would be more inclined to punish the two employees who ganged up on one employee!

      1. Rayray*

        Same. It sounds like bullying especially since they were making fun of him first, possibly unprovoked.

        But man, people who dish it out and then cry victim as soon as someone dishes it back really are something else.

        1. Purlesque*

          Yeah. Often enough “office jokesters” are bullying coworkers and hiding behind “I was joking!” when called out on it. LW admits sometimes she has had to rein them in. Maybe they are a bigger problem than just this incident.

          1. londonedit*

            And I bet these are the same people who cry about how you’re ‘not allowed to say anything these days’, ‘political correctness gone mad’, ‘people are so offended about everything, can’t they take a joke’.

          2. Rayray*

            Absolutely. I’d just say jokesters/pranksters in general. I can take the heat and laugh at myself but there’s just those people who will make jokes at people’s expense and then completely LOSE IT or cry if it’s done to them. It’s truly one of my least favorite character traits and I actively avoid getting close to these people when I recognize it.

          3. Dust Bunny*

            It sounds like this incident is the tip of an iceberg and that these two need to be managed more sternly in general.

        2. Momma Bear*

          Absolutely sounds like bullying, which IMO should be addressed, as they continue to make comments and haven’t taken responsibility for their part in the whole thing. This feels like when the kid in school gets suspended for finally punching the kid that was harassing them. Fred and George shouldn’t be off the hook b/c they chose to pile on.

          I like the way Alison laid out what to say to whom. They all need a discussion here. I also appreciate that she included how Harry should handle it in the future – acknowledging that there’s a path for him and getting it properly documented.

          A few times when things have come up we’ve had refreshers from HR about how to handle it/what’s not allowed. I think the whole department might find such a reminder useful. Those three witnesses might not know what’s really going on or how to deal with it.

          Insofar as Harry freezing them out socially – IMO he has good reason to. At least he’s still willing to work with them as necessary.

          Something else management might want to consider is sure, they can fire Harry (or he can choose to leave) but what does that do to the morale of the department? I guarantee you that others are watching how this goes down and will make their own choices accordingly. Firing Harry doesn’t do anything about the Fred and George show. Are there other ways they hassle other coworkers? Why did they think that was appropriate in the first place? How deep is this rabbit hole?

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            If Harry is fired and Fred and George get to stay and be Harry’s victims, I am afraid to think what the climate in the office would become. That’d be basically giving Fred and George a blank check to bully any of their peers and subordinates, in any way they like, as often as they like. I would hate working there so much after that. I come to work to get work done, not to be made fun of by a couple of lovable jokesters, while knowing that, if I say something back to them, my job might be on the line.

            For the love of god, if I saw this plot in a TV sitcom about an office, I’d think the plot is too unrealistic, and that no leader would actually coddle Fred and George like that in real life. But here we are.

        3. Some dude*

          Totally. I’m going to belittle and bully you about your faith, but the second you point out there are problematic things associated with mine, i’m going to cry victim. Not that the latter is great or necessary, but come on people.

        4. Anonny*

          I had secondary school bullies who would do that deliberately. Like, needle me and bully me until I lashed out, then went crying to the teachers about how I was ‘so mean’ in order to escalate the harassment. I’ve also seen it happen online – a person is racist or ableist or transphobic etc, gets asked to cut it out, and starts claiming they’re being ‘attacked.’ Of course, once that furore has calmed down and they’ve gotten comfort from their circle, they’re back to being an a-hole again. Rinse and repeat.

        5. Caroline Bowman*

          Totally this. The whole, ”if you want to dish it, then be prepared to eat it too” notion is very much in play here.

          Of course Alison is right. Everyone needs to knock off all the obnoxiousness, most especially of the religious variety. It’s completely insane anywhere, but most particularly in a professional environment.

          I feel for the Wiccan though. I’m an atheist and live in an area that is widely quite religious generally, and the absolute rudeness and barrage of personal questions, while simultaneously screeching about Religious Freedoms and My Rights is quite something. Fortunately this is quite outside my work, but there have been times when I’ve snapped back and I’m not even remotely sorry about it.

      2. Rainy*

        I suspect that the overboss is siding with Fred and George because overboss doesn’t consider Wicca a “real” religion, and so doesn’t perceive Fred and George as having engaged in religious harassment.

        1. Rayray*

          I agree this is probably what is happening here.

          As someone of a faith that is often the butt of jokes and cruelty, I just don’t stand for anyone being harassed about their beliefs. Everyone should be covered and the company is probably opening a bigger can of worms if they fire Harry and Fred and George are simply off the hook.

          1. somanyquestions*

            Right, he should be worried about the possibility of legal action if he discriminates against Harry.

            1. Despachito*

              It is somehow sad, however, that it takes the possibility of legal action for them to be worried, not common decency.

              Like, if I hurt you but you are not in a position to sue, I shouldn’t be bothered.

              (I by no means want to criticize you for naming it, it just makes me sad that some people only act decent if forced to.)

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I thought that in addition to he’s not touching an issue involving Islam*with a ten foot pole.

          *he would problem side with any religion he found valid: Christian, Jewish, Islam. What? There Are More?

          (PS: anyone know why my phone randomly capitalizes letters? Thx)

          1. Sacred Ground*

            Christian, Jewish, and Islam are proper adjectives/noun and are normally capitalized. It’s not random.

              1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

                yes, I’d corrected some As I Went Along. and then Gave up.
                (iPhone 11, just to warn everyone!)

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Random : “There Are More?”
              Not Tom, Just Petty, I’ve seen something similar happening with speech to text on my Samsung. I am guessing they tried to add AI to recognize titles, places, and businesses, only it isn’t going well.

        3. Anonys*

          Yes, i agree the grandboss probably does not consider Wiccan a “serious” religion in the way of more mainstream/bigger religions such as Islam/Christianity/Judaism/etc. And clearly Fred and George don’t either. The fact that after harrassing Harry for his religion they demanded he be disciplined or even fired once he retaliated in the same way clearly shows that they don’t consider them making fun of Harry’s Wiccan beliefs to be as serious as Islamophobia directed at them. I think OP needs to have a serious conversation explaining that they were engaging in harrassment first.

          Also I’m concerned
          Also, OP says that Harry “wasn’t really hating on Islam so much as pointing out to Fred and George that they shouldn’t mock and belittle his religion as their own has its detractors”. When done in the workplace and especially in a pestering and insulting way this would obviously still fall under harrassment but I think it’s clear Harry wasn’t actually targeting Fred and George because of their religious beliefs but trying to (badly and angrily) show them how hurtful and unproductive it is to criticize/belittle an entire religion as is often done to Muslims in the US. From the letter, it doesn’t even sound like Harry himself neccessarily has any negative views about Islam/Muslims, whereas Fred and George clearly look down at Wiccans and believe they can be mocked without consequence.

          Also, I’m concerned about Fred and George being the “office joksters”. The OP said they have had to be reined in multiple times in the past. Considering the OP doesn’t consider the mumbling under their breath about a coworker as actionable unless he can actually hear the negative things they say, I’m not confident they have been reigned in as often as needed. Maybe this is the first time the “joking” has crossed into illegal territory but it’s for sure not the first time it’s annoyed or upset someone. I would monitor this closely any consider if the “joksters” might be more accurately considered “bullies”.

      3. Cat Tree*

        I’m suspicious that it’s not really because there are two of them, but because Islam is often viewed as a more legitimate religion than Wicca. I think grandboss wants to discrimination against Wicca but doesn’t want to say that explicitly.

      4. Meep*

        Islamophobia is a touchy subject right now with what is happening in Ethiopia and Sudan.

        I could see it being a situation like when this one guy I worked with in college cried “hazing” to cover up the fact he just didn’t want to do his job and was close to being fired for not showing up to multiple shifts. They could no longer fire him for not performing his duties as he could turn around and file a harassment claim (anxiety, depression, workplace bullying, etc). So management kept him on and demoted the person he (wrongfully) accused of harassment. In actuality, he was sexist and didn’t like his boss was a woman and refused to take direction from any (I was one of his Leads and he refused to go to the backroom to get supplies when I asked (couldn’t get them myself on the register and he refused to be on the register) but had no problem doing it when another male employee, who was not a lead, asked), but his claim was taken more seriously as it looked worse to have a potential case of “hazing” (aka asking to do one’s job) than sexism, apparrently. It really created a toxic workplace because he now knew he didn’t have to do anything and could get away with treating us women like shit while the more sensible guys hated his guts for how he treated us.

        He eventually left when he dropped out of college and when he tried to come back, he was told no, but the damage was done and it is my understanding that after 3 years that place still feels the effects.

        I am not saying it is right, but I imagine the boss is trying to be a little too “politically correct” and not wanting to look Islamophobic himself.

        1. The OTHER other*

          Your 2nd to last paragraph is important. The ill effects of bad behavior like this can cast wide ripples that endure. It can be hard to build up a good collaborative culture, and very easy to destroy it.

          1. JohannaCabal*

            I’ve been there….not so much a discrimination issue but a toxic employee who upper management wanted fired but their new boss fought to keep them. 15 years later, Toxic Employee was a de facto decision-maker because since boss, now head of the company, fought to keep them, they were untouchable and powerful.

            1. GreyjoyGardens*

              And that, I bet, poisoned the whole atmosphere, sending a lot of good employees with options fleeing and leaving behind more dysfunctional people, creating a whole toxic workplace.

              1. Berkeleyfarm*

                Extremely common dynamic in organizations where bullies find enablers, especially when their enablers are very, very powerful.

                It attracts other bullies (who either ally with or have turfwars with the other, adding to that spicy drama), some weak-minded people just go along with the flow and end up acting super mean themselves, and the targets are damaged.

                (My former church was like that. The bully who forced me out was someone who had bounced from church to church and job to job till she found “people like her”. The previous church had eliminated a major program just to get rid of her and her enabler spouse.)

        2. Despachito*

          This is awful, I am so sorry it happened to you.

          I think it is a classical misunderstanding and misuse of protected status (which is a good thing per se) when interpreting it “I, as a member of a protected group, will get away with anything”.

          I think that “protected” means that nobody should bother you for any of your minority traits (because you are more likely to be bothered if you are a minority), not that you can use it as a free pass to bother other people without consequences.

          I can see how this may backfire (if the bully happens to be a member of a minority and uses this as a shield and club, it can be more difficult to reprimand him for fear of being accused of discrimination).

          This was why I liked Alison’s nuanced response, and why I think it is worth to actually name what was wrong in each case.

      5. Yorick*

        Maybe the boss is thinking, “Harry said something bad to two people. Fred and George said something bad to one person. So Harry behaved worse.” That logic still isn’t good! But it could make a weird kind of sense to the boss – he might not just think he should side with the 2 people over the 1.

      6. marvin the paranoid android*

        It makes no sense, which is why I think the boss actually just doesn’t think of Wicca as a proper religion and was casting about for some plausible-seeming excuse. Possibly the boss is uncomfortable with Wiccans as a rule and is keen to see the back end of Harry.

    2. Ellena*

      Same! It’s one thing to start the fight and by openly mock, it’s another to defend yourself in the only way you saw possible in a moment where enough was enough. Not saying that any reaction would have been justified, nor that Harry’s was (he should have complained to his manager after the first instance of disrespect), but he wouldn’t have resorted to it if the two of them had just shut their mouths and been respectable.

  2. Chauncy Gardener*

    What.the.actual.heck?! Loved Alison’s response “does no one in your company realize there are laws about all of this?”
    And the grandboss’s idea to fire only Harry??
    I am just speechless at the unutterable cluelessness that abounds here

    1. EPLawyer*

      And I’m sorry but that includes OP. This should have been shut down the INSTANT Fred and George started mocking Harry’s religion. You let it go because they are the “jokesters” of the office. Trust me,no one else finds them amusing when they do stuff like this. It’s not joking around, its bullying. Harry especially does not.

      In this situation, you need to manage. You need to tell all 3 to knock it off and you need to tell Fred and George further bullying OF ANY KIND, not just religion will not be tolerated. You also need to make sure YOUR boss knows you are actually managing.

      OP, I’m saying this as gently as I can. You need to do more than just talk to your reports when you catch something negative. You are responsible for the culture of your team. That means actively managing, not stepping in when everything blows up.

      1. ArtsyGirl*

        In the OP’s defense, they did not witness the incident only heard after it afterwards and then followed up with the three people involved and the bystanders. I completely agree that Fred and George are clearly bullies and would seriously rethink if their so-called jokes (that have to be reigned in on multiple occasions) are in fact more acts of bullying/microaggressions.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I agree. How did it get to this level without anyone stepping in to talk to Fred and George about it?

      3. Red 5*

        It sounds from the description that OP wasn’t present during the initial argument and could not have stopped the incident from getting out of hand because they weren’t there (they reference having to speak to witnesses and that Fred and George came to them to report it).

        If this was not the first of this type of conversation (they imply that this hasn’t been an issue before at all) and they weren’t there, there was nothing OP could do in the moment.

      4. Pants*

        The Weasly Twins should have been disciplined long ago. Big old fail on behalf of the company and OP. That they’re referred to as “jokesters” makes me think that they’ve already got a reputation for being obnoxious and no one wants to deal with that.

        The once the twins made the first snide remark to Harry about his being Wiccan, which is recognised and protected in the US and UK and probably elsewhere, this turned into religious harassment. OP failed Harry by not stepping in right there.

        Yes, Harry reacted poorly. Very poorly. However, had Fred and George been disciplined before it got to this point, Harry wouldn’t have needed to react at all because the twins would have already been told to stfu (or terminated).

        I suspect Fred and George have an established reputation and history of being harrassholes. People probably haven’t come forward because they’re so aggressive as a set. I’m willing to bet they’ve been a legal liability for a long time.

        Clean house, OP. Start with the twins.

        1. Despachito*

          Even if Wicca WASN’T protected, or even if Harry invented his own religion, it is NOBODY’S place to mock him for it (of course Harry should not bother people with it (like proselytizing or demanding unreasonable things) either).

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      OP: do you have a bias about the validity of Wicca? Do you think Harry is rocking a star as a fashion statement/personal style/shock value?
      On a par with liking a band or some fan type thing?
      Do you think Islam is more valid? Do you think you can’t address Muslim people about their religion, even in the workplace? I mean, in your heart of hearts, why did you let two people continually mock someone about one particular thing?

      Im not attacking you, OP. I’m really impressed that you kicked it upstairs, and when boss recused himself from leading, you sought help. But it got out of control because it wasn’t controlled from the beginning

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        What? The LW is on Harry’s side, but she’s being pressured by her boss to punish him (and not Fred and George). It’s also not clear how much she knew of this beforehand, and how much she only found out after the fact.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        I’m not seeing in the letter where the OP says that Fred and George had been continually mocking Harry about his religion?

        1. Yorick*

          No, the letter is clear this was one conversation. Without learning more info from Harry, this was a one-time thing.

    3. Florp*

      Right? If they fire only Harry, Harry will have some fabulous grounds for a religious discrimination lawsuit. It doesn’t even matter if Harry could win–this will cost the company a pretty penny defending itself or settling. And it sounds like OP and boss witnessed Fred and George were harassing Harry and didn’t stop it, so the company can’t even argue ignorance. Just dragging OP, Boss, Fred and George in for depositions would be…interesting. The company needs some responsible HR and lawyers to untangle this mess because it sounds like management is seriously lacking some training and making it all worse.

      Also–Chauncy Gardener for your screen name? *chef’s kiss*

      1. Chauncy Gardener*

        Thank you! So glad I’m not the only fan. Always wanted to name my dog that name, but haven’t yet been able to do that. Screen name was the next best thing!

      2. Observer*

        If they fire only Harry, Harry will have some fabulous grounds for a religious discrimination lawsuit. It doesn’t even matter if Harry could win–this will cost the company a pretty penny defending itself or settling.

        Yes, in the BEST case for the company, this will absolutely not be one of those cases where a simple response to the lawyer / regulator will clear things up, or even a case where things get dismissed before trial. Because the facts of this case REALLY are not such that any reasonable person would agree that there was no religious discrimination involved.

    4. Magenta Sky*

      Depending on what state this is in (assuming it’s the US), OP may, as a manager, have a considerable personal liability along with the company, if Harry decides to get lawyers involved. I know they would in California. And this is true *now*, based on what has already happened, regardless of how things proceed in the future.

  3. Roscoe*

    So, this is 100% playing devil’s advocate here. But how far does this need to go? Not that I’m comparing the 2, but what if instead of Wiccan, Harry was “church of spaghetti monster”. Does that need to be treated with the same rules, even though it was essentially created as a joke? I do also feel like all religious harassment isn’t looked at the same, even if it should be.

    I’m not religious, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been in plenty of work settings where jokes about the Catholic church and their history are told and laughed at in a way I wouldn’t see other religions being laughed about.

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      I’m just thinking of this from a politeness standpoint. As a coworker I’d just go ” that’s very nice” and not tease or mock because that’s kinda high risk for jokes.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        If the jokes are being made by Catholics, then not that big a deal. But if it’s by non-Catholics, definitely offensive.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            I’m basing it on the types of jokes that I & others who are RC often make about our own religion. (And we do – especially those of us who were raised as social justice, Dorothy Day-type Catholics.) Just like I can make jokes about my own family (& they are of a specific type), that doesn’t mean it’s OK for others to do the same.

            I didn’t mean that anything goes…

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              Still not okay at work. You don’t get to decide if it’s offensive for other RC who might hear.

            2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

              It’s true that many people joke about their own religion. It’s still possible that those jokes can hurt someone else who practices the same religion. In particular, if you’re more liberal and make fun of a more traditional understanding of certain beliefs, it can be super hurtful for the more traditional people – in spite of, or possibly even because of being members of the same religion.

              1. Spencer Hastings*

                What “in particular”? I don’t think there’s a straightforward punch up/punch down on this.

              2. Drago Cucina*

                Right, while I would describe myself as pretty orthodox/middle of the road Catholic, I’ve worked with more traditional folks. I would never make Rad Trad jokes because it would be rude and cruel. Just because my brother is family doesn’t mean that his bullying is harmless.

            3. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

              Offense (especially in humor) is not a thing the joke-teller and their experiences get to dictate the validity of – they are experienced by audiences, both intentional and otherwise, based on their own lives and emotional states.

              Your own feelings about a joke you tell does not magically make it inoffensive, nor does your relation to the subject matter – at best, they get you a little bit of leeway with your audience members who know that relationship when it comes to whether they perceive the joke as being based in malice or not.

            4. Kotow*

              I think in general this is along the lines of playing pranks at work: you have to be certain that everyone truly is okay with it and won’t be offended. I’ve known plenty of Catholics who get extremely offended when jokes about the religion are made and view those jokes as a watering down of the faith. I just think making fun of something so important to people in the workplace is a bad idea and just as likely to offend as it is to amuse.

          2. yala*

            …that’s literally exactly how offensive things work?

            If Catholics are telling jokes about Catholics, they’re talking about a shared experience in their identity as a Catholic–things they personally deal with. Someone else telling jokes about Catholics is just making fun of a group of people based on their religion.

            Replace “Catholics” with other, more marginalized groups as necessary.

            1. yala*

              Like, there’s a reason why some groups can use words that would be considered way out of line if other folks not belonging to that group used.

            2. Me*

              But that doesn’t mean that ALL (insert religion) think those jokes are ok. We’re talking about work here.

              Just because you aren’t personally offended doesn’t mean that’s a universal experience and absolutely does not exempt you from consequences because your justification is “But I’m (insert religion) so I can say it!”

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          If that’s your personal litmus test, then that’s odd but within your rights. Doesn’t make it okay at work.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Also, I was thinking of more mild things like Catholics joking about aspects of Lent that they’re dealing with in the moment. (It can affect Friday happy hour.) But it wouldn’t be OK to make fun of them for their Lenten practices.

            So, comment withdrawn/clarified.

            1. Drago Cucina*

              I think there’s a difference between making fun of myself for giving up caffeine for Lent and making fun of someone else’s choice.

            2. Gumby*

              I kind of get it. For example, I don’t see a problem with most (any of the ones I have seen) “You know you’re a Lutheran when…” lists. I regularly joke that I am surprised I haven’t been kicked out due to being a non-beer-drinker and non-coffee-drinker. But context matters a lot. Also the kind of humor. Some is more gentle than others and when mocking your own in-group it tends to be about topics that are not extra-sensitive to start with.

        2. NeutralJanet*

          I don’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment in a personal setting, but in a workplace, it’s really best to avoid criticizing any religions at all, even if it’s your own religion and you’re doing it in a joking manner.

        3. NerdyKris*

          No, it’s still a big deal. If a black person is making n-word jokes, it doesn’t mean other employees can’t complain about a hostile work environment.

        1. Lurker*

          As an agnostic who leans towards atheism, I have often wondered about that, too. Does agnosticism or atheism fall under the protection? It seems like trying to prove a negative, but I think it should be included!

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Absolutely. Under the law where I am, harassing or belittling someone for being an atheist is equally as bad.

        3. Curious*

          I would analyze atheism (decomposed into “a-theism”) as a belief that there is no deity, rather than a non-belief in (one or more) deities.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            A lot of atheists do describe it as not being convinced that there is a god, though (rather than being convinced that there’s not). Freedom of/from religion is still important to us, even with the “weaker” framing.

            1. Word Nerd*

              That’s the definition of agnosticism. It’s not a ‘weaker’ framing, it’s the scientific one. ‘I have not seen enough evidence so I reserve my judgement’ and ‘You can’t prove a negative’ are both scientific principles. Now I’m religious, so I don’t think that one’s belief system has to be based in science at all! But it’s odd to me that the word meaning ‘believer that there is no god’ has replaced the scientific word amongst people who want to be free from religion.

              You can and should identify however you like! But please know that a subset of people will think you’re religious when you say atheist, so you might need to clarify sometimes.

              1. AndreaJEP*

                Atheist doesn’t mean “believer that there is no god,” it means “one who lacks belief in a god,” from prefix “a” meaning “not” or “without,” and “theist” meaning “one who believes in a deity.” Spencer Hastings is correct here. If you have further questions about atheism, I suggest asking an atheist, since most theists I speak to tend to misunderstand atheism ;)

          2. Magenta Sky*

            That flavor of pedantism is a losing game. There are a *lot* of people who, for reasons passing human understanding, insist on calling what the dictionary would call agnosticism atheism. You cannot ever convince them that it confuses the issue by conflating two things that are different, and only orthogonally related.

        4. Your local password resetter*

          Thats still a sincerely held belief, just not a belief in the existence in particular.

    2. Pool Lounger*

      Why joke about a coworker’s religion at all? You can joke about your own, in general, to likeminded people, but even that I wouldn’t do at work. Save religion jokes for outside of work. (Though if a friend started joking about my religion we wouldn’t be friends long.)

      1. Momma Bear*

        Or just…why mock your coworker at all? Why pick on them for anything that they like or do that’s not about you, not harming you, not pertinent to the job at hand?

        1. memyselfandi*

          Agreed. It is the workplace. In life in general, the older I get the less interested I am in sarcasm and mocking as forms of humor.

          1. Word Nerd*

            Mockery is a useful form of humour amongst highly socially aware people who know exactly where each other’s lines are and stay 100 feet away from them. All other times it’s bullying. Mocking your intelligent, literate best friend for a spoonerism – fine. Mocking your skinny colleage for eating a burger – not fine! The problem is that people see it done well and think it’s the source of the good relationship, when it’s actually just one of the outcomes. Don’t try mockery at home kids!

      2. quill*

        Yeah, also the most offensive the jokes tend to get is “Oh, I have a catholic grandmother, she’s always feeding people!” or similar.

        Instead of “oh, you’re eeeeeevil!”

        1. KaciHall*

          I dated a guy in college. I usually worked early shift on Sundays, and if he spent the night on Saturday, we always left by 7am. One day he was sick and mentioned throwing up in the bushes behind St Tom’s. I said jokingly, ‘yeah, catholics always make me want to puke too.’ (I have a problem with hypocrisy. In my hometown that was the main public fair of the Catholic Church.)

          So that was when I found out the guy I had been dating for 3 months was Catholic and went to Mass most Sundays. I don’t make religious jokes at all now. It’s just easier than making things horribly awkward.

            1. Anonymous Luddite*

              Not to make any assumptions about Kaci’s experience, but most of my college relationships didn’t revolve around riveting conversations, mate.

            2. KaciHall*

              Mostly bowling and college basketball, honestly. Like Luddite says, not a lot of riveting conversations. This wasn’t a relationship for the first six months – we went on dates and slept at each other’s places but weren’t really treating it as a potential lifelong commitment at first.

      3. Magenta Sky*

        I have an absolute, non-negotiable rule:

        I do not discuss religion or politics with my own family (wh0, for the most part, I agree with). I’m *certainly* not going to do so at work.

    3. generic_username*

      Maybe don’t mock/belittle someone for any sincerely held belief? (Unless of course that belief harms another, like white supremacy or something)

      1. jiggle mouse*

        Unfortunately some majority religions, like Islam and Christianity, do indeed harm millions of women and sexual minorities.

        1. Word Nerd*

          Sure but you still can’t mock them for it. If I was managing John and he came up to me and said ‘I’ve joined a new religion. So from now on I can’t have any more closed door one-on-one meetings with women’ the correct response would be ‘Ok, well, you need to apply that rule to everyone otherwise it’s sex-based discrimination’ and a discussion on the logistics of making sure he was never alone in meetings with anyone of any gender. It wouldn’t be acceptable for me to laugh and say ‘Awww, are you afraid of the scary ladies John?’.

      2. marvin the paranoid android*

        I would go further and just say, don’t mock. Even if someone holds abhorrent beliefs, I don’t think insulting them is going to make anything better, and it could make things worse. There are ways to make it socially uncomfortable for someone to be a bigot without mocking.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I won’t touch the Catholic angle, but the Spaghetti Monster does need to be treated with the same respect as the mainstream religions. It’s not exactly the same, but Dudeism started from similar roots, yet people have found comfort in it and it’s improved their lives. Respect is almost always free.

      If you are of the Christian faith, the Lord works in mysterious ways (and if you’re not, I hope you still enjoyed the Blues Brothers).

        1. londonedit*

          There’s a thing every time the census is done in the UK where tons of people list their religion as ‘Jedi’.

    5. Allornone*

      I think as long as it’s a sincerely felt religious belief, it should count. I myself often say I subscribe to the church of the flying spaghetti monster, but I don’t actually believe it for real. I’ve known some Wiccans. It is a true, engrained spiritual belief to those who take it seriously (admittedly, there are a lot of fakers out there only really interested in being edgy and casting spells). In that sense, Wicca is just as valid as Islam, and therefore subject to the same discrimination protections.

      1. Allornone*

        I didn’t realize there were people who actually believe in the flying spaghetti monster. I apologize for not taking that into consideration. So to expand upon my point- if it’s a sincere belief system, don’t knock it. Hell, at this point, even if it’s a joke belief system, don’t knock it. Just don’t make fun of or otherwise discriminate against any belief system.

        1. RagingADHD*

          One of the core tenets of Pastafarianism is that belief in a literal Spaghetti Monster is not required to be a member.

    6. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

      Your question basically boils down to “do I really need to treat all religious and spiritual beliefs equally, even if I find them ridiculous?”

      Simple answer: Yes.

      Because everyone’s religious and spiritual beliefs are ridiculous to someone else.

      1. radfordblue*

        The church of the flying spaghetti monster is different though – it is explicitly not a sincerely held religious belief. It is a satirical “church” that was made up as part of the debate about teaching Intelligent Design in schools in the US.

        So the question above is asking where the line is that would protect Islam and Wicca but not the flying spaghetti monster. To me, that line is that the religion in question must be sincerely held.

        1. TechWorker*

          And who is holding the sincerity to account? I think the whole point of the Flying Spaghetti Monster stuff sort of points out that the line *isnt* clear (people can swear blind they truly believe in it, and what could you do about it?). The only rational way to handle that without also declaring some ‘real’ religions invalid is to take people at their word, which yes, means including even satirical religions.

        2. Ursula*

          I don’t think it is different. The Church of FSM does have a sincerely held belief – that religion should not be taught in science class. Just because their belief isn’t in a deity doesn’t mean it isn’t religious, nor does it mean it’s not sincere.

          Satanism is the same way – satanists generally don’t believe in Satan. They believe in free will and self determination. It’s still a sincerely held belief.

          And then there’s the fact that not all religions require belief. I’m Jewish and an atheist, but I’m still ‘sincerely’ and religiously Jewish. Atheism has long history in Judaism and is a strong part of our tradition. Obviously the law was written from a Christian perspective, where belief is what define religion, but I would hope in practice it’s applied to non-belief based religious practice as well.

        3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          It is different TO YOU, not to everyone. And the “I don’t think it’s real” standard is not one can be applied in a consistently logical manner, when it comes to legal protections.

          It may have been a parody for its founder – but that’s no worse an origin than many other religions, and a sight better than the ones that started as outright scams, power plays, and tax dodges. In every other case, those origins are irrelevant to the modern day practitioners – Constantine’s reason for converting has exactly as much to do with the legitimacy of Eastern Orthodoxy as the goals of the founder of pastafarianism has to do with the legitimacy of that faith (read – none at all).

          Ask yourself, how many people need to sincerely believe a religion to make it worthy of religious protections?

          If you come up with an answer that is greater other than one, the person who is asking for those protections, you are advocating for the creation of permanent underclass based on how ‘popular’ a given belief is.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      ALL religions. ALL.

      If you start down the ‘but that one was created as a joke, and that one isn’t really a ‘proper’ belief system’ route you end up in a whole world of bigotry.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes. All religions are made up through the eyes of someone who doesn’t believe in them. It’s not up to any individual or entity to determine if a belief system ‘passes’ and deserves respect. You can judge a person’s actions – a manager can’t give men special treatment over women for religious reasons for instance – but otherwise beliefs are legally protected.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I mean, the Anglican church started because Henry VIII was tired of his wife. Not exactly noble. Most religions start out as either weirdo cults or political machinations.

        1. quill*

          I mean, the archaeological definition of a cult is “a religion where only members can attend ceremonies / participate in specific rituals, and/or religious teachings are reserved for members” so yeah. From the archaeological perspective, the majority of world religions are cults.

    8. Littorally*


      It is not the employer’s job to determine which faiths are “legitimate” and which are not. That road leads to nothing good.

    9. L'étrangere*

      It needs to go pretty far. Pastafarians are now a religion recognized in my state, and I for one am considering getting my legally allowed next driver license photo with a colander on my head, just because. In many states Harry could be a real satanist instead (thinking of the huge Satan statue in some Midwestern legislature, Kansas?). We are allowed to openly resist the Christian dictature attempt

      1. dz*

        I would rethink the picture, because it is not punching up (at the people who want intelligent design taught in school), but down (because it is essentially mocking people who wear head coverings for religious reasons and face discrimination for it in their daily lives).

        1. Courageous cat*

          Yeah, whoooo boy do I have some feelings about this thread that I am not going to expound upon, but suffice it to say: yes, agreed. I don’t know that I’d risk that for what was originally (and I’m fairly sure still is, bc… ???) a satirical “religion”.

    10. Dust Bunny*

      The Devil has enough advocates, thanks.

      And . . . what exactly is the point? I don’t think Catholic church jokes are a good idea, either. Like, maybe just don’t make fun of religions?

      (I’m an atheist from a liberal Quaker background. I might joke with another person whom I knew shared this about something relevant to our shared views, but probably not at work, and I definitely would not joke with someone whose views I didn’t know, or that I knew differed from mine.)

      1. Red 5*

        This is where I fall on this. I’ve left organized religion behind decade ago though I’d still say I believe in the basic tenants of the type of protestant church I was raised in. I joke about our habits or traditions sometimes in a loving way (what can I say, we really love to have a pot luck, that’s definitely a deeply held belief over there). Sometimes I’ll explain things to someone if they seem to be misinformed or just want to know, but typically I just leave it alone and don’t talk religion in mixed groups and especially not at work. But if I’m around my family we are joking about the church all the time, not always politely. We don’t do that around others.

    11. londonedit*

      I mean, if you’re bullying someone at work because they support San Marino then you’re still bullying them despite the fact that San Marino are literally the worst football team in the world. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter whether you think someone supports a crap football team or whether you think their religion ‘doesn’t count’, you still can’t bully people at work. And the religious one is actually enshrined in law (even if football is a religion to some people).

    12. Exhausted Trope*

      “Church of Spaghetti Monster” is a real thing? I’ve not heard about it. It’s a joke thing?

    13. hmmmmmmmmm*

      I mean, I think this exactly how the manager landed on his conclusion–the Islamophobia feeling “more wrong” and the fact that Wicca is often seen as a less serious religion, and “jokes” about it founded around Halloween-y stereotypes being seen as being more in good faith. I know a few Wiccan practitioners, and they often have to make peace with a few jokes for this reason–because people think it’s okay, and they understand why people think it’s okay, and it’s usually not worth pushing back on.

      I think to speak to your specific example, making those jokes isn’t in good taste, but there is something to be said for the rule of “they should know better.” It’s shitty, but a lot of people just don’t understand that they shouldn’t make jokes about religion in a public place, especially at work. If Fred and George were joking about Wicca to each other, and Harry wasn’t there, it’d be clueless and kinda bad, and worth addressing if you have the ability to do so, but…understandable, kinda. If Fred and George were joking about Wicca to each other in Harry’s earshot, knowing he can hear, that’s harassment, although you can squint *hard* and see how a clueless person might not realize the problems with that. You might treat it more gently, but you’d still want to make sure Fred and George get a clue.

      But Fred and George went beyond the pale, here, because they ABSOLUTELY should know better. Fred and George made fun of someone’s religion to his face. They sat down, together, and said mean things to someone else, to his face. Like, we’ve all been kids in school; Fred and George should’ve realized that they were basically acting just like schoolyard bullies, and recognized that they’d pushed the “joke” past the point of no return. There’s like, at least a dozen reasons why they should’ve realized they were being dicks. Clearly they didn’t realize it, but at this point, their cluelessness is not a legitimate excuse, because you just can’t let people walk around society, bullying others in a way that’s literally illegal, just because they didn’t know. I think Alison’s correct that they need to be told how serious this can be, because this needs to be fixed before they continue this behavior, and get themselves into worse trouble. They need to be given a clue, hard.

      1. hmmmmmmmmm*

        I mean, and this is all not even touching on the fact that it’s just not worth dissecting the religion of others, and whether it’s worth protecting under law, because humanity is a rich tapestry and we shouldn’t spend our time finding excuses to demean what others have chosen as their tokens of self. My Facebook profile says I’m a practitioner of “Bokononism,” which is a fictional religion from Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Do I genuinely practice that religion? No, but it’s not really a joke, either. I found that book’s outlook on life incredibly meaningful, especially the beliefs of Bokononism as described.

      2. Not good at making up names*

        I don’t know that I’d necessarily give the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t realize they were being dicks. This is the exact kind of bullying that “office jokesters” surf the line of. Bully, abuse, denigrate… then deny with “can’t you take a joke? I was just having little fun!”

        This seems like classic bullying of the out group (Wiccans) from the security of knowing your religious “in-group” is unassailable.

        That said, I generally agree 100% w/ Allison’s original approach, right down the the scripts she wrote.

    14. Raised Catholic*

      I have friends and some family members that I make Catholic jokes with but I would not tell those jokes at work or at a work Happy Hour, even if I knew the coworkers would appreciate the jokes. 1) We could be overheard by someone who is offended, 2) It’s a workplace, not a Kevin Smith movie or an Ex-Catholic Support Group.

      1. Lab Boss*

        Agreed! I’d add a third point, which is the whole idea of “I’m going to tell these facially offensive jokes but it’s OK because I’m part of that group” is a bad workplace idea because it normalizes that type of joking- even if your Catholic joke didn’t offend anybody, it would help build up acceptance of that sort of thing. That’s how you end up with an environment where the terminally clueless and actively malicious end up doing verbal damage under the cover of “oh everyone jokes like that around here.”

    15. Jase*

      Attacking anyone’s beliefs, religious or otherwise is unnecessary at work. Political beliefs, hollow/flat earth whatever, if you want to have a discussion fine, but making it personal attacks is when it crosses the line. Also the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is exactly the point. If you want your beliefs protected, you have to protect those will from you point of view, silly beliefs. That’s the basis of that religion

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        I’d stay away from politics at work too, unless you are completelzy sure your colleague shares similar views and is open to talking about it.

    16. Me*

      The devil doesn’t need an advocate. You don’t get to decide if someone’s religion is valid. Point blank. You also don’t get to decide if someone has a problem with someone joking about their religion. Point. Blank.

      The law is the law.

      1. Three Flowers*

        Hell, the (US) law rarely tries to decide what is a valid religion outside of institutions like prisons, the military, etc. It’s far too big a question.

    17. Anonymous Koala*

      The key words here are “acceptable at work”. Regardless of what you might say or think outside of work (a whole other thing) all sincerely held beliefs, including Pastafarianism, need to be respected at work.

    18. I don't play games*

      Whether this passes your individual litmus test for a “valid” religion/belief system isn’t really the point at all. The point is to treat people with respect, especially at the workplace (though just generally as well). That includes not poking fun at their belief systems.

      FWIW: I’d knock off the Catholic jokes. If you disagree with their beliefs, mocking them isn’t how you change them.

    19. RagingADHD*

      Well, any satire of Pastafarianism would be pretty much indistinguishable from true practice, so it would be difficult to harass someone through jokes without converting to the very religion you’re trying to mock.

      If they had sacraments, I think irony would be one of them.

    20. LKW*

      Same rules. If someone is a Pastafarian they should be free of any harassment. Same with an atheist. Someone who doesn’t believe is just as protected as someone who does believe. I think the appropriate rule here is “Don’t be an asshole” (not you – just repeating Wheaton’s Law).

      Now – if the CoSM member is claiming that no one can have rotini for lunch, that’d be equivalent of someone who keeps kosher or halal forbade all team members from consuming pork in the office. Or a vegan team member getting upset at milk in the fridge for coffee. Eating pork for lunch is not harassment. Leaving pork on someone’s desk if they are vegan, kosher or halal – probably harassment.

    21. Three Flowers*

      Um, it’s pretty offensive to suggest Wicca is anywhere near a joke. European pagan revival movements (in their present forms) have been around for decades and are as genuine as any more historical faith. The Wiccan in this story has just as valid religious beliefs and practices as the Muslims. Period.

      The CFSM is also quite a bit more complicated than you imply.

      All of that aside, in the US, religion (as a protected category) is defined really weirdly, and legally, is typically given the benefit of the doubt.

      All of these guys should be firmly disciplined and introduced to appropriate workplace behavior (and the laws about protection of religion). None should be fired.

      (Source: multiple graduate degrees)

      1. Three Flowers*

        (Actually, the Wiccan should be kindly disciplined and the harassers firmly disciplined. I’ve lost track of the names, but one of these people crossed a line defending himself and two were way over it to begin with.)

    22. a thought*

      I think the key thing here is that (unless you are in HR/management and are enforcing the rules around religious harassment) you don’t need to engage with someone else’s religion at all at work and so there’s no need to determine if it’s “real” or not. Assume it is sincere, and move on.

      It reminds me of the letter where the boss was a Mayan Shaman – the advice doesn’t hinge on whether the beliefs are right or true or even sincere (though in this case it certainly seems sincere)… it’s just about asking for religion to not come into the work itself.

    23. Pants*

      Wicca/Paganism is recognised and protected as a religion in the US. I do not believe Pastafarians have gone so far as to seek that out yet. Equating the two is ….not good. One is recognised, the other began as, and possibly still is a social experiment.

      1. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

        Pastafarians have indeed stood up for their rights, most notably in cases where they have asserted their right to wear a colander on their head in a DMV photo.

        1. Pants*

          Which I love, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been a fan of the movement since its inception. But have Pastafarians achieved government protection (yet)? I’m not actually sure on that one.

          In any case, I’ll happily step up and defend those touched by his noodly appendage, should they be oppressed as well. A good colander is a very lucky find.

          1. Nephron*

            I would argue they are assumed to be recognized until somehow stated not, and I do not approve of any organization being given the power to determine if a religion is real or actually believed in by its practitioners.

            The DMV photo thing would be evidence that they are recognized as a religious practice was defended against the state government.

            1. Pants*

              I hadn’t thought about it that way. That makes total sense. I am low on sense today, I think. Thanks!

          2. Littorally*

            I’m not sure what you mean by “achieved government protection.” Can you elaborate? The US doesn’t practice official recognition or non-recognition of religious sects, so far as I’m aware. Individual religious organizations have to be organized and filed to receive tax exemption as a nonprofit, but that’s nothing to do with an individual’s faith or nondiscrimination against them. Religious beliefs are protected under employment law whether they fall under the auspices of a group or not.

            1. Anonymous Luddite*

              Often times, as you mentioned, the groups themselves will see IRS designation under 501(c)3 as being “recognized” by the government. No, it doesn’t grant any sense of legitimacy, but it is a landmark and treated with more weight than it’s due.

              See also the various pagan emblems which are now “allowed” for engraving as part of a veteran’s tombstone.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                For everyone’s information — the IRS landmark allows them tax-exempt status. From the IRS Publication 1828 (Rev. 8-2015):

                Churches and religious organizations, like many other charitable organizations, qualify for exemption from federal income tax under IRC Section 501(c)(3) and are generally eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. To qualify for tax-exempt status, the organization must meet the following requirements (covered in greater detail throughout this publication):
                – the organization must be organized and operated exclusively for religious,
                educational, scientific or other charitable purposes;
                – net earnings may not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder;
                – no substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation;
                – the organization may not intervene in political campaigns; and
                – the organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate
                fundamental public policy.

                You’re correct; it doesn’t necessarily officially legitimize them *as churches*. Other organizations such as foundations can also obtain tax-exempt status.

                I learned more about this after watching Leah Remini’s Scientology series and how it delved into the church’s for-profit structure that mysteriously got an exemption it probably shouldn’t have.

          3. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

            As far as FSM recognition at a governmental level, my very large city in Texas allows an ordained Pastafarian to officiate a wedding. We called the marriage license office to confirm beforehand, got a friend ordained, and happily wore our colanders to our wedding.

          4. Magenta Sky*

            In the US, you can get a religious tax exemption for your Monday Night Football get together, if you follow the rules about space reserved for that use and having regular meetings.

            And yes, there *are* legally recognized atheist churches (for tax purposes). In fact, there’s even a nasty schism between groups of them (over money, as I recall).

      2. RagingADHD*

        The CFSM is now issuing religious exemption letters from being forced to work in proximity to unvaccinated people.

    24. Bagpuss*

      I don’t know about the law in the USA – I am in the UK and the Equality Act explicitly refers to a belief or lack of belief, and the courts have provided some more detailed guidance about how it is approached:
      ‘belief means any religious or philosophical belief’ and includes a lack of a particular belief. The courts have
      “A belief need not include faith or worship of a god or gods, but it must affect how a
      person lives their life or perceives the world.
      For a philosophical belief to be protected under the Act it must:
      • be genuinely held
      • be a belief and not just an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of
      information available
      • be about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
      • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, and
      • be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and
      not in conflict with fundamental rights of others. For example, Holocaust denial, or the
      belief in racial superiority are not protected.
      Beliefs such as humanism, pacifism, vegetarianism and the belief in man-made climate
      change are all protected”

      There was a recent contentious case here where a woman claimed that her gender critical belief (that people cannot change their gender and are always ‘really’ the gender they were assigned at birth) were a philosophical belief and as such protected. It was contentious as of course many people believe that those views are in conflict with fundamental human rights and incompatible with human dignity, but sadly the Judge who dealt with the case did not agree)

      1. Hedwig*

        No, she believes that you cannot change your sex. You can present as a man, woman or any gender but your sex is either male or female. Both sex and gender reassignment are protected characteristics under the equality act. Not knowing that both are protected, what the exceptions are, and using the terms sex and gender interchangeably are causing serious problems

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Don’t defend her. She was creating a hostile work environment for trans people. The issue wasn’t whether she believed but how her choice of how to handle her belief affected people around her.

    25. Kittymommy*

      Don’t talk shit about others faith. That’s where it goes. If someone wants to say their worships the turtle outside my office and as long as their not forcing me to do it, then go for it.

    26. BabyElephantWalk*

      A person’s sincere religious belief isn’t more or less valid just based on how many other people share them, or how long they have been a recognized religion. That comes across rather like established religions ways of delegitimizing newer religions.

    27. ElizabethJane*

      You aren’t “playing devil’s advocate” you’re just getting into whattaboutisms to justify being an ass. Don’t joke about other people’s religion.

    28. Anon Supervisor*

      You can’t harass someone for their religion or lack thereof…the latter of which I would interpret in your scenario is someone stating “The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster isn’t real and you’re dumb for not believing in God.” It doesn’t matter if the church/religion isn’t recognized, it only matters that the employee is being harassed solely for that reason.

    29. Nephron*

      I am agnostic and I honestly view all religious on a duel scale of silly and academically interesting. I don’t think I or anyone else can judge a genuinely held religious belief or the legitimacy of a religion because most religious have an odd start, they just are older or have a lot of members. Especially as many religious protections are argued to not include atheism, so people will join a “religious” group so they can have some form of legal protection.

      But I would never try to argue about if someone’s religious is real, because that is not my business. Can it be accommodated in the workplace? Then cool.

    30. Observer*

      So, this is 100% playing devil’s advocate here.

      Could we stop with this? The devil doesn’t need any advocates, and we don’t need to make up ridiculous scenarios to try to justify stuff while claiming not try to justify stuff?

      Not that I’m comparing the 2, but what if instead of Wiccan, Harry was “church of spaghetti monster”.

      If you are not comparing the two, why are you comparing the two? The fact is that Wicca is NOT a joke, so using an admitted joke as your faux theoretical framework makes no sense.

      1. Three Flowers*

        Well said. I banned the phrase “play the devil’s advocate” in my college classroom because it’s disingenuous. If you’re going to say something obnoxious, own it…and the consequences.

    31. Student*

      Replace”religion you believe is created a joke” as “a manifestation of the religion of Atheism” which is, in national polls year after year, the religion most subject to religious hate crimes and open discrimination in the USA.

      Had a child try to poison me for my beliefs; so speaking from experience. Additional example: Boy Scouts now makes allowances for women and for LGBTQ, but still bans Atheists from membership.

      It’s not actually a joke belief. Not asking you to like it or to sign up, and I will be upfront that I do not subscribe to the school of the Spaghetti Monster myself. It’s part of the non-believer or abstention umbrella of faiths. It’s a belief system that uses satire to express itself, because the core belief is so deeply reviled in thus country. The Satanic Temple is a similar belief system, which uses satire and hyperbole to get people to understand a form of on-belief. We wrap it up in a joke for the exact same reason that Cecily Strong used clowns in her “clown abortion” SNL skit – to make something that is normal but hated more acceptable to talk about. To try to meet people exactly like you where you are and, at least, humanize us enough in your eyes that you don’t try to kill us or ban us from public spaces.

      This is not something we’ve done “for the laughs”. It has been necessary to have organized, registered, described faiths on record to get recognition of our Constitutional rights in the US court system. Atheism doesn’t inherently need such an organization, and we shouldn’t need it, but here we are. “Joke” religions, as you call them, come from a place frustration, out of being cut off from other legal avenues, out of rage at discrimination toward us being treated as acceptable for decades across the world, out of a need for our own community of support.

    32. Koalafied*

      If you’re asking about the law, in the eyes of the law, all religious harassment is looked at the same and the law goes exactly as far as it goes, to the same extent in all cases.

      Every joke about Catholicism that you brush off as NBD because you’re desensitized to it, is nonetheless a potential actionable complaint against your company if a Catholic comes along who feels differently. tIf Harry is FSM and his coworkers are making fun of him for it, you don’t even have to get into whether FSM “counts” because it’s still a problem that his coworkers are openly bullying him at work.

      It literally does not matter what the religion or beliefs are. It is not OK to mock and bully your coworkers for any reason, and it’s not legal to disparage any religion in the workplace, no matter how many settings you’ve been in where it happened and nobody did anything about it.

      I do also feel like all religious harassment isn’t looked at the same, even if it should be.

      I’m trying to parse what you meant by including this statement. Yes, humanity has not evolved beyond bigotry. There are still bigoted people out there, and people who think some kinds of bigotry are no big deal. What does that have to do with the question of “how far does this need to go?”

      If you’re asking whether it’s legally wrong to practice socially acceptable bigotry or to ignore/tolerate socially acceptable bigotry, the answer is yes, it is still illegal even if it’s socially acceptable or common. If you’re asking whether it’s morally wrong to practice socially acceptable bigotry or morally OK to ignore socially acceptable bigotry, I would say that’s really a question you need to ask yourself.

  4. UKUK*

    I’m sure I’m stating the obvious but it feels very much like your boss feels disciplining Fred and George will be seen as Islamaphobic but doesn’t feel he’d receive any negative reactions for disciplining someone Wiccan. Depending on your relationship with your boss you might want to consider pointing out to him that bias (conscious or otherwise) – this will hardly be the only time you or he manage an employee who doesn’t follow one of the “big” religions and I’d want to know my manager was on the same page as me as to the negative impact this kind of bias can have on a workplace.

    1. OhNoYouDidn't*

      I was literally just typing the same thing. It’s ok that the two were making fun of and insulting Wicca but not ok that the one was making fun of and insulting Islam? That logic doesn’t make sense. I suspect the employer is worried about being thought of as an Islamophobe but doesn’t worry about being seen as Wiccaphobic because he doesn’t consider it a real religion. I can’t think of any other explanation. Either way, all three behaved very badly.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Exactly. Even in this very thread there is a comment above that is worried about the slippery slope from Wicca to the flying spaghetti monster and that comment is absolutely in bad faith regardless of the silly disclaimer. Tons and tons of people don’t think Wicca is legitimate.

        1. Cat Tree*

          Replying to myself to clarify that even the church of the flying spaghetti monster is nuanced and not an outright joke or automatically illegitimate in the way that many people assume it is.

      2. Nina*

        is saying ‘your religion has been under fire for centuries so you should have enough empathy to not engage in religious harassment’ worse than… engaging in religious harassment? really?

    2. OhNo*

      I was thinking the same exact thing! Wicca doesn’t have as much of an in-built support network or as big of a following, so doubtless boss thinks the likelihood of getting sued or boycotted is less if they just get rid of the Wiccan.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I was wondering about this, too. Atheists and Wiccans are still unpopular enough that maybe he’s less squicked out about disciplining the “witch”. Which is still not an appropriate response, but seems at least a little plausible.

    4. anonymous73*

      100% and this is why religion should never be discussed at work. There may be some that are generally interested in something they know nothing about, but it’s best to leave it out of the workplace.

    5. RB Purchase*

      I came here to say the same thing. They’re choosing to interpret what happened in a way that makes it appear discriminatory to discipline Fred and George. It’s not hard to believe that Muslims are usually more frequently victims of religious discrimination/harassment than Wiccans and the bosses here might think they need to be more harsh to Harry because of this. I would also guess that the boss (and honestly, OP to some extent) don’t take Wicca seriously as a religion. Wicca is still pretty stigmatized in the US but you don’t have to be part of an “accepted” religion to receive religious protections.

      OP and management need to remove the specific religions from the equation altogether and realize that what happened wasn’t okay on any front and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  5. generic_username*

    Wow, this sounds toxic. Also, two office jokesters… sounds awful. I don’t like any office jokesters at work, but two who join up for their “jokes?” nooooo thank you

    1. Sloanicote*

      Jokesters that OP has already warned once, ugh. The fact that there’s two of them is no doubt egging them on, I’ve often noted that with “class clown” types. Apart from anything else OP probably needs to circle back to these two again later and have a serious talk about humor in the office and how it plays out differently than out in the real world.

    2. Expelliarmus*

      And the fact that they’ve been given the names “Fred” and “George” in this letter really is an injustice to the Weasley twins; they would NEVER.

      1. LemonLime*

        I’m sad to say as a Harry Potter fan- I didn’t even put two and two together until you mentioned it. I guess my brain just couldn’t equate this behavior with anyone from the Potterverse… either that or I need to hang up my Harry Potter fan hat.

        An aside PSA to Jokesters: If your joke upsets, belittles, or hurts someone it is not a joke. Period.
        No, But they… well it was meant as…. they’re too uptight… You’re such a prude…You don’t get it.NOT A JOKE.

        1. Red 5*

          As someone who only read the latter HP books because of an undying love for the Weasley twins, they definitely would not do this. They pulled pranks, yes, but they weren’t prone to unprovoked mean spirited bullying.

          There’s a difference between being a jokester and being a jerk. The two in this letter are jerks in this instance. Whether their other behavior was, we just don’t know. Experience tells me it was probably a mix.

        2. somanyquestions*

          Fred and George would have only screwed with people who deserved it. They didn’t seem like jerks who would bully someone about their religion, at all.

    3. Momma Bear*

      It’s not a joke if it’s mean to someone/someone isn’t laughing about being the butt of it. A lot of terrible people hide behind “can’t you take a joke?” when they are called out.

    4. The Dogman*

      No such thing as “jokesters” in my experience.

      They are all just bullies, who pretend “pranks” are loved by all and their “humour” is universal…

      They actually just like tormenting people and get off on it, and they usually never take it well when it is dished back in their direction.

      Just like the two bullies in this case.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        I work with a jokester who is not a jerk. He knows he has a childish sense of humor and will drop it when people need him to be serious. Jokes are only ever at his own expense. The pranks he plays are harmless silly things like taping giant googly eyes on shared equipment, stacking things in a slightly inconvenient but decorative way, or putting up bizarre fake-motivational posters.

        Problem is a lot of people DO use “joking” as a cover for cruelty and bullying… genuine good-natured jokesters are very uncommon.

        1. Pants*

          Everyone needs a googly eye jokester in their lives. If you need one, I can be yours. I carry them in my purse. (Seriously.)

          Fred and George aren’t jokesters. They’re harrassholes.

        2. Kyrielle*

          Yup. Posting a foam pumpkin cutout with “3.14159” on it around Thanksgiving (yes, yes I did) is different from mocking someone’s religion. (Or putting scissors on their chair…anyone remember that letter? O.O)

        3. The Dogman*

          Thats not a “jokester”.

          That is a person who is a bit odd in a lighthearted way.

          Jokesters are always the “pranks and bullying” type of people.

          Decorative stacking is not hurtful.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            I don’t understand. You said there is no such thing as jokesters because they’re all bullies in disguise. Now you’re saying that anyone who doesn’t bully and pull hurtful pranks is, by definition, not a jokester… which seems to be saying there is such a thing as a “jokester,” you just think it’s a synonym for bully.

            To me, a jokester is someone who enjoys joking and humor more than most people and who is willing to act foolishly silly when most other people won’t. A jokester can be mean spirited or kind, obnoxious or fun, bully or advocate, depending on the person and circumstances. I know this definition isn’t universal, but it’s not uncommon.

            1. The Dogman*

              Yes, “jokester” is a synonym for “bully”

              It is just a way bullies get cover from other bullies or from people who dont care to stop them.

              Pranks are the same as bullying, and using words to bully people and then saying “It’s just a JOKE bro” is also bullying.

              ” I know this definition isn’t universal, but it’s not uncommon.”

              I would say that you have a personal definition that is at odds with how most people I know view “jokesters”. In my experience they are simply bullies, usually very nasty ones that have a “jokey” way to hide it.

              What you define as a “jokester” I would define as a well adjusted social person.

              1. Boof*

                English language defines jokester as “ a person fond of making or telling jokes.” I don’t think most people are going to use your personal definition over the common one. That is also why bullies might use it to try to hide, because it generally does NOT mean bully.

      2. Happy*

        Nah, plenty of people both enjoy practical jokes and only play them on people who also appreciate them and who are appropriate targets.

    5. ferrina*

      Yes, this had me seriously wondering about LW’s management in general. Two “jokesters” who think it’s okay to mock someone’s religion? And to the point where the person gets angry and defensive, but they don’t stop? How did that become okay? And why didn’t Harry immediately go tell the manager? And why is the manager so passive around the muttered comments- “I can’t hear it, so I’m going to pretend it didn’t happen?”

      This is not someone that is managing proactively. They need to set some expectations around respect and how teammates will treat each other.

      1. The Dogman*

        Exactly, LW needs some introspection, LW boss needs a kick in the pants (metaphorically speaking) and the “jokesters” need firing as they have doubtless bullied others and probably have new victims in their sights already.

  6. irene adler*

    Wondering: If the company did fire Harry over this event, would Harry have grounds to take legal action against the company?
    If so, that should be explained to manager.

    1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      That would be a really weird case. It’s like “Sure I actually did do what they’re accusing me of, but so did those two and only I was fired, so there’s a bias here”. What the remedy? Fire Fred and George also? Then it’s “fair”? Forse the company to rehire and/or pay damages to Harry? Even though he actually did what he’s accused of? I mean you’re probably right, there’s likely a case here, but it’d be a weird one.

      Really I think the best choice at this point is to treat them all the same. Allison’s stern talking to is probably the best bet, but if you’re going to fire or punish one, you have to do the same to all three.

      1. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

        Not really weird at all – just a simple question of was one of these groups treated disparately?

        Answer is yes? Remedy gets determined

        Presumably corporate counsel would push heavily for a settlement, rather than letting it result in an actual finding that they did discriminate based on religion, so the remedy would likely be entirely dependent on what they could get Harry to agree to

        1. Littorally*

          Exactly. It would be “Fred and George were not fired for this behavior, so clearly the behavior per se is not considered a problem at this employer. The difference between them and me is a protected characteristic; therefore, I am bringing a suit that I was fired on the basis of that characteristic.”

          1. Bagpuss*

            Plus, the company failed to protect me from harassment due to a protected characteristic and then fired me on the basis of that characteristic, as the only difference between me and others who behaved on the same way, but more seriously 9they started it and they ganged up 2 to 1) was our respective religions.

      2. anonymous73*

        Not weird at all. You discipline them all in the same manner and if only Harry is fired, he would 100% have the right to pursue legal action.

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Really I think the best choice at this point is to treat them all the same. Allison’s stern talking to is probably the best bet, but if you’re going to fire or punish one, you have to do the same to all three.

        My thoughts exactly, with Alison’s wrinkle that the conversation with Harry has to be tailored to the specific details.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        They had been harassing him for a while. He only did it once after their harassment went too far and he snapped. They provoked him. He did not provoke them.

        I was looking for a place to say it in this comment section, and this seems perfect – the OP’s boss’s reaction is a lot like the policies my children’s elementary and middle school used to have back in the 2000s – that a school bully can whale on their targets with impunity, but once a target hits back, it’s detention/suspension time for the target under the school’s zero-tolerance policies…

        … but on steroids.
        And in a workplace.
        And with two “liberal” adults who should have known better, instead of a middle-school bully.

        1. UK girl*

          I agree that it reminds one of stuff children do. Child A starts something on child B. Child B comes back hard and Child A doesn’t like it. Child A then goes to Mum or Teacher and makes out Child B to be the problem. Unfortunately, Child B often suffers at best being told that it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. Sadly the Child A’s of the world get away with this unpleasant tactic way too often. The case above is worse for being two against one. OP’s boss is at fault for thinking that Fred and George somehow have better cause for ganging up on Harry and pulling this stunt. I agree with Alison, a final warning is in order to stop this behaviour.

          1. JM60*

            And given that they haven’t let it go (statements under their breath) and the OP describes them as “the office jokesters”, I doubt this is the first time they’ve unprofessionally teased someone in the workplace.

            1. Gnome*

              Yes, the writer says they have to reign them in sometimes. I get an impression they like drama and are more concerned with having “fun” than work. This doesn’t sound like the first time they went too far, just the first time a victim did something. When they had to be told to tone it down, were they doing things that would be objectionable (pushing on women, minorities, etc)? I feel like the ex whole of management is missing that this is a big red flag that these two are a problem.

      5. The Dogman*

        Pretty simple case really.

        Fred and George engaged in religious based bullying of Harry.

        Harry basically said “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” and in response Fred and George want Harry fired even though his response was milder then their bullying.

        OP should have fired F n G as soon as he had all the details he presented to us here.

      6. Ace in the Hole*

        It doesn’t seem that weird to me. Loads of discrimination cases basically boil down to “you treated me more harshly than someone of a different race/gender/religion for the same actions.”

        For example, if I were fired for tearing out a hydraulic line while operating a forklift that sounds reasonable on the face of it. But if I am the only woman on the job with no history of mistakes, and two men who have been previously disciplined for recklessly operating tore out hydraulic lines that same week without facing any repercussions, that would be pretty obvious discrimination. It doesn’t matter whether I did what I was accused of… it matters that their response to what I was accused of was unfair. I don’t know what a court would decide, but damages and/or reinstatement sound pretty reasonable – workplace discrimination and wrongful termination have serious and long-lasting impacts on people’s careers.

      7. Malarkey01*

        Not really weird at all if you change this to any protected class. I and a coworker were telling crass jokes a client overheard but only the woman was disciplined for the behavior would be a pretty standard gender discrimination case. A white and black coworker got into an argument over race and called each other highly inappropriate racist names but only the black person got fired would be pretty textbook race discrimination case.

        I and my coworkers insulted each other’s religions and only I got fired is very clearly unequal treatment.

      8. hbc*

        I don’t see it as weird. The question is, was Harry fired due to his religion? I don’t see any other reasonable argument to make. What, do they have a policy that hitting back is worse than throwing the first punch? You’re only allowed to insult a religion if less than two adherents are present?

        Now if Fred and George were fired and Harry was allowed to stay, the company has a better chance They’ve been previously warned about “jokes,” they instigated the whole situation, teaming up on someone adds an extra layer of bullying, and/or this was a last straw for them.

      9. I'm just here for the cats!*

        The case would be that Harry was fired because he was being harrased by 2 coworkers of a different religion about his religion. when he tried to stand up for himself and turned the tables he was fired but they were kept on even though they all were at fault for religious harassment.

      10. Observer*

        It’s like “Sure I actually did do what they’re accusing me of, but so did those two and only I was fired, so there’s a bias here”.

        That’s exactly the case. Textbook stuff – They all did the same thing, but only the person of religion X got fired, but not the people of religion Y. Ergo animus against religion X.

        Forse the company to rehire and/or pay damages to Harry? Even though he actually did what he’s accused of?

        Why not? Obviously the company doesn’t think that doing this constitutes a real problem or they would have fired the others. Either it’s so bad that it’s a firing offense or it isn’t so bad, and you can hire him back.

        Really I think the best choice at this point is to treat them all the same. Allison’s stern talking to is probably the best bet, but if you’re going to fire or punish one, you have to do the same to all three.


    2. Phony Genius*

      I imagine that this would be a much harder case for Harry to prove if all three were fired over this (which I would be tempted to do).

      1. ElizabethJane*

        If all 3 are fired there is no case at all. All three members engaged in religious harassment, all 3 were treated equally and fired for it.

  7. CBB*

    Contemplating the specifics of what they said is distracting from the real issue, which is that all three don’t know how to behave in an office.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      I’m not sure I agree. It’s possible Harry knows how to behave in an office perfectly well, but in the heat of the moment while being bullied about his religion he responded in a less-than-ideal way. That’s one of the primary ways bullying works: finding someone’s buttons and then pushing them relentlessly until they snap back in self-defense… at which point the bully tries to portray the victim as an attacker.

      1. CBB*

        Fair point. Harry’s less-than-ideal reaction may not be a personal failure of his, but someone failed to provide him with the resources, training or support he needed to get himself safely out of that situation.

        Bullying should not happen. But if it does happen, the victim needs to have — and know about — the appropriate recourse.

      2. Imaginary Friend*

        How long had this “teasing” been going on while Harry never actually complained to LW about it? That’s part of knowing office behavior. (And I put it in quotes because mean-spirited “teasing” really is just harrassment.)

    2. Bagpuss*

      It may be more nuanced that that – it sounds as though Fred and George were personally attacking Harry and his religious beliefs, and that Harry did not attack their personal beliefs but pointed out that the religion of which they are members has a poor record on human rights.
      it seems to me that there is a distinction – in a different context, it’s the difference between mocking someone for attending church or believing that Christ rose from the dead, and pointing out that the Catholic Church ahs a poor record on dealing with child abuse. One is personal, the other isn’t, one is disrespecting a belief, the other is criticizing an institution.

      obviously this does depend on exactly what was said, Harry may well have gone over into discriminatory and inappropriate comments, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case based on what OP wrote.

  8. Haley*

    As someone who has litigated religious discrimination cases I cannot agree with Allison enough. I want to emphasize, since potentially some of the boss’ thinking is influenced by concern that Islamaphobia is a greater threat than harassment against the Wiccan practitioner, but practicing Wiccans are absolutely protected under anti discrimination laws!!!! So you cannot make that kind of judgment call here! Or else you’re perpetuating that discrimination! So this could be a very very bad situation if it is not resolved like Allison suggests.

    1. Katy*

      I would also add that from a legal perspective it doesn’t matter if one is more persecuted. All beliefs are protected. If I start harassing Christians with the support of my boss (because they fire anyone who responds in kind) then it doesn’t matter that Christians’ are in the majority.

    2. Penny Parker*

      You mentioned you litigated religious discrimination cases. In 1985 I filed a religious discrimination case and won. I was openly Wiccan and was supported by the Covenant of the Goddess, a legally recognized (tax exempt) Wiccan church. I was fighting because I had my children removed from my custody and placed in foster care by the county I live in, with the official court findings being “misuse of religious beliefs”. It took seven years total (children were returned sooner) but we won with an out-of-court settlement. Wicca is definitely supported by religious discrimination laws.

      This letter makes me furious. This type of prejudicial harassment is still happening in 2021!

      There is a false equivalency being made here between the two parties, and it needs to be addressed. The two Muslims were absolutely harassing the Wiccan, and the Wiccan only brought up the history of how their religion has been treated, not an endorsement of that treatment. I do not agree with Allison here; the two were bullies and the other was attempting to get some empathy by drawing a historical picture.

      I am furious with the management, including the OP because they are all obviously biased themselves. There should be no punishment to the Wiccan, he should be given support for the bullying which management has not stopped, to this day (day the letter was written). The other two should be told to shut their mouths and keep them shut. If they fail to do so then they should be fired! I encourage the Wiccan to get an attorney.

      1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

        I’m sorry about your kids and the fight with the county. The only thing I would take issue with in your response is that Harry definitely was only trying to raise their empathy. The wording of letter is ambiguous and I certainly took it to mean much worse. Establishing what really happened would be vital and it may end up that Harry was pure as driven snow, but it also may mean that he did something as seriously illegal as Fred and George (with the addendum that they started it).

  9. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    I just love Fred and George’s hypocrisy. They can criticize Harry, but can’t take any themselves.

        1. Valkyrie*

          Facts lol. I have never seen someone described as a “jokester” or a “class clown” who wasn’t at least a bit of a jerk, bully, or a general nuisance (e.g. disruptive, obnoxious, insensitive, etc. would be common traits). It’s not to say that funny people are mean; not at all, but when those labels get applied, in my experience… well… the exception might be calling a child a j0kester – it’s probably still disruptive and obnoxious to some extent, but it’s also coming from a place of immaturity in so far as we’d have a child who wants attention and therefore is significantly less aggravating because, well, kids don’t know any better.

          1. The Dogman*

            Yeah, the issue is the kids who never get told that crap gets unfunny fast…

            They are crappy teens, then crappy young adults then crappy adults, and just bullies, often petty tyrants too.

  10. FG*

    I was under the impression that this was not in the US – looking back it was the use of the word “inquiry.” If so US law would not apply, although many other countries have similar laws I’m sure.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I have no reason to think they’re not in the US, but reading the response over again and thinking about if they’re not, I wouldn’t change anything other than not citing US law. Even in the US, if that law didn’t exist I’d still recommend handling it the exact same way (minus references to non-existent laws).

    2. Ina Lummick*

      Recently learnt the difference (in general) as Outlook keeps telling my job title is spelt wrong!

      Inquiry = US English
      Enquiry = UK English

      But I agree – most countries would have similar protections that you cannot be discriminated at work due to your religion.

      1. londonedit*

        Yep, not to derail but ‘inquire’ would definitely be US English – we’d say ‘to enquire about something’ in the UK if we mean asking a question about it. The only time ‘inquiry’ is used in the UK is if it’s a public inquiry about an incident or a parliamentary cover-up or something.

      2. SheriffFatman*

        UK English uses both spellings, but “enquiry” usually refers to a request for information and “inquiry” to an official investigation into some event, often led by a judge: e.g. a fatal accident inquiry, the Scottish equivalent of an inquest.

  11. Prefer my pets*

    So, two office bullies (because that’s what people who constantly harass others under the guise of “it’s just a joke” are) finally pushed someone so far he pushed back and your boss wants the victim fired? Eff that.

    I hope Harry & any other decent people there are able to quickly get their resumes out & find better jobs in a workplace that doesn’t allow that type of crap.

    1. anonymous73*

      Yes they are bullies, but Harry’s response doesn’t get a pass because they started it – that’s how a toddler behaves. All 3 of them need to be disciplined in the same manner.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Beyond the religious discrimination angle, which absolutely needs to be dealt with firmly for all parties, I would definitely be addressing the bullying as well. Frankly, I’d be raking Fred and George over the coals for their behaviour and would be pointing out that I expect better from adults. I am quite certain I would be saying something to the effect that if they can’t have respect for their coworkers, and if they continue to make the office environment hostile to Harry, that their employment would be at risk. And I would be making it quite clear that they are both being written up for this subsequent behaviour, as well as for their initial religious discrimination in the first place.

      And to the protests (inevitable, because all bigots do this) that they were the victims, I would be pointing out that their coworkers deserve to have their own religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) respected, and that if they have a problem with that, then I would understand if they felt unable to continue to work for the company.

      (Having dealt with a kid whose classmate attempted to goad him into hate speech about their religion in a very similar way, and who thankfully was clever enough to realize what they were up to and to basically inform them that they were stupid if they thought he would fall for it, there ARE people who do this sort of thing more or less deliberately. Why, I have no idea. But when it happens, it needs to be shut down HARD. It’s a bullying tactic, pure and simple, and it shouldn’t be tolerated.)

      Not that I’d give Harry a pass, either – I’d write up the incident in his file, but I would make sure it was clear that he was goaded and bullied into it, and that he was expressing the opinion that the other two weren’t in any position to criticize his religion, and did so badly, rather than that he was uttering hateful comments per se. I’d also take more of a coaching approach with him on HOW TO handle future potential situations like this.

    3. The Dogman*

      I hope Harry sues and wins millions.

      He is being victimised and the bullys are hiding behind their faith…

  12. HugeTractsofLand*

    I think a LOT of this response is due to OP/the company/coworkers not taking Wiccan seriously as a religious belief. That’s why they’re siding more closely with the far more well-known religion, but everyone’s reaction here is super wishy washy about religious discrimination period. I hope OP and their company educate themselves…if nothing else, because it’s comforting what to know what to do if this happens again! Hopefully it won’t after following these scripts.

  13. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Okay, am Wiccan so please take with appropriate bias.

    Everyone was in the wrong here. There needs to be a talk and a warning given to everybody that mocking/harrassing someone over their beliefs is NOT acceptable and must never, EVER happen again.

    Additionally – I think the boss needs to have the same talk. There’s a lot of ‘Wicca isn’t a real religion, it was made up for Buffy etc.’ talk out there and it seems like the boss somehow doesn’t think Wicca is worthy of the same respect as e.g. Islam. They need to be put straight – it IS a real religion and mocking someone for it is equally as bad as mocking a christian.

    Harry does NOT need to be fired. None of them do. They definitely need a good talking to though.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      (Although if it happens again after the talk – like they continue to harrass Harry for his beliefs – then absolutely fire them)

      1. mcfizzle*

        Great points. Reminds me of “I don’t need to understand it, but I do need to respect it” (this applies to nearly everything, not just religion).
        Fred and George definitely need to learn that lesson.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I don’t have or want kids (or like being around them) for example, therefore I really cannot understand people who are parents. It doesn’t matter however – I just have to respect their life as much as they have to respect mine.

          Understanding is nice, but optional. Acceptance is what is needed.

    2. The Dogman*

      I am an atheist and I think Fred and George need firing ASAP.

      They engaged in bullying intentionally.

      Harry pretty much just said “people in glass houses shoudn’t throw stones.”

      The religion is irrelevant (which is how I view religion personally), in the business world you simply cannot discrminate or allow others to discriminate on religion in decent countries.

      F n G were creating a hostile environment, and the victim was pushed to the point he inartfully responded.

      I would get the bullies gone yesterday and deeply apologise as Harry has a case here against the company for allowing the situation to get this far and permitting the other two to create the hostile environment.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        The problem with firing them for this, and not Harry, is that it’s the same bad decision only swapped.

        Personally, I understand 100% how hurt and pissed off Harry must have been – I’ve had one boss tell me not to wear my pentagram at work because ‘people of other religions find it offensive’ many years ago – but I absolutely would not launch into an equally nasty attack back. Same goes for if someone harassed me for being LGBTQ – I couldn’t make nasty comments about straight cisgender people in return and expect to get away with it.

        I definitely think that there needs to be some apologies later though. And thorough training for ALL staff on harassment so that this doesn’t occur again.

        1. ferrina*

          Keymaster is right. The three of them need to be disciplined in a similar manner for a similar offense.

          That said, George and Fred have other office issues (the muttering under their breath, and likely more). That is something that can and should be documented and dealt with until either they are performing as needed (i.e., without being hostile to coworkers) or need to be released from service.

        2. JB*


          Morally/on a personal level, there definitely is a difference. If I knew these people personally, I would still respect Harry a lot more than I would respect Fred & George after this incident (depending on what exactly Harry said to them – we do only have an incomplete account here, after all).

          But the correct management decision is to tell them all to knock it off, and keep a closer eye on what other kinds of ‘jokes’ F&G think are funny.

          1. JB*

            It’s also worth pointing out that a lot of commenters are assuming that Harry is not actually Islamaphobic and that he reacted poorly under pressure. That’s an understandable reaction, because he was definitely the victim of bullying here and it’s natural to want to side with him.

            But the reality is that it’s fully possible that he’s both a victim of bullying AND Islamaphobic.

            By responding the way that he did (and no, the statements he made were not neutral – if it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to walk up to them without provocation and demand answers for the darker parts of their religion’s history, it’s not appropriate for him to do in response to provocation either) Harry has muddied the waters.

            1. RagingADHD*

              But you know what? Even if he were Islamophobic, you discipline people for what they actually said and did, not what you think they were thinking, or what you suspect they might think, or what you’re just sure they couldn’t possibly be thinking because they’re a nice person.

              If someone with the purest thoughts and goodwill to all behaves in discriminatory ways, management needs to put a stop to it. Not being “phobic” has nothing to do with the impact of their actions.

              If someone is secretly anything-phobic inside their head and nobody at work can ever tell, then as far as work is concerned, that’s fine. Their dark little heart is their own private hell, and it’s not incumbent on management to try to dredge it out.

        3. Parakeet*

          I largely agree, but given that both Muslims and Wiccans experience oppression in Western Christian societies, I’d tweak the analogy slightly. It would be like if a couple of gay guys were harassing me for being bi – which would be awful! and contributing to some really dark things; bi people experience higher rates of sexual assault, domestic violence, poverty, and PTSD – and I returned it by saying something homophobic to them that invoked the same bigoted tropes that are often used by both individuals and the state as an excuse to do violence against and discriminate against gay men. And if that scenario happened, all three of us would really need to be disciplined!

          1. socks*

            I agree that all three of them need to be disciplined, but I’d say your analogy still doesn’t quite cover it. There are some things that bi people deal with that gay people don’t, and vice versa, but gay and bi people are still oppressed in roughly the same way/to the same extent.

            But Islamophobia is racialized and structurally supported (travel bans, anyone?) in a way that bigotry against Wiccans *really* isn’t. Neither of them are good, but IMO Harry’s statements were way further over the line, provocation or no.

            1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

              I have to agree with you. From what OP wrote, it sounds like Fred and George threw a lot of rocks (don’t do that, especially at work!) and Harry responded with a big old molotov cocktail (REALLY don’t do that, especially at work). F&G more more insulting numerically, H was more insulting in terms of the weight of power and context. Unless it was a lot worse than it looks here they all need a good talking to and an official warning – nobody should be fired (yet).

        4. The Dogman*

          LW didn’t say Harry was equally nasty back though.

          They said Harry criticised them for not understanding that a religion (the bullies) that has such a terrible reputation for it’s treatment of certain groups should perhaps not be used as a shield from behind which lauch attacks and then cry about being insulted.

          Harry was probably heated and inelegant in his word choice in a moment of anger.

          Fred and George set out, with intent and malice aforthought, to harrass Harry based on his religion.

          These are not the same and therfore need different punishments/training.

          Harry: Fair enough, give him a warning.

          Fred and George: Instant dismissal on the grounds of religious based harrassment and bullying, creating a hostile work environment, being hypocritical in words used vs words recieved and for being the instigators of a situation that could get Harry a big payout if it goes to court or arbitration.

          I dealt with something similar (not religiously based, it was homophobic bullying of one of my staff members back when I worked in corporations) and I had the bullies fired ASAP to protect the victim, protect me and then protect the company.

      2. Oakenfield*

        I agree with Keymaster, and likely the two bullies will give OP a reason to fire them after this incident anyway, so better to play it safe.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Oh I’m willing, almost, to put money on them simply finding another target for their ‘teasing’. Someone who is LGBTQ, someone with a disability, someone of a different upbringing….I have seen it happen when you tell the ‘joker’ to stop harassing category A they go on to find a different category and then do the ‘but you only said we couldn’t make comments about religion!’ stuff.

    3. TotesMaGoats*

      Do you know that even though I’m more than old enough to get the movie reference in your name, I didn’t realize where your name came from until a few weeks ago. I just happened to catch the right part of the movie and had an internal “ooohhhh, that’s where it comes from”.

  14. Llama Llama*

    This manager might say they want to punish Harry because it’s two vs. one but I think really it’s because it’s a mainstream religion vs. something “weird.”

    Everyone is wrong.

  15. Properlike*

    I wonder if the manager would be inclined to fire Harry if Harry were Christian? This sounds like someone operating under two mistaken beliefs: 1) Wicca isn’t a religion, and 2) “Religion” protects Fred and George’s actions even though they’re in the wrong, and to discipline them invites a lawsuit. (Like the LW from yesterday who thought they can’t fire the guy with the medical condition for being a jerk.)

      1. Imaginary Friend*

        So, this is interesting. I get AAM thru an RSS feed and it shows that article as “yesterday”, but the date on the actual blog posting is today. I wonder if it just goes by “24 hours ago equals yesterday” or something silly.

        1. Becca*

          Different sites dealing with time zones differently? Technically it posts “yesterday” for me and if I stay up long enough sometimes I’ll read it. I imagine it posts at midnight Allison’s time, therefore is “today” for the purposes of AAM?

  16. Casper Lives*

    Wow. There’s a lot happening in this letter. Of course, you should follow Alison’s advice. But I’d also look into their other “pranks and jokes.” Is this what Fred and George find funny?

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Yeah. I mentioned this above, but I need to call it out again – “office jokesters” often do more harm than good, and I would be very surprised if this was the first time they went too far.

      OP, in addition to the very serious talk you need to have with all three of them (and your boss and HR, wtf), I think you should keep a very careful eye on those two from now on. If any of their “jokes” are coming at someone else’s expense, they need to knock it off immediately. Even if they’re muttering under their breath – that’s a deliberate tactic to give them plausible deniability. If they’ve seen that you won’t say anything unless you hear it clearly, they’re going to take advantage of that. Don’t let them do it!

      1. ferrina*

        Agree. The only acceptable office pranks are the ones that leave the prankee (the person being pranked) feeling loved and appreciated.

        Example: Our hard-working data admin was out for a week. While she was out, we hid cans of her favorite drink around her office. Some hiding places were obvious, and some weren’t discovered for a couple weeks (we came to check that she had found them all after a month). She loved it!
        An office friend was out for a week. I covered his computer in “While you were out” memos where the messages told an epic adventure story. He thoroughly enjoyed it. Next time I was out, he hid one of the knick-knacks on my desk and set up a scavenger hunt with adorable clues. Very fun!

        All of these jokes are tailored to the person, doesn’t impact their ability to work and is enjoyed by the prankee.

    2. bookworm*

      Yes, this. I think it’d be good to include something about the practical joking in general at the end of the script for talking to them, such as “Outside of this specific incident, I’ve asked you to tone down your practical joking on other occasions such as X (OP mentioned this, fill in some details here), and I’m seeing a pattern of bad judgement of people’s boundaries. I need to be clear now that you cannot make jokes at other people’s expense in the office, period, and you need to significantly dial down all of your practical jokes for a while until you’ve demonstrated better judgement.”

    3. GreyjoyGardens*

      Yes, this is good advice. I’m remembering the several letters to AAM about one coworker tickling another, or other mean-spirited, actually physical “pranking” and bullying. I don’t know if Fred and George have escalated to that level, but there is probably potential.

      Nip the “cute pranks” in the bud NOW and stop treating Fred and George like golden children.

    1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

      Yeah, it’s a mess from the start. And can we all agree that ‘good natured ribbing’ just needs to stop? It’s exhausting.

    1. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

      Indeed, i really liked the line:
      Does no one in your company realize there are laws about all of this?

  17. Alldogsarepuppies*

    I feel, if anything, the “its two against one” is an argument against Fred and George – because it’s harassing a minority and creates an out-group. Not that numbers should have an effected, but if it did I don’t think the Weasleys are the benificiaries.

  18. Jean*

    We have an “office jokester” here too and no one likes him. He’s a d-bag and a walking HR nightmare. This crap should have been shut down the instant Fred and George started in on their “jokes.”

  19. Batgirl*

    I honestly think it’s kind of brave of Harry to be openly Wiccan. I am, and I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone at work because of the odds of hearing jokes on the subject. I would not respond like Harry did, but part of the reason I don’t tell is because it is quite upsetting to hear your sincerely held beliefs made light of or deliberately misunderstood for comedic purposes. Maybe not obviously so the first or second time, but I might not be at all diplomatic the umpteenth time.

  20. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    Aye carumba.
    An excellent answer from Alison. This is frankly the best way to handle it, acknowledge the ones who started it, acknowledge that Harry only responded in kind but that this cannot continue.

    The proposed victim only punishment really galls me, i would be very interested in the thought process of the boss, when you have bullies on staff they are given a free pass but if the victim responds in kind he is terminated. What kind of stupidity is that?
    The two against one is preposterous, but perhaps grade school is coming to mind and the boss thinks that if the victim is terminated then the bullies will be appeased?

    1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

      Even thinking as charitably as possible I can’t see how Big Boss is acting wisely. Even if his (I think OP said it’s a man) perspective is ‘Fred and George may have started it, but what Harry said in response was more egregious.’ it definitely sounds like Fred and George were goading Harry. Even if Harry were a terrible human (and OP didn’t imply he was) it still wouldn’t be okay for him to be treated like this at work. If you punish Harry, you need to punish Fred and George too.

  21. Anonymous Poster*


    Everyone needs a stern talking to. No one should get a pass, because you do not need/want religious bickering in an office, and you do not want that legal liability.

    Is this the first time the office jokesters have gone after someone’s religion? It could be, but I doubt it a little bit and would watch those individuals very closely from here on out.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Knowing that office jokesters tend to go after everyone, I would watch them careful to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    2. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

      I’m pretty confident they’ve ‘joked’ at or about other people, I doubt they’ve gone after other people’s religion. As others on this thread have pointed out, it’s likely that the fact that wicca isn’t seen as a real religion is a big part of why they thought it was okay to do this in the first place, as well as why the boss seems to think it’s okay to treat three people who were all both wronged and guilty so differently.

  22. MicroManagered*

    I can promise you that if you do, we will take it seriously and investigate, and will ensure you’re not harassed for your religious faith.

    How can OP promise this when upper management isn’t taking it seriously now? I suspect OP’s boss is approaching the situation with the same biases about Wicca that Fred & George have, i.e. not being a “real” religion and therefore Fred & George are more wronged somehow than Harry was. I worry that OP may not be in a position to issue a “final warning” on any subject as a team lead, without her boss’s support.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s a fair point. My answer would be “because they have a legal obligation to” but…in practice? Could be a big promise.

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      hopefully HR can correct the OP’s manager. If nothing else OP themselves can take it seriously and let Fred and George know that this type of harassment is not warranted and they need to stop it.

  23. Not A Manager*

    @LW – In terms of the “muttering under the breath,” I’d encourage you to think of this as an action, not a statement. It doesn’t matter *what* the Weasleys are muttering, even if it were “Harry is great and I love Wicca.” The *fact* of muttering under your breath at or about a co-worker is aggressive and they need to stop doing it.

    1. ferrina*

      And there’s so much that you can do!
      -A stern look and firm “Excuse me?”
      -“Repeat that.” then when they decline, say “If it’s not appropriate to repeat, then it’s not appropriate to say at any volume. It needs to stop.”
      – One-on-one: “I need you to be able to treat everyone on this team with respect, regardless of whether you personally like them. That includes not rolling your eyes, not muttering under your breath, responding in a polite way. If you cannot act with professionalism, it will severely limit your ability to grow at this company.” (Is this a threat? Sure. But it’s also a business need- you can’t have someone that’s not professional taking on additional responsibilities)
      – “Did you say something?” Every. Time. Then if they say no, “Oh, that’s strange, I could have sworn you said something. You were moving your lips like you were talking. That’s very confusing if you weren’t actually talking.” Then stand there and look at them until it gets awkward, then keep looking at them until they walk away. It’s not my favorite solution, but I’ve found that some people will stop bad behavior if it makes them feel awkward. (I had an auntie who was a master at this!)

      1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

        “If it’s not appropriate to repeat, then it’s not appropriate to say at any volume. It needs to stop.”
        I love this statement. And it works in almost any context!

  24. anonymous73*

    Yes to everything Alison said. And in addition you need to let Fred and George know that their “jokes” need to stop, especially since you mention you’ve spoken to them about it before. They’re bullies trying to hide behind the “it was just a joke” excuse and you need to let them know that the jokester behavior will no longer be tolerated either.

  25. I'm just here for the cats!*

    OMG I love the names! I don’t know if Alison did this on purpose or not but today is the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone! Perfect timing!

    1. Moira Rose*

      I had a really nerdsnipe moment of “there is no way that is correct” when I realized you meant the movie, not the book. Womp womp.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        OOOPS didn’t make that clear. Yes, the movie. But don’t feel bad. I had the same reaction this morning when I heard on the news that it’s the 20th anniversary. I was like “NOPE your way wrong, and then realized they were talking about the movie.

      2. generic_username*

        The first Harry Potter movie came out twenty years ago??????? I remember going to see it in theaters, and being obsessed with the making of it, and posting opinions on the casting on fandom message boards. I…. am really struggling with being in my 30s.

  26. Lucious*

    Perhaps this is too ruthless of an approach- but in OPs shoes, I’d terminate all three participants.

    If I felt there was a chance the three would cool it going forward I’d follow Alisons advice- but once people hold religious debates between each other, passions are raised and it’s generally past the point where verbal counseling is going to work. There’s a reason one doesn’t talk religion in polite spaces (like work). It’s not a subject people can debate and remain dispassionate about.

    This bomb isn’t defused, merely delayed. These guys will return to insulting each other’s faiths once the dust settles….and then you’re back in this mess , with the rest of the office along for the ride. Knowing management is paying attention , they’ll keep it low-key at first for appearances….and then escalate the back and forth until another blow up happens.

    May as well make the tough but inevitable call to sack them ,take the attendant productivity hit
    , and also set a positive precedent management will not tolerate bullying , disruptive, and hostile behavior. The particulars about Islam vs Wicca vs Flying Spaghettisim are irrelevant.

    1. The Dogman*

      Did we read the same letter?

      I took from LW words that Harry only responded once after being bullied for some time and his response was an inelegant way of saying “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.

      He needs to be told to just go to a supervisor earlier but this was entirely the fault of the two bullies who think they are funny, and that religious jokes about other peoples faiths are funny, but get all touchy and throw toddler lever tantrums whant someone returns the serve eventually…

      I cannot think of any reason Harry should be fired… chatted to yes, mild warning maybe, but fired is just punishing the victim, making it harder to get others to come forward in future about bullies and very unfair.

      I also cannot see a single reason why the LW would want 2 known bullies who hide behind their religion when criticised on staff any longer.

      1. Aquawoman*

        What makes Islam a “glass house”?
        The letter says he was criticizing Islam for various things, not pointing out that other people criticize Islam for various things. The bullies engaged in terrible behavior, but they’re not “hiding behind their religion” when they were literally attacked for their religion.

        1. Kesnit*

          “mocking of him being a ‘witch wannabe’ after watching magic based fantasy shows and films too many times, along with teasing the silver pentacle he wears as being ‘the Devil.'”

          Fred and George were directly attacking Harry, not his religion.

          “particular religion has been under fire for decades if not centuries, especially since 9/11 over terrorism and about human rights for women and LGBTQ+ people.”

          Harry attacked the beliefs of Islam in general, not the specific beliefs of Fred and George or F&G directly.

          1. STG*

            You are really stretching. The pentacle is a religious symbol and has nothing to do with Harry. Not to mention the clear tones of the rest of their comments.

            1. generic_username*

              along with teasing the silver pentacle he wears as being ‘the Devil.’”

              Sounds like the equivalent of mocking a Christian for wearing a cross, not mocking the cross as a symbol. So yes, this was personal to Harry and his choice to wear the pentacle

    2. Sacred Ground*

      And it’s also irrelevant, to you at least, that there are two people actively bullying one person and the one person was goaded into talking back about something they didn’t want to talk about at all.

      Exactly the same as punishing the school bullies’ victims when they fight back. It’s disgusting.

    3. El l*

      I’m guessing that you’re not in the US from the “sack” terminology – but in this very litigious country, restraint and documentation is how you have to go. (Often for the worse)

      Can’t risk any of the three suing you (the employer) claiming that you fired them for discriminatory reasons. “Oh, our beliefs caused an argument, sure; but x and y had a nasty argument last year over some subject, and everyone kept their job just fine.”

      I think doing as Alison says – “This will be your only warning” – is more than fair.

  27. Despachito*

    I love Alison’s nuanced response – it recognizes everything.

    All three of them were in the wrong but Fred and George much more so (because they started the argument).

    It brings back childhood memories when I was the victim of bullying, and as I did not know what to do, my reaction was over the top, but I would not have reacted had I not been provoked, and – I cannot sufficiently emphasize this – if I knew there was a reliable adult authority to be turned to who would do the just thing (even if the just thing was to reprimand me for my exaggerated reaction but – exactly as Alison did – recognizing that I was provoked, and that the bullies were much more in the wrong than the victim). But there was a quite deeply ingrained atmosphere that to tell an adult would be “snitching”, and the right thing to do is to be able to defend yourself on your own somehow (but nobody said how, except for sometimes “punch them in the nose” which even the tiny me felt should NOT be the right response).

    If the adult authority did what Alison suggests, I’d feel it as just, even if a portion of it was to tell ME off. The key thing for me would be the recognition that Fred and George started it and provoked me.

    It makes my blood boiled that the Grandboss wanted to punish only Harry – the victim, although he was also in the wrong.

    1. Sacred Ground*

      Exactly. People are told, “If you’re bullied, you must stand up to the bully.” Also, “If you go to the authorities over bullying, you’re weak.” So we stand up and this is followed immediately by, “You responded badly so you are JUST AS IN THE WRONG and must now be punished for standing up to the bully. And punished more harshly.”

      1. Software Dev*

        Uh first of all grown adults shouldn’t be telling you that your weak to go to the authorities if you are being bullied, but second of all, “it’s okay for me to say something nasty about someone’s race/religion/personal life etc because they started it” has—never been acceptable? Acting like this is some new double standard is bizarre. Standing up to a bully might mean saying “Please stop speaking to me that way” and “Those kinds of comments are disgusting and /against the law/.” Then talking to your manager. “He started it” is—not a valid defense.

        1. Despachito*

          I think SacredGround did not say that it is OK to say something nasty because the other person started it.

          It just does not feel just if you are THE ONLY ONE punished for it, and the person who started it by saying something nasty about YOUR race/religion/personal life gets away with it.

          1. Software Dev*

            That’s fair and good point about the original context for Sacred Ground’s comment—agreed that Grandboss wanting to punish only Harry is pretty ridiculous and that someone being punished while other people get away with it is infuriating.

  28. Dasein9*

    By not doing anything about F&G’s harassment, the company sent a message to Harry that their behavior would be tolerated. It is quite reasonable for Harry to respond in kind, in self-defense, because he did have what looks an awful lot like tacit permission.

    He had seen multiple instances of the very same behavior allowed to continue, so he engaged in it himself.

    While the behavior needs to be stopped, Harry’s also owed an apology.
    (He’ll never get it, of course, but he’s still owed.)

    1. The Dogman*

      Quite right, LW and the company allowed the bullies to pretend they were “jokesters” when there is no such thing in a workplace.

      Only bullies are jokesters, jokesters are bullies, there is no nuance. So Harry returned the serve and suddenly feelings about faith become important to the bullies.

      Hypocrites for sure too…

    2. Despachito*

      I think that Harry’s reaction is partly the company’s fault. They did not nip the “jokesters'” “jokes” in the bud, and it is partly their fault that it escalated.

      If I had to fire someone, it would definitely be Fred and George, not Harry. A final warning would be a very kind thing for the two of them – one more strike and off they go.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        This should also be a black mark on OP’s record. OP allowed an environment in which bullying was tolerated and this situation is the result. Workplace “jokesters” don’t just suddenly become bullies. They’d been bullying all along. People put up with it until one person didn’t. Now that one person is at risk of firing while the bullies are apparently protected by management. Don’t think this won’t be noticed by everyone else there.

        1. Penny Parker*

          Definitely. OP has failed at her job by failing to get the bullying to stop. She continues to fail by not addressing bullying actions which are currently happening (muttering under the breath). OP needs to do some serious and deep evaluation of herself.

    3. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

      Agreed. Even if Big Boss sees Harry’s response as worse than Fred and George’s goading, only punishing Harry would send them a terrible message. It virtually guarantees their ‘teasing’ around the office will get worse.

  29. Essentially Cheesy*

    Fred and George sound like instigators and piled on Harry after they got a reaction out of him. Sounds to me like Fred and George should bear the brunt of the consequences.

  30. Eli*

    As someone born and raised in a Muslim community but who is no longer a Muslim, this was my experience after leaving the faith. On the whole, the “liberal” Muslims were some of the most hostile and awful to me. I feel it comes from their own defensiveness and insecurity in their own faith. The more “conservative” Muslims in general were either polite to me or ignored me, which isn’t ideal but is preferable.

    1. Sacred Ground*

      If these people are so hostile and dismissive of other minority religions, can they really be described as “liberal”?

      1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

        Sadly, the word ‘liberal’ here when applied to Muslims or Hindus etc is usually just a euphemism for ‘less alien’ and doesn’t tie in to the word’s literal meaning very much at all.

  31. CaviaPorcellus*

    2 questions:
    1) Is this your first management position?
    2) How long have you been with this company?

    Asking because you seem unsure of how to handle this (understandable, given your own manager’s reaction, especially if this is your first management position), but also because your instincts ARE correct and it’s the company that’s warped, so I can’t tell if this is a case of the company accidentally promoting someone who actually has decent managerial instincts and a conscience, or what.

    Anyway, please listen to Alison and go over your manager’s head. Say “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act” as many times as you can in a single sentence. If that doesn’t work, say “lawsuit” instead.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I don’t think we can say for certain that all of the company is warped. It’s just the OP’s manager. Hopefully they have a good HR or someone above the Manager who can correct this.

  32. Jennifer Strange*

    In the future if you feel you’re being harassed or discriminated against because of your religion, I need you to ___ (insert reporting procedure here). I can promise you that if you do, we will take it seriously and investigate, and will ensure you’re not harassed for your religious faith.

    The key here, OP, is that you need to MEAN this (which means making sure your organization will actually hold themselves to this standard). It sounds like that will involve making sure the boss understands that the way Harry was being treated was illegal and that a proper reporting procedure is an absolute must. To be clear, I don’t think Harry’s response was okay at all, but if this is an organization where reporting harassment does absolutely nothing then you’re not giving him an option to do much else.

  33. Marketer*

    Is mentioning that a particular religion (let’s be honest, it’s most of them) has a terrible track record in its treatment of women, LGBTQIA+ people and oppressed people harrassment ? From the OP’s letter, it doesn’t seem that Harry said anything illegal, although it was probably unwise.

    1. Despachito*

      I think that in any religion that has been around long enough you can find horrible things done in its name.

      I think that although such allegations were true, it would mean opening a can of worms, and should be avoided.

      1. Marketer*

        Indeed, it should be avoided at work, for all kind of reasons.

        I do, however, find it difficult to see how harassment can be used to protect hateful speech or ideology, or to harm people who raised against them. Not saying Harry was a crusader against bigotry, because he obviously reacted in anger, and he should definitely be talked to, but I really don’t think what he said qualifies as harassment. I can see how a workplace would use this blanket statement to cover itself, though.

        “I think that in any religion that has been around long enough you can find horrible things done in its name.”
        Yes. You can, indeed.

        1. Despachito*

          I mean, I am not an expert but I’d think that using those horrible things as an argument (Those of your religion did X! But those of yours did Y!) would lead to no good, however true it may be.

          I am thinking about a conflict between two spouses (Your father was a drunkard! But your mother was stealing in the supermarket!) Although both of these “arguments” may be spot on, no good can come of using them as a weapon against the other person.

        2. Littorally*

          So what you’re really proposing then is that it’s fair game to harass anyone for their religious beliefs so long as you can cite something bad that people also in their faith have done?

        3. JM60*

          As an LGBT person who has been affected by homophobia (mostly from another religion), I’m very sympathetic to Harry.

          I agree that from a purely “protect your butt” legal perspective, Harry needs to be reprimanded and told to not do this again. From a moral perspective, what he said probably wasn’t harassment. Though individual adherents might not be, and this is also true of other religions, saying that the religion currently tends to be misogynistic and homophobic is a valid criticism (if true) regarding the real-world consequences of the religion. On the other hand, calling someone a “witch wannabe” is just mocking someone for your own amusement.

          1. JM60*

            I want to add that if someone should be fired from this incident, from a moral perspective it should be Fred and George. Legally, it’s best to wait until they’ve done other unprofessional “jokes” – that have been documented – before firing them.

          2. Software Dev*

            loving the idea that its not morally harassment if its true. That’s all it takes, a few facts and you can harass people with a clear conscience!*

            *you can’t. Don’t harass people.

            1. JM60*

              To take an extreme example, if someone molested a child, then saying that they’re a child molestor (usually) isn’t harressment. It would be if they didn’t molest a child (or the evidence is too weak to justify hurting their reputation).

              Truth matters when it comes to treatment of others!

              1. Software Dev*

                Sure, but if you follow them around at work saying ‘hey child molester, what are you doing today child molester, how many children have you molested today’ that is still morally harassment. Society won’t care, for obvious reasons, probably but take another crime, say, theft.

                Even if someone has stolen in the past, calling them a thief, asking what they’ve stolen lately, is still workplace harassment.

                1. JM60*

                  Sure, but if you follow them around at work saying ‘hey child molester, what are you doing today child molester

                  That’s more akin to what Fred and George were doing, as they were the ones to initiate and bring up religion.

                  To put this in a context more specific to religion, lets say that a Catholic brings up religion with me in an unwelcome manner. I then counter by explaining that the official position of the Catholic Church is that as a gay man, my relationship with my husband is “intrinsically disordered.” Assuming that they agree with that that indeed is what the Catholic Church officially teaches (perhaps after I show them the exact place where the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses those words specifically), they can either:

                  A) Not agree with that teaching personally (even though they identify as Catholic and understand that they’re disagreeing with the Catholic Church).

                  B) Agree with that teaching.

                  If it’s A, they don’t agree with that teaching, then I’m not attacking them because the belief I don’t like isn’t their belief. If it’s B, then they shouldn’t be insulted by me explaining that the Catholic Church teaches that because they should believe that there’s nothing wrong with that belief. Moreover, if they confirm that it’s B, they’re telling me that my relationship with my husband is “intrinsically disordered”, which is extremely insulting.

                2. Becca*

                  Seems somewhere in the middle to me, like if someone is criticizing the way you parent and you say, “you shouldn’t talk when you molested you children” without making it an ongoing thing.
                  I’d agree that it’s not morally harassment, as he was trying to make his own harassment stop, it wasn’t an ongoing campaign, and he didn’t even attack them directly. Legally, it’s probably still harassment, on the basis that it’s making pointed comments at them about their faith, because it’s their faith specifically (compared to the topic coming up in passing or making a general comment like that lots of religions seem weird to outsiders, but his faith is just as sincere as theirs).

        1. The Dogman*

          Most practitioners of eugenics have been religious people, just so you know that is not as strong an argument as you think…

    2. STG*

      Yea, I find it difficult to fault Harry in this situation. He was attacked and reacted in kind.

      Religion should just stay out of the work place but I have little empathy for the two ‘jokesters’.

      Legally, it’s pretty clear that the company has to come down on all 3 though.

    3. Aquawoman*

      Yes, “mentioning” insulting things about someone’s religion is harassment. Hiding behind “I don’t personally think this, I’m just mentioning stereotypes that other people have” would not work.

    4. Anonymous Poster*

      It’s irrelevant. It’s not a pass to attack a religion held by your coworker, especially when (presumably) your workplace is more interested in selling teapots, not converting people to a particular religion.

      It doesn’t give Harry a pass to attack their coworker’s religion.

      Though I would argue that Harry is not creating a hostile workplace environment here, Fred and George are. But if left unchecked, it certainly could trend that way. But I suspect Harry just needs a mild course correction, Fred and George need much more.

    5. JB*

      Of course. It’s not reasonable to behave as if two individuals who associate themselves in some way with a particular faith must then answer for all crimes ever perpetrated by other believers of that faith.

      Surely you don’t think it’s appropriate to respond to finding out a coworker is Christian by demanding to know if they attend a queer-affirming church, or asking what they think of the Protestant-Evangelist drift in the US. So why would it be okay to treat an Islamic coworker this way?

      In this case, Harry was provoked, which makes his response more understandable but not more appropriate. In the same way it would not be appropriate for him to scream or swear at them in response to their religious bullying. There are a range of adult, professional ways to handle this situation and this was not it.

    6. Colette*

      That’s pretty much true of every human institution. So yeah, bringing it up, especially as an attempt to hold an individual responsible for it, is harassment.

    7. LilPinkSock*

      But why would that ever need to come up, except to be a jerk about a person’s belief system? All three were deliberately being a-holes about religion, and in most US workplaces that would violate harassment policies.

    8. CaviaPorcellus*

      Yes, it’s harassment.

      Think of any other protected category – let’s use sex as an example.

      If I got into a girls-rule-boys-drool argument with a male coworker, I could (rightfully) point out violent crime statistics, domestic violence statistics, and rape statistics. Right?
      But, like, why would I do that at work? What does it accomplish? What does it say about my feelings toward my male coworkers that I think this is appropriate?

      Or, to bring this back to religion, I’m Jewish.
      You could, in a discussion on Judaism, bring up that one passage in Leviticus and modern treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals in certain Jewish movements, or you could bring up the attitudes about intermarriage, or any number of other things. Right?
      But, like, why would you do that at work? What does it accomplish? What does it say about your feelings toward me or other religiously Jewish people that you think this is appropriate?

    9. Batgirl*

      I think it’s unacceptable to say to someone that their religion is seen as dodgy and is easy to criticize. Where it gets a bit difficult is that it’s not clear if that was Harry lashing out at their religion in frustrated revenge, or if he was making a cack handed bid for empathy, as if to say: “Its the same feeling for me, as it is when people say those unacceptable things to you”. But intentions aren’t magic, and even if Harry was trying to teach them and defend himself, he said something insulting and inflammatory. It can’t happen again and Harry needs better defence tools and real support.

  34. Imaginary Friend*

    And George and Fred will say something about how they were “just teasing”. Don’t get into that argument with them. The answer is: teasing counts as harassment under this policy.

    1. ferrina*

      Right. And if you don’t know how to respond to the “Just Teasing” Defense, ask any elementary school teacher for tips. This is straight from the schoolyard.

  35. Friendly Neighborhood Auditor*

    I’m a Witch and I’m out about that in the sense that I practice and if I’m asked what my religion is I will state it. I tend to operate on the philosophy that there are three things that shouldn’t be discussed at work (unless as an actual part of the work) a politics, religion, and money. Keeps me out of all kinds of sticky wickets.

  36. Mockingdragon*

    I’d just like to point out that “And now there is chaos” is my favorite way to end a title and I would love a category for these posts.

    1. mreasy*

      Will anything ever beat “my coworker threw a sandwich at the boss and now there is chaos”? Did the tickling situation end in “now there is chaos”? Such a good category, I agree!

  37. AthenaC*

    “It’s two against one!”

    So, that individual thinks that in the U.S., Christians by definition don’t harass people because they’re the majority religion? And in, say, Saudi Arabia, Muslims by definition don’t harass people because they’re the majority religion?

    Just taking that statement to its logical conclusions is beyond bizarre.

    1. The Dogman*

      “Just taking that statement to its logical conclusions is beyond bizarre.”

      Agreed… it is a wierd postion to take for sure!

  38. librarianmom*

    It is so common for harassment and outright hostility to be disguised as “humor.” I wasn’t surprised to see that Fred and George portray themselves as “jokesters” —- yeah, right, they ~very funny~ always at some else’s expense. And if call out about it, it’s “what’s the matter — don’t you have a sense of humor?” If I were you, LW, I would start looking at how their “jokes” go over with other employees, as well.

  39. AnonPagan*

    I do believe that a lot of people who have commented about people not seeing wiccan as a real religion are on point with where the boss’ attitude is coming from – which is of course not ok. As a Pagan, people just don’t take me seriously because my religion isn’t a ‘real’ one. I just don’t talk religion with anyone anymore, I don’t see the point. I think Alison’s advice is spot on, and I do agree with others that the other general ‘joking’ needs to be addressed with the two instigators. This whole thing is a dumpster fire.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      It’s sad that people cannot see that their opinion regarding the “genuineness” of a religion or how established the religion is, is irrelevant.

    2. ThisIsTheHill*

      Same. I fall somewhere in the atheist/agnostic realm – more of a humanist – & only really discuss my beliefs with like-minded friends these days. I have asked devout Muslim, Jewish, & Hindu co-workers about their holidays & how they celebrate because I’m interested in learning (grew up in a very white, very Christian town & now living in a diverse city), but never allow myself to get dragged into theological debates or publicly “out” myself at work.

      I must have straddled that line all right, because in the BeforeTimes I had some amazingly delicious just-for-me treats left on my desk during Diwali & Eid.

  40. Polecat*

    While this is about religion and therefore there are specific laws about it, it’s really not about religion. What it’s about is Fred and George are bullies. They could be bullying someone about anything, because that’s what bullies do. Pretending it’s all good nature teasing is also what bullies do. I think you got a toxic duo on your hands.

  41. Bamcheeks*

    I think there are good arguments for treating this as re look goody harassment on both sides, and warning both parties that it cannot be repeated. However, I also think that if you’re not looking at the racialised aspects of Islamophobia and the fact that it has far greater material and violent consequences than the (also bad!) dismissal of Wicca as not a real religion, that’s not great. I am quite shocked at people here who treating them as simple equivalents and unable to understand why the company is minded to take the Islamophobia more seriously.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Legally, they are equivalent.
      In both cases, the issue here is harassing someone based on their religion. The issue of what other or further or previous discrimination any of them may experience outside of this incident doesn’t change that.
      If Harry made racist comments then yes, that should be addressed as well as any comments he made relating to religion, but there is nothing to suggest that at happened.

      1. Bamcheeks*

        Like I said, I think there are pragmatic arguments for wanting everyone that religious harassment is not tolerated, but the “ their particular religion has been under fire for decades if not centuries” absolutely tips it into racism for me. There is no meaningful way in which you can say that Islam has been “under fire” for centuries which is not about race.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          While the majority of believers in Islam are Arab, not all of them are. I think that Indonesia has a large number of them and in the US, some African Americans are also believers.

          1. Littorally*

            Nah, Arabs aren’t even the majority of Muslims. Asia-Pacific region has more Muslims than the Middle East and Africa combined.

        1. Bamcheeks*

          I know. But I didn’t say, “all Muslims are people of colour”, I said “Islamophobia is racialised”. The history and context of Islamophobia cannot be separated from the history and practice of colonialism and racism. And I think Harry invoking “decades if not centuries” of prejudice against Muslims is leveraging racism, whether he’s doing it consciously or not.

          1. Gothic Bee*

            Even if it’s racist, I don’t think racism would be treated any differently than religious discrimination, at least legally. They’re both (religion and race) protected classes, so I think you would still need to respond to Harry and Fred and George equally to avoid discrimination.

            And I’m not disagreeing with your point personally, but as far as the workplace goes, you can’t treat protected classes differently based on the larger societal context.

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      It doesn’t matter which one is worse. They are both in the wrong. In the eyes of the law it doesn’t matter what the religion or non religion is.

      1. Bamcheeks*

        I think it matters quite a lot which is worse, and will matter to Muslims who wor t the country.

        Which isn’t to say that I think F&G’s harassment should be ignored or that Harry should (in this situation) be more severely punished, but I think there will be more chaos down the line if someone isn’t making that distinction.

        1. STG*

          You seem to be valuing Muslims over Wiccans by attempting to make these distinctions.

          I think F&G’s behavior was worse if we are rating them though.

        2. Littorally*

          What do you mean by “more chaos”?

          The business’ legal obligations are very clear, and I cannot see how abiding strictly by them is liable to cause more problems for them than making winking exceptions.

          You’re also making the presumption that the Muslim employees are nonwhite and the Wiccan employee is white.

          1. Bamcheeks*

            No, I’m saying Islamophobia is racialised. Part of the history and practise of Islamophobia is white supremacy. In particular, if you’re saying, “your religion has been under fire for decades if not centuries for its treatment of women”, you’re referring to the ways that Western powers have used a particular idea of “Islam’s treatment of women” to justify the seizure of wealth from colonised regions and violence against Muslims.

            In terms of “more chaos”, I mean that I think they should be looking at the wider context of Islamophobia and anti-Wiccan prejudice and thinking about which one your employees are more like to encounter and which is more like to have a significant impact on their health, prospects and material welfare. From a purely pragmatic point of view, I would to make sure that nothing about this incident or the way it was handled was part a pattern of harassment or a hostile environment, and I would be particularly concerned about a pattern of Islamophobia (or closely related racism) just because it’s far more common and more likely to have a significant impact on the material and physical well-being of the victims.

            1. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

              Deciding you care more about Islamophobia than anti-Wiccan prejudice is still a form of religious discrimination, though.

              I’m also somewhat interested in the fact that you seem concerned that the Islamophobia was part of a pattern of harassment or a hostile environment, when nothing from the letter indicates that that’s the case, and don’t share the same concern about the anti-Wiccan comments, when we know that those ones WERE harassment.

              1. Bamcheeks*

                To be honest I don’t know any Muslim colleagues who haven’t experienced racism or religious harassment at work, ranging from microaggressions to more overt hostility. So yes, whilst I think that Wicca should be respected and that the original comments were out of line, illegal and should have been shut down right away by the manager, I think the Islamophobic comments are more likely to have landed on top of existing racial and religious bias.

                1. Littorally*

                  I mean, you’re probably right about that. But IMO if anything that would only serve to balance out the fact that Fred & George were the aggressors in this scenario.

                  And, at the end of the day, the employer needs to handle this based on the behavior by their employees, not based on what other bigotry Fred & George may have experienced in their lives.

                2. LabTechNoMore*

                  To be honest I don’t know any Muslim colleagues who haven’t experienced racism or religious harassment at work, ranging from microaggressions to more overt hostility

                  This is really minimizing the devastating impact of Islamophobia on our lives. Eliminationist rhetoric against Muslims is mainstream. I personally have lost multiple jobs as a result of racist and Islamophobic bullying. It’s more likely your colleagues haven’t volunteered that information to you, given how intensely personal and ubiquitous anti-Muslim sentiment is.

                3. Bamcheeks*

                  I’m sorry, I think you may have misread me? I was saying that every Muslim colleague or friend that‘s trusted me enough to talk to me about Islamophobia has experienced it. I apologise if you read me correctly but the way I’ve phrased it sounds minimising, though — I meant to emphasise the omnipresence of Islamophobic prejudice in European and North American workplaces but I mob at have missed the mark.

            2. Despachito*

              Sorry but this seems absurd.

              If I make malicious comments to provoke you, do they carry more weight (pun intended) if you are fat and I comment on this than if you are slim and I comment on this, just because fat people are usually the butt of bullying more often than slim people?

              Will mean remarks be less hurtful to the slim person (I have heard that it is more difficult to gain than to lose weight)? And do I really have a standing to decide whose situation is more difficult, or even that “your group has been historically less harassed so your right not to be bullied is smaller”?

              1. Software Dev*

                I mean…yes? Making fun of a fat person for being fat is worse than making fun of a slim person for being slim, with the caveat you shouldn’t do either? Because one of these people is generally treated better by society? There’s no studies saying skinny people are passed over for jobs, are more likely to be considered sloppy and disorganized, etc. the same is not true of fat people.

                A white person calling a Black person a racialized slur is worse than a Black person calling a white person one.

                You shouldn’t do either of these things, they should both be punished at work, but this false equivalency where we pretend which insults people use aren’t related to the larger context of society is gross.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Is it worse though? What if the person is skinny because of an ED or some other chronic illness or disability?

                  We’re splitting hairs here, and I don’t think that is warranted. Both parties were in the wrong, Fred and George were the instigators, and all should be disciplined. That’s it.

                2. Despachito*

                  I strongly disagree.

                  If I say something to you maliciously with an intent to hurt you, it should be fully irrelevant which group you belong to. If anything, other things should matter (e.g. if you were the one provoking or provoked).

                  I think that categorizing humans into groups with more or less right to be offended is a very slippery slope, and I agree with Elizabeth West below – “Both parties were in the wrong, Fred and George were the instigators, and all should be disciplined. “

                3. Bamcheeks*

                  I strongly disagree! I absolutely think that aggressions which form part of wider pattern of disenfranchisement, violence and denial of human rights more seriously than those which cause hurt feelings.

                4. JM60*


                  Especially if the feelings are being hurt because someone was accurately calling them out for their behavior of disenfranchisement, violence and denial of human rights, etc. I usually don’t want people to have their feelings hurt, but I don’t particularly care if white supremacists have their feelings hurt when people are correctly calling them out for racism.

                5. The Dogman*

                  No that is all hypocrisy.

                  Insults are insults, if someone sets out to insult someone else based on characteristics then that is dicrimination and bullying.

                  “A white person calling a Black person a racialized slur is worse than a Black person calling a white person one.”

                  That is a very dangerous view to take as it is unfair, and unfairness breeds resentment, and resentment breeds contempt.

                6. bamcheeks*

                  Yes, but insults are different from legally defined harassment, which is also different from the wider societal oppression. Insulting someone at work is bad, and you shouldn’t do it and your employer should put a stop to it because it makes for a crappy working environment and will not contribute to the organisation’s goals. Creating a hostile environment for someone based on a protected characteristic is illegal, and you shouldn’t do it, and the company should put a stop to it because it makes for a crappy working environment and will not contribute to the organisation’s goals AND will create a legal liability for the country. Participating in broader societal oppression is bad and you should not do it because it’s immoral, unethical and contributes to breaches of human rights.

                7. Despachito*

                  Bamcheeks: ” Creating a hostile environment for someone based on a protected characteristic is illegal”

                  Shouldn’t it be rather “Creating a hostile environment for someone is illegal”?

                  This sounds like you COULD get away with it if you create hostile environment on the basis of something else than a protected characteristic, while the emphasis should be on the HOSTILE.

                  It would certainly not be OK to create a hostile environment for someone for being rich (if they are the only rich person at a workplace) although I assume that richness is overall positive and probably not a protected characteristic?

                  JM60: I’d see a big difference between telling someone “what you just said is racist and derogatory bordering on fanatism and I am not going to tolerate that” (i.e. to call him out on HIS OWN inappropriate behaviour, and in this case I’d not care if he is offended) and saying “your religion has killed X people over the years and you all are fanatics” which, even if its first part may be historically accurate., is not the other person’s fault, and the second part is tarring everyone with the same brush, which is obviously unjust.

      2. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

        Exactly! I find it a little concerning to see how many people want to give Harry a pass here.

    3. Mostly managed*

      I’m in agreement– Fred &George’s behavior was definitely worse, and they started the whole thing, and definitely deserve to be disciplined, but there’s been a systematized bout of Islamophobia in the US over the last few years. Again, I’m not saying this to justify anything G&F say here, but I think that’s probably why the manager reacted to one side so strongly over the other.

      (A parallel example: women love shoes vs. women can’t be leaders. They’re both discriminatory, but one is a lot more related to material harm and one is a lot more just stereotyping.)

      I think it’s shitty to joke about Wicca, especially when so few people practice openly– but saying “especially since 9/11 over terrorism and about human rights for women and LGBTQ+ people” is a line that a ton of groups that do hate crimes against Muslim people use as an excuse. Everyone in this situation reacted badly, but I can definitely see how G&F&the manager who wants to Fire Harry saw their actions as “playful ribbing” and Harry as “taking it too far.” I think Alison’s scripts are great, but I also think the comments are kinda saying “annoying joking about wizards” and “implicitly blaming Muslim people for 9/11” are on a similar level.

      (and again; I think G&F should not have started it and are in the wrong. But I don’t think it takes away from that to acknowledge the escalation between the discriminatory statements/think about how that might have informed the actions after the fact. Harry should definitely not lose his job, and I think it could be worthwhile to emphasize that Wicca is a real religion that can be discriminated against to all those involved in wanting to fire him.)

    4. Koala dreams*

      There’s nothing to suggest the company takes racism more seriously than religious discrimination. If anything, the comment from the bad boss sounds worrying for any minorities in that workplace.

      I agree that it’s common for Islamophobia to be both racist and religious harassment, and difficult to untangle one aspect from the other, but that doesn’t change the advice. It’s unacceptable no matter what.

    5. TyphoidMary*

      I’m with you, Bamcheeks. I’m also shocked at how quick people are to frame this as “Harry was pushed too far and chose poor words.”

      I’ve beeen pushed to the edge my coworkers and even lost my cool, more than once even. Know what I didn’t do? Throw their religion in their face (which is the most gracious reading of Harry’s response) or get outright Islamophobic/racist (which is what I think Harry actually did).

      I think all parties behaved poorly. Legally, I think the manager has to treat them equally. Morally and socially? Both being bad does not make them equivalent experiences.

      1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

        I was stunned by the audacity and seeing foolishness of Fred and George in bringing this to management when they were also culpable, ‘Your son broke my legs with a crowbar just because I was stealing his TV!’
        Then I read OP’s management’s response and was horrified to see that apparently that tactic worked…

    6. Observer*

      I am quite shocked at people here who treating them as simple equivalents and unable to understand why the company is minded to take the Islamophobia more seriously.

      And I am stunned that you consider that two people ganging up on one and going after him is less of a problem than his not responding well.

  42. Speaks to Dragonflies*

    It sounds like Fred and George need to learn the age old lesson “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.”

      1. Sacred Ground*

        What an odd comment. Attitudes like this are likely why Harry never spoke up (“cry”, really?) to management or HR in the first place but instead tried to defend himself.

        1. Despachito*

          I read it differently.

          As if Fand G “tease” Harry until he snaps, AND then they complain to the management that HE was mean to THEM (completely omitting what led to it).

          It is still wrong that he snapped and offended their religion, but it is deeply unfair that they think it is OK when THEY do it, and only start to be offended when someone does the same to them.

          I’ve met such people, and it is a very nasty trait (they even get offended when you politely call out their behaviour – I wonder whether they do it on purpose or whether they genuinely do not understand what is wrong)

          1. The Dogman*

            ” I wonder whether they do it on purpose or whether they genuinely do not understand what is wrong”

            On purpose. The are always calculating types that do this.

        2. Speaks to Dragonflies*

          Despachito got what I was meaning. To me, its like the bullies keep beating on the skinny nerdy kid until he finally picks up chair and wails on them with it, then gets punished for defending themself.
          In this case, Id like to know if Harry knew that he had grounds to report George and Fred for harassment and whether he felt OP would take him seriously or if anything would be done to stop it. OP stated that they had already had to “rein in” George and Fred in the past. In the above scenario, let’s say the nerdy kid told the teacher. Would the teacher do something about it? Ignore it? Or tell the nerdy kid to stop being nerdy and they wouldn’t be beat on anymore…

  43. Sparkles McFadden*

    I love Alison’s script for speaking with Harry. It acknowledges the provocation, and demonstrates that the manager understands what happened, and why Harry would want to respond. It also makes it clear that Harry is responsible for his own behavior, regardless of the provocation. I’d like to send that script to all the schools.

    1. quill*

      All schools ever could use this instead of “I don’t care who started it, you’re all in detention!”

      1. Despachito*

        This is lazy management, or rather non-management, and I hate it. It can do a lot of harm, similarly as if the perpetrator of domestic violence and their victim are seen fighting (in fact the victim defending themselves), but it is written off as a “heated argument between spouses” where BOTH parties are EQUALLY culpable.

  44. Anónima*

    I love the scripts.
    Everyone here is just ugh. Some more than others (hello LW’s boss, wth?) but generally everything and everyone is icky.

  45. NK*

    This makes me seethe, because it looks too much like school anti-bullying rules that conveniently become zero tolerance when the bullied person finally has enough and fights back.

    Harry is in the wrong, but everyone else is worse. Including OP, if they knew about what Fred and George were doing and didn’t put a stop to it.

    1. Camellia*

      Thanks, this is what I was thinking but couldn’t put into words! Somehow it’s only becomes bad when the person fights back.

  46. Third Generation Nerd*

    I consume so much British culture (books, tv) that I often find I’ve employed UK spellings and word choices, despite being US born and raised. Not necessarily a reliable indicator.

  47. Hate Saying This*

    Unfortunately, you’re going to have to fire all three of them. Upper management wants Harry fired, and there’s no getting around that. It doesn’t matter how unfair and unreasonable it is, big bosses want him gone, and if you don’t fire him, it’s just going to be trouble down the line. If he gets fired, Fred and George need to be fired, or it’s religious discrimination against Harry, because as much as your management wants you to, you cannot punish one side here and not the other. Personally I’d prefer to just fire Fred and George and give Harry a write up, but that’s not really an option, here. It’d be fair, but the optics wouldn’t LOOK fair, and it’d open up the company to a lawsuit for religious discrimination against Fred and George. So even though Harry doesn’t deserve to be fired, you need to fire him.

    1. Littorally*

      I agree that all three need to be fired, but I’m not sure I agree that Harry doesn’t deserve it.

      Harry had a lot of options when Fred and George started in on him, and he chose the option that would make sure he’d be in the wrong alongside them. I’m not a person to believe that once provoked, any reaction you have is a fair and reasonable one.

      1. Hate Saying This*

        I think there is a large grey zone between one’s reaction to provocation being fair and reasonable, and one’s reaction being just as bad as the behavior of the provokers. There’s room for a response to not be okay while also not being equivalent to what started everything. That’s why I would, absent the politics here, prefer to punish Harry short of termination while terminating those who started it. That’s not saying Harry was fair and reasonable, or that he wasn’t wrong, it’s saying quite the opposite, while also not equivocating the person harassed with the people harassing.

        The problem is, the politics here do exist, and upper management have taken stances that demand Harry go. HR’s core function is to protect the company from lawsuits, and to do that and address the fact that powerful people want Harry out, everyone has to be treated the same even if that isn’t fair.

        I really, really hate workplace politics.

        1. Littorally*

          “Also fireable” isn’t quite the same as “just as bad.” I’d rather see anyone who descends to a level of personal bigotry out the door, even if they were provoked.

          1. Despachito*

            I disagree.

            For Harry, it was the FIRST offense of this kind, and he was PROVOKED. So I’d say he deserves a stern talking to, and a warning, but NOT to be fired.

            For George and Fred, though, it was another case in a series of “jokes” (= read “bullying”). THe management knew about that, and did nothing (they should have had a serious talk to GandF probably months ago.

            So as I see it, the situation escalated partly because the managers’ mismanagement, and Harry absolutely shouldn’t bear the brunt of this.

      2. Speaks to Dragonflies*

        But did Harry have that many options? OP stated that Fred and George had already been reined in before, apparently with little success. Did Harry have enough faith in the system that he felt he had recourse?

    2. pcake*

      I’d have fired Fred and George a while back.

      That being said, if the OP is told that they MUST fire Harry, I’d spend some money and talk to an employement lawyer first, and I’d tell upper management I’m doing so. As management, the OP may be considered partly legally responsible for the firing AND allowing the bullying to continue.

    3. The Dogman*

      If Harry is fired, even with the other 2 he has a rock solid case for unfair dismissal.

      If F and G are fired they have zero case for unfair dismissal.

      HR would be doing a disservice to the company if they allow Big Boss to fire Harry.

      F and G have no recourse, they are bullies, there is a history of bullying from them, they can easily be fired over this final straw.

      Harry has had no warnings and was responding due to a lack of management.

      If I were in HR or a Boss at that company I would be pushing for F n G to go now, Harry to get a warning and, depending on LW’s past performance, either putting LW on a PIP or firing them for allowing the siutuation to get out of hand.

      Firing Harry is literally asking for a lawsuit.

  48. LizzyLou*

    Shouldn’t the fact that in fact this company does tolerate religious harassment be addressed? You’re acting like Harry was equally out of line. He wasn’t. He’s the victim here.

  49. laser99*

    I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would discuss religion at work. I don’t mean incidentally, like “What did you do over the weekend?” “I went to a church picnic” type of thing.

    1. JM in England*

      One of the first workplace norms I learned was that religion and politics tend to be taboo subjects to discuss.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. I mean you talk about it in passing, in terms of what people do at weekends. Sometimes if there’s a major festival with particular food someone will bring something in (hence my deep addiction to Hamantaschen – one colleague makes the best ones) or write something in the company newsletter about why a recent particular festival is important (there was quite a good one recently on Diwali). By I’ve never worked in a company where we discussed what people actually believed rather than just touching on what people might do. That’s like politics and not something to be discussed in the workplace.

        I think in general a lot of English people would consider it fairly inappropriate to talk about what people really believe in a work situation. That’s a really personal question.

    2. Anon for this*

      And one of the first things I learned (back when I was a practicing Wiccan) was to codeswitch.
      Ritual = church.
      Sabbat = holiday.
      (sarcasm) orgy = church dance (/sarcasm)

    3. CoveredinBees*

      It can come up in random times, like scheduling an important meeting on a religious holiday or dealing with dietary restrictions, but just bringing it up is basically always a bad idea. There are places in the US where it is not unusual to just ask people where they go to church. The only place I’ve talked about my religion beyond necessary logistics was at an organization who trained companies and hospitals to handle religion as it came up with employees, clients, and patients. We’d all be involved in the trainings enough to have the conversations respectfully and, considering our work, it rarely came up.

    4. Anonymous Poster*

      Yeah. People ask me what I do on Sunday, and usually it’s I went to church and met with friends. But no one asks about the sermon or what happened at church, which is fine. Like asking other folks about their Saturdays and Fridays and hearing about going to synagogue or mosque. It’s fine, and no one that’s polite is going to start delving deeply into the theology and religious side of it.

      The most I get is where I go to church, and I just give a city name and it spurs a conversation about how I met my spouse there. It’s easy enough to deflect because no one needs to hear all about my church at work. But it’s okay to not be cold about it too.

      Honestly, people just need to just mind their own business a lot of the time, and be happy to try and make friends with people that aren’t like them – politically, religiously, etc. But work is work, so it’s best to keep a boundary up whenever possible.

    5. RagingADHD*

      Interestingly, I (a Christian) once worked in a small law firm where most of the partners were Orthodox Jewish and had many Orthodox clients. There were often discussions/explanations necessary about traditions and customs so I would know how to be respectful toward the clients, and that frequently led to interesting and appreciative discussions about the differences in our beliefs.

      One of the partners used to ambush me (in a friendly way) with passages from the New Testament and ask me to explain them. It was wierd, but it didn’t bother me. I’m sure if I acted uncomfortable, he would have apologized and never done it again.

  50. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    Wow this letter gave me flash backs and made me all the more grateful for Work From Home. I’ve seen people from larger more widely practiced religions rentlessly needle practitioners of lesser know religions. Usually under the guise of “I was just asking” As a Pagan I have been on the receiving end of it. For all managers and HR people reading the comments…the ones doing this are usually the ones that have racists/homophobic beliefs too. Just because you told them to stop doing A doesn’t mean they don’t promptly start doing B as soon as you are out of ear shot.

  51. JoAnna*

    It’s utterly appalling that Fred and George’s harassment was allowed to go on as long as it did. Although Harry’s response was problematic it’s completely understandable.

  52. Red*

    Allison’s advice is spot on as usual. The manager is an underrated villain in this story though. Clearly doesn’t think wicca is a “real” religion and therefore Fred and George had the legit complaints and Harry was the problem. Is there no HR at this company? I feel like HR should have been looped in and if they were good at their job they would have mentioned the same things Allison did.

    Also did the LW choose the pseudonyms? Cause aren’t these Harry Potter references lol? Seems a little *sucks teeth*

  53. Observer*

    I haven’t read the comments yet, so hopefully I’m repeating something that’s already been said.

    The one thing you need to point out to your boss is that if you DO fire Harry over this, you will open yourself to a lawsuit that you WILL lose. Because you are punishing ONLY the person who defended himself, and not the people who went on the attack. If your manager tries to claim that he did that purely for the managerial reason that it was two against one, I suspect their lawyer will do a victory lap around the court right there. I also pity your lawyer…

    1. JM in England*

      The grandboss’ attitude reminds me of the one-sided, so-called anti-bullying policies in many schools, where it’s often the target that gets the more severe punishment for defending themselves…

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I like the image of the lawyer taking a victory lap right there. Sometimes the case prosecutes itself for you.

  54. Falling Diphthong*

    I always appreciate these detours through “Wait, the correct response to this problem is actually clearly spelled out in law.”

  55. CoveredinBees*

    Just for the record, being an atheist or agnostic or any group that often gets coded as “no religion” is also protected.

  56. GreyjoyGardens*

    If Harry is fired and Fred and George get away with this, then watch out for the office to become dysfunctional if it isn’t already. Fred and George will think they can get away with anything because they are golden children. Chances are people grit their teeth about their “adorable pranks” already. They will become uncontrollable and might wind up becoming the office bullies (if they are not already, behind manager’s back) and driving away good employees.

    Their “cute pranks” and “I am such a golden child I can get away with anything” act needs to be stopped ASAP for the health of the workplace atmosphere.

  57. ElizabethJane*

    I actually wonder if Harry really is in the wrong? Without knowing exactly what he said (presuming we don’t know exactly what he said?) is it possible Fred and George are just being particularly stupid?

    If F&G are going on and on about stereotypes re: Wicca and Harry says something like “You guys really need to knock it the eff off. I’d think you of all people would know how to not mock someone for their religion, especially considering all of the anti-islamic sentimants in the past decade. How would you like it if someone automatically labeled you a terrorist?”

    Has he actually said anything harassing? He didn’t call them a terrorist. He was perhaps a bit snarky and you can tell him that he needs to not snark back but I don’t really see it as a fireable offense….

    1. idwtpaun*

      That’s what I was wondering. From the letter, it sounded like Harry said something like, “I thought you, as followers of an oft-maligned religion, would understand what it’s like to have your beliefs attacked and not do it to others.” but Alison’s and other people’s comments seem to be perceiving the letter differently. Or maybe they’re perceiving it the same but deem this to be unacceptable?

      1. ElizabethJane*

        Yeah I’m trying to think on how I would take that… in my own life I guess if I were teasing a young male colleague for being young and he said “How would you like it if I teased you for being a woman in ABC male dominated industry” I wouldn’t consider that harassment. I’d go “Oh, right, I need to stop being a dick”. I obviously can’t speak to all women but I would think that’s mostly OK? Maybe not ultra professional but also not an attack.

      2. Bamcheeks*

        It says Harry “began to criticize them for how their particular religion has been under fire for decades if not centuries, especially since 9/11 over terrorism and about human rights for women and LGBTQ+ people”. That’s not “I would think you of all people would understand”, it’s “your religion is worse”.

        Also, if it was “you of all people should understand”, it would be understandable but still unacceptable. You don’t get to leverage other people’s minority status against you even if they started it.

        1. ElizabethJane*

          I guess I read it as “Began to criticize them **for being jerks** because their particular religion […] so they should understand” but it’s also completely fair to say I’m projecting with that.

          And is “Don’t be a jackass, you, as a member of a minority group, should understand what it’s like to be mocked for being in said minority group” really leveraging the status against them or is it just callign them out for being a turd?

        2. ElizabethJane*

          And to be clear, I do agree it sounds like Harry lashed out in an unprofessional way but I’m not sure that anything he did would be harassing? I’m probably not wording things clearly.

          1. Fabulous*

            I’m right there with you… Fred and George’s actions are still way worse in my mind than Harry’s could have been based on the description. Unprofessional, yes, but not a fireable offense. F&G, however, instigated the attack and got upset when Harry called them on it.

        3. Hudson*

          Yeah while I see what Harry was getting at the “their particular religion has been under fire for decades if not centuries” really stuck out to me as specifically Islamaphonic and I can’t tell if it’s from him or OP. I’m not Muslim but from what I understand, Islam has been “under fire” in that Muslims were persecuted by Christians during the Crusades and through British and European colonialism, but it just isn’t accurate to act like other religions have been this progressive force and Islam is the one outlier that deserves criticism. The use of “centuries” to me spoke to a broader misunderstanding of Islam in a way that I’d want to nip in the bud with any employee, no matter what their Muslim coworkers said to them.

    2. B*

      This. 100%.

      It would be interesting to know Harry’s exact words, because the version quoted above makes it sound like Harry didn’t do anything wrong.

  58. Observer*

    On another note, OP, I think you need to take something else that’s come up here very, very seriously. That is the fact that you are TOTALLY mismanaging your two “jokesters”. The fact that you have had to “rein them in” more than once is a problem in and of itself.

    It’s probably part of the reason that Harry handled the situation so badly – he’s probably sure, and with good reason! that no one would take this seriously, as no one has apparently taken their other out of line behavior seriously.

    You need to stop “reining them in” and start dishing out consequences. The next time they do ANYTHING that needs “reining in” (religion related or not) you need to STOP IT cold. And let them know that this kind of behavior is NOT acceptable. And that further actions of that sort WILL be a problem for their continued employment. It doesn’t have to be “egregious”. If it’s making people uncomfortable, hurt, scared, etc. it NEEDS TO STOP.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      Yes. The fact that these are also young men makes me wonder if this workplace has a kind of “fratty” atmosphere – I’m recalling the old old letter where the LW’s coworkers played paintball and made her life miserable.

      F&G need more than reining in, they need a metaphorical trip to the woodshed.

    2. Qest*

      The best, if possible solution would be to separate F&G. Without the bullybuddy, they might not feel that strong. No one who laughs at your poor jokes? Bwuhu. Different departments, buildings, time workable? Do it now.

  59. madge*

    I would not put Harry in the same category as Fred and George although all three certainly need a serious conversation. It sounds like their harassment of Harry went on unchallenged for a while before Harry snapped. He’s not in the right but his reaction is *slightly* more understandable assuming he’s now mortified for having said it. I wonder about the overall culture of equity in your workplace, given your company’s reaction to an incident they *couldn’t* ignore. Either way, their disrespect of Wicca needs to stop immediately, and frankly, they could benefit from reading Dana Eilers’ “Pagans and the Law”.

  60. Blarg*

    I know I’m late to this and probably no one will read it. But I find it odd that OP noted they are “liberal practicing” Muslims. Which, especially in this context, smacks of a different kind of Islamophobia: there are “good” Muslims, like these guys. And thus corresponding “bad” Muslims. If Fred and George were conservative Muslims, how would the situation be different? Does OP think the two options are “chill Muslim I can feel comfortable with” and “stereotypical jihadist”?

    1. Observer*

      Interesting point. I had thought that the “liberal” part was mean to prove that their teasing wasn’t bigoted only just a “bit too much”.

      But I agree, it doesn’t matter how “liberal” or “conservative they are. They should not have done what they did, they should not have ever been allowed to continue to make the kinds of jokes that need to be reined in, and they should face consequences for their misbehavior to Harry, INCLUDING the muttering, regardless of what specifically they are saying.

      And by the same token, it doesn’t matter what “kind” of Muslim they are, Harry needs to have some consequences for mishandling his response (although not as severe as the others, as he was essentially acting in self defense). And if his “freezing out” progresses to overt rudeness or refusal to work with them as needed, that needs to be addressed as well.

    2. Matt*

      That came off as odd to me too, although having said that, I dated a muslim who was originally from Saudi Arabia and he used the terms “liberal” and “conservative” to distinguish between Muslims/Saudi friends and family he was out to verses others he was not.

    3. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

      Yeah, that stuck out to me as well. People who make those kinds of distinctions can be very uncomfortable to work with/for.

  61. Pagan of Christian origin*

    Hey, is there a way to report a post or ask for moderation? Alison? Because Observer up there is getting inscreasingly Islamophobic (also kinda racist, but the Islamophobia is more blatant) and I’m starting to think better of trying to handle it myself.

    1. RagingADHD*

      You copy the comment link from its date line, and then include that link in a comment (or a reply to the problematic comment) explaining what’s the matter.

      The link will send your comment to moderation so Alison is alerted.

      1. Pagan of Christian origin*

        Thank you! Now that I see this the main thread is snipped, but I’m definitely noting this in case I need it again.

        Glancing down the page again I’m still getting an uncomfortable amount of lower-key islamophobic vibes from multiple people, and I’m a pagan here :/ Ugh. Harry’s *actions* were every bit as bigoted as theirs, and it’s the actions that count in the workplace.

  62. GreyjoyGardens*

    I’m wondering – are Fred, George, and Harry all young? Is this a kind of “fratty” workplace where “high spirits” can shade into bullying? Because I think Fred and George need more than just “reining in” and their manager, the LW, should have done it sooner.

    Prank-prone, “free spirited” workplaces have a way of turning toxic without good boundaries in place as to what is gentle, harmless teasing and what is bullying. I’m thinking of the (more than one!) letter Alison has received where someone tickled a coworker. Are Fred and George bullies and not just teasingly high-spirited young men? This is something to take a look at.

    1. RagingADHD*

      IDK, but for whatever reason I interpreted the description of Fred and George that they were, socially speaking, standard-issue young bro dudes.

  63. His Grace*

    What on earth.

    While Fred and George were clearly way out of line here, Harry did himself no favors with his response.

    Several things need to happen here (and I believe that the less HR is involved, the better):

    Fred, George, and Harry need to be seated (together or separately, though separately is better) and you need to explain to them that comments against someone’s religion (or lack thereof) are off-limits in the workplace. And to Fred and George, you should also make explicitly clear that Harry will not be fired because Fred and George had instigated all of this.

    I would also have a staff meeting reminding people that religious intolerance in the workplace is NOT OK.

    I hope that this helps.

  64. Sleepy*

    I agree with many of you that none of this behavior was appropriate. I think it’s worth noting that Islamophobia is responsible for everything from microaggressions, to hate crimes to literal wars and is in our news, our entertainment and is part of white supremacy. And what Harry said is textbook Islamophobia. People who practice Wicca do not experience this same level of oppression (thankfully) although, as other comments stated, they can still experience discrimination. I understand this doesn’t impact how the federal law would be interpreted and Fred and George were still in the wrong for their comments. But the power dynamic worth being aware of because people practicing Islam and people practicing Wicca in this country have vastly different experiences because America is Islamophobic as a whole. We don’t know Harry’s race but that could add another power dynamic into the mix.

    1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

      Exactly. I’ve found many commenters’ willingness to overlook this part of the conversation as just Harry defending himself quite troubling.

    2. The Dogman*

      We don’t know what Harry said precisely.

      I took LWs words to mean Harry was not kind, but just pointed out their hypocrisy. If Harry had said anything specificly racist or bigoted he would have been fired immediately, he was not so it is clear that what he said was at worst borderline and at best inartfully expressed rage at the hypocrisy.

      “But the power dynamic worth being aware of because people practicing Islam and people practicing Wicca in this country have vastly different experiences because America is Islamophobic as a whole. ”

      That is not obvious.

      Wiccans are incredibly discriminated against by both christians and muslims, so would that not make Harry the primary victim in your rational?

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      “After speaking with the three witnesses and Harry, my perception is that while Harry may not have responded in the best way, he wasn’t really hating on Islam so much as pointing out to Fred and George that they shouldn’t mock and belittle his religion as their own has its detractors.”

      My read on this was that Harry was not telling Fred and George: “oh yeah? well your religion sucks more!”, but more of “shouldn’t you, of all people, understand how it feels to have your religion mocked and insulted, after everything that yours has been through?” Maybe his wording was not the best while he snapped after being harassed for (the OP says “recently”, I don’t know how long recently means in this context, but I’m guessing at least a few weeks?) We cannot all be unflappable in the face of continued bullying. He was however making a good point in appealing to their empathy. Not his fault that they don’t have any.

      1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

        I think the phrasing is ambiguous. A lot of people seem to be reading it your way as a poorly phrased appeal to a common experience but many (me included) read “…he snapped back and began to criticize them for how their particular religion has been under fire for decades if not centuries…” to mean he was basically saying their faith is ‘worse’ than his own. Obviously not knowing the exact wording or tone is the culprit here as neither has more evidence than the other.

      2. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

        Another interesting difference in interpretation is that while you see it as happening over several weeks I understood the Recently… Eventually part to mean it all happened over one escalating conversation! The truth there would also be important going forward.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Ooh, I think you are probably right! Honestly, I’m feeling a lot less protective of Harry if it was just one conversation. It is possible to remain professional within one conversation. I honestly read it that F&G kept going after him day after day (as jokesters tend to do) and he finally snapped. I admit we had our own group of jokesters at an old job (though I somehow stayed on their good side) and I assumed based on how they would’ve done things.

  65. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

    I was stunned by the audacity and seeing foolishness of Fred and George in bringing this to management when they were also culpable, ‘Your son broke my legs with a crowbar just because I was stealing his TV!’
    Then I read OP’s management’s response and was horrified to see that apparently that tactic worked…

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      They’ve been getting away with their “jokes” for so long, bet they knew they would get away with that one.

  66. DJ Abbott*

    I’m wondering why none of these people have heard the very common rule of not discussing religion at work.
    IMHO OP’s boss is biased against Harry either because of his religion or some other reason, and is trying to use this to get rid of him.

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