HR said a coworker’s religion “didn’t count,” employer wants me to lie about why I’m leaving, and more

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

1. HR said a coworker’s religion “didn’t count”

I work in a fairly diverse office of a smattering of beliefs and subcultures. “Jen” belongs to a certain church, big enough in size to be recognizable and certainly recognizable as an official religion. Jen is hardly the proselyting sort and doesn’t bring up her faith in any obvious manner, but people are humans and you learn stuff about people you spend time with. Jen is professional, kind, and no problem at all to work with.

A few others in the office started becoming increasingly critical and mocking of Jen’s church to the point that it was exasperating and uncomfortable to be around. A couple of coworkers and I made reasonable efforts to ask it to stop, but eventually took it to HR. We don’t know if Jen ever said anything on her own behalf, but went for our own sake.

However, the HR manager said that Jen’s specific church doesn’t count because there are enough people in the office that have a negative opinion with it and that people are allowed those opinions. That I understand, but I had never heard that what I thought was a protected right could be “outvoted” in the workplace.

This happened a day ago so I have not taken it up with higher management. Is there some loophole in the law I’m oblivious to? My temptation is to ask for this policy in writing.

No, there’s no loophole in the law where employees get to vote on what religious harassment is allowed at work. Your employer is obligated by law to put a stop to any harassment based on religion, period. That’s true no matter how small the religion is and no matter how many people in the office might dislike that religion. As long as your office has 15 or more employees (that’s the threshold to be covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), anyone with sincerely held religious beliefs is legally required to be protected from harassment and discrimination on the basis of those beliefs.

Is your HR person by chance someone with no actual HR training? Did she get assigned to handle HR on top of other, more primary duties, and she has no idea what she’s actually doing? This is such a basic HR concept that there’s no other way I can explain her response … and if she’s getting this one wrong, your company is in real trouble.

You should indeed take it up with someone above the HR rep, and you should frame it as, “This is directly in violation of federal law and we’re opening ourselves to a lot of legal liability by proceeding this way.”

2. My employer wants me to lie about why I’m leaving

I am a teacher at a small private school, where I’ve been for about a decade, and am very well-liked by my students and parents, past and present. After a very difficult school year, the administration decided not to renew my contract — effectively firing me.

The school recently announced that I was leaving, and who my successor would be. Many parents reached out to me, expressing their surprise, how missed I would be, etc. and asking me why I was leaving — great new opportunity? Moving? In my replies, I thanked them for their kind words and told them my contract hadn’t been renewed.

Some parents have been very upset about this, and have been telling the same to the administration. The administration, in turn, is angry at me. They’re saying that I am trying to cause reputational damage to the school, and threatened I wouldn’t be allowed to finish the school year if I continued telling parents the truth. I genuinely care about the school (and am desperate to see out the year), so I told them I would give a banal answer from now on and attempt to smooth things over with families who already know.

However, have I actually done anything wrong? I’m being made to feel I did something unspeakably bad; from my perspective, if parents are that upset about the truth, then that’s the school’s problem, not mine. So, have I done anything wrong?

No, you haven’t done anything wrong. If the school thinks there’s something shameful about the truth, that’s on them, not on you. They should be prepared to stand by their decision and, if they feel it was the right one, should be able to respond to parents who are upset about it.

What exactly do they want you to say to parents who ask why you’re leaving? Are they hoping you’ll lie? Be vague to the point that it’s basically a lie? Obviously they’d have standing to be upset if you were trash-talking them (“yeah, it’s awful; the management here sucks”) but if you’re simply saying “my contract wasn’t renewed so I’ll be moving on” … that’s the reality of it. If they’re asking you to protect them from parents knowing that they chose not to re-employ you, that’s BS.

Read an update to this letter

3. Applying for an unposted position when I already applied for another job with the same company

I applied for a job about three weeks ago. It is still live on the employer’s website. However, last week, an acquaintance shared a job at the same employer with many of the duties listed in the original posting with a different job title. This new job description is much more closely aligned to what I am looking for, but it’s not posted anywhere yet. Should I reach out to the employer to ask if I should apply for the unposted position? What might that email look like?

Rather than asking and hoping they’ll respond before applications close (since they may not), just go ahead and apply for the second position. In your cover letter, include a mention that you also applied for the X position and if this one is open, you’d like to be considered for it too.

4. “I must have your password”

Attached is a memo that our office dug out of a bunch of old junk that we found while preparing to move to another building. I think it is a shining example of authoritarian, blustering madness and is a worthy companion to the I WILL CONFRONT YOU BY WEDNESDAY letter.

We are a newspaper office and this guy was a former publisher. He ended up being fired for, as my boss says, “having mood problems and taking stuff to help.”

Here is the memo verbatim, misspellings and all:

Attention all employees using company equipment!

I am tired of trying to get onto computers for one reason or another and not being able to as there are passwords to log into the computer and I don’t have the proper password!! The computers are property of XXX Company. I am not concerned with the fact that you may be checking Facebook or if you are using it to chat with friends (as long as you are getting your work done and done in a timely manner). I AM CONCERNED with the fact that should something happen to you and we need BUSINESS information from your computer I MUST have access to it.

From this moment on:

If you have a password set on your computer to log into you MUST provide it to me immediately. IF you change your password then you must immediately let me know what it is for the file kept in my office in locked file.

Any employee not responding to or any employee that is found to have a password other than what I know it to be as the password will be immediately written up for insubordination. Company policy is that after 2 write-ups and upon the 3rd violation is grounds for immediate termination.

I will randomly be checking every ones machine to check this policy!

This must be shared. Thank you.

{ 499 comments… read them below }

  1. Awesome Possum*

    #2 – My dad used to be on the board of our local private school. If you are saying those general words: “My contract wasn’t renewed,” then you are being a normal & gracious human. The board gets all the blowback from the upset parents, and that’s part of the job. Angry parents are tough to deal with and hard to satisfy, and so they should be prepared for that.

    They’re basically offloading their emotional & relational responsibilities onto you. Morally speaking: the parents deserve clear & honest communication, & the board deserves to know the effects of their decisions.

    My dad – the world’s most diplomatic person – made serious enemies for a time, over a curriculum change. It was part of the job, and my dad’s perspective was: better for me to be demoralized than the people doing the actual teaching.

    1. Awesome Possum*

      Also, in your smoothing over, please don’t play peacemaker or try to defend the board. Don’t compromise your own integrity, especially not with those who look up to you and are apparently willing to have your back. Especially after the administration’s lack of integrity by letting parents infer that you are leaving them.

      My dad thought thru the disagreements ahead of time, and planned for how he would defend the changes. The school mattered to him, the students mattered, & the parents’ confidence mattered – enough that he was willing to invest time & preparation to hear out & assuage the parents’ anger. Whatever happens is out of your hands, so please don’t contort yourself on behalf of those who aren’t prepared and are easily swayed.

    2. scandi*

      I don’t know how it works with money for school boards, but boards in general justify being paid the big bucks with the fact that they are the ones to make the hard decisions and (in theory, anyway) the ones who take responsibility for the outcome of the hard decisions. Such as, say, not renewing the contract for a beloved teacher. It’s 100% the board’s responsibility to deal with the fall-out from their decision from the parents.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        I don’t work in education or nonprofit, so I might be off-base here…
        I’m wondering why the school didn’t renew OP’s contract. Was it a reasonable decision, or one that can’t really be justified? If it was unreasonable, then the boards’s attitude follows on from the decision and it’s not very surprising they’re trying to displace responsibility.
        If it was unreasonable, then OP needs to be prepared for them to behave unreasonably. Absolutely don’t compromise your integrity or honesty, just be prepared for fallout.

        1. MLaw*

          Private school boards don’t hire and fire teachers. They hire, and can fire, the head of school (principal) who is in charge of daily operations. So it’s ultimately the head who hires and fires the teachers.

          Also, private school board members are NOT paid. They serve as volunteers.

          1. Awesome Possum*

            Yes, exactly, MLaw – thank you for explaining! I didn’t think to.

            DJ Abbott. this is a great point: “If it was unreasonable, then OP needs to be prepared for them to behave unreasonably.”

          2. River Song*

            As a teacher at a private school, this really depends on how the school was set up. At ours, the school board has the final say in hiring and firing, though they don’t do the legwork. Our principal has absolutely no say in final decisions about hiring/firing. They give their input/preferences, but that’s it.

        2. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

          They mentioned they’ve been there for 10 years, my cynical reaction was they would have to pay her more or give her special benefits for long service, something like that.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            That’s exactly what I was thinking! And private schools in the US are notorious for low pay & poor benefits.

              1. Clorinda*

                People say this, but I don’t think it’s true in most places. It’s certainly not true in my area. If I were to transfer with my degree and experience from public to all but the very swankiest local private schools, I’d take a huge pay cut and lose most of my health benefits. My partner has taught as a professor at a small independent private university for 25 years, and after teaching in the public schools for seven years, my salary equals his.

                1. RetailEscapee*

                  Agreed. I went to private schools- very expensive ones- and my teachers were also bartenders and waitresses in many cases. The rest were nuns. Also, there was no oversight for accreditation and my middle school Spanish teacher was literally just a woman who spoke Spanish.

                2. Cannibal Queen*

                  Possibly a naive question (child-free and not in the US) but: what do parents pay astronomical private school fees for, if it’s not spent on teacher remuneration? No snark intended but at least in my acquaintance, the people to send their children to private school tend to do it for one of two main reasons: either it’s a church-run school that aligns with their beliefs or they perceive the quality of education to be higher – which would surely imply better qualified, better paid teachers?

              2. Jojo*

                Private school teachers are paid worse than public school teachers across the board. Even really big name, top tier private schools have lower pay than the public schools in the cities they work in. The benefits of private schools are prestige, smaller class sizes, different/better curriculum, a different student body, etc.

                1. Princess Sparklepony*

                  And the ability to expel troublesome students. That can be a big bonus for private and charter schools. They can get rid of behavioral problems and academic problems that way.

          2. Bumblebee Mask*

            My cynical reaction was worse – that it was an LGBTQ+ or some diversity teaching or similar thing that suddenly someone “found out about” letter writer that they didn’t approve of. If LW was that well liked and they are threatening LW that much, they know they’re in the wrong and probably can’t back up the decision.

            1. Queen of the Introverts*

              If you’ve heard about the “Rainbowland” controversy in Wisconsin, that teacher (who happens to be an acquaintance of mine) wasn’t put on leave for the song choice–she was put on leave for expressing frustration with the decision online, and then she was fired for continuing to tell why she was put on leave to parents whose children missed her. Which is why she’s now suing under the 1st Amendment.

            2. Blackcat*

              Yes, I would assume something political-adjacent.

              Over a decade ago, I worked at a private school. Two of my former colleagues were not renewed for reasons related to right-wing parents getting up in arms over what was considered normal teaching when I was there. :(

          3. Quill*

            Based on my experience with teaching (teacher’s kid here), that may be true. Not that the contract renegotiations don’t pull benefits out from under their teachers all the time, but education across the US is infested by political pressure to continually spend less money.

        3. Wilbur*

          It could be any number of things. Enrollment could be down and they could be replacing them with a younger/cheaper teacher, a new head of school could not like how they teach something, the school might be changing directions and the replacement might have a better skillset, they might’ve ticked off some parents that are big donors. There are tons of possible reasons but I’m going with “disagreement with parents who are big donors.”

          1. Yoyoyo*

            Yeah, there are many possible reasons, some justified and some not. A friend of mine who taught at a private school did not have their contract renewed because the school wanted someone who could coach a specific sport (which my friend had never played).

            1. TootsNYC*

              If that is the the case, a school board would be wisest to simply make that openly known.
              “Our community has shown that Sport is important to us, and we need to add a coach. Unfortunately, Outgoing History Teacher is unable to fulfill that, and we will be seeking a new history teacher who brings those skills to our students. We have greatly enjoyed having Outgoing History Teacher on our staff, thank them for their service, and hope they will find a new assignment soon.”

              1. Anon 4 now*

                Can vouch. During my teacher training I got all sorts of raised eyebrows for being a history teacher… because a vast majority of history teachers in Oklahoma were also football coaches… and I didn’t have the required nethers for that particular position. >.<

            2. Yvette*

              Cynical me thinks perhaps “… the school wanted someone who could coach a specific sport (which my friend had never played).” as a way to justify something that they could not legitimately justify any other way. Or was that also your implication and I just need more caffeine.

              1. ArtsNerd*

                I dunno, hiring coaches under the cover of academic teaching positions is a time honored tradition in public schools. I can see it happening in private schools too!

                1. Drago Cucina*

                  A friend teaching at a private school didn’t have her contract renewed. The school wanted to hire the wife of a new coach. A job for her was part of the agreement with him taking the position. So, someone had to go.

                  I ended up leaving my private school job out of protest. I had an offer, but the principal and a very good teacher didn’t have their contracts renewed because of really weird parents (not big donors). The principal had the nerve to stand up to the parents and not let them bully teachers. The board caved. In a twist, the parents enrolled their children in a different school the next year.

                2. DJ Abbott*

                  @Drago Cucina, this kind of bugs me. Doesn’t wife have any skills? Can’t she find her own job?
                  This arrangement seems entitled to me.

                3. MigraineMonth*

                  @DJ Abbott This is actually pretty common in academia (particularly higher ed). I believe it is referred to as the “trailing spouse problem”.

              2. Yoyoyo*

                Athletics are really important at this particular school, so I actually think that was the true reason for the non-renewal of contract in my friend’s case. They were bummed but took the attitude of “private schools gonna private school.”

                1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                  My husband found a science teaching job because his predecessor a) accidentally made chlorine gas in the sink trap (apparently this is easier than most people think) and b) was a losing football coach. We never found out which was worse.

        4. Former Teacher #23967894145*

          Wilbur gave some reasons, any one of which could be true. The reasons I was given by various schools: we’re going to take the suggestions you gave us based on your expertise (which is why we hired you), but that means we’ll only keep one of the two teachers in your specialty and you’re not the one we’re going to keep (read: you’re the more expensive of the two); you can’t coach; and “your standards are too high” (read: you pissed off some disgustingly wealthy parents we’re trying to get to donate money). I left teaching and am happy in the corporate world.

      2. Texan In Exile*

        I can tell you that for public schools (and other public boards, at least in Wisconsin), we are volunteers. We do not get paid and we deal with fall out for free. :) I am not on a school board but have been on two public boards, including one where members of the public pretty much thought we were being mean to kittens for fun.

        That said, Awesome Possum’s advice is, indeed, awesome.

        1. Awesome Possum*

          (I’m an easy blusher and a long-time lurker, & commenting makes me nervous. Thank you, Alison, for providing an edifying & involved comment section!)

        2. 1850's Wisconsin*

          As a Wisconsinite, thank you for serving on a public school board in this “interesting” political climate.

      3. EngineerMom*

        Depending on where OP lives, school board positions may be unpaid. At least where I live, all public schools and non-profit private schools must have unpaid board members.

        Private schools that are not non-profits don’t have the same requirements, but I’m only aware of one school that falls into that category, and it doesn’t even have a board.

      4. TootsNYC*

        school boards generally don’t get paid, or don’t get paid much.
        But they absolutely volunteer for the position, so the idea that it’s appropriate for them or administrators to take on the flack holds true.

    3. ferrina*

      If you are a well-loved and well-respected teacher, parents don’t want you to leave. Any reason short of “I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in Atlantis and teach merpeople and in exchange they will teach me how to cure cancer” will not be enough.

      If parents are up in arms, either 1) they know it wasn’t about quality of work and don’t like the decision that was made, 2) there were already concerns with the decisions being made, and/or 3) they are overdramatic. For items 1 & 2, well, admin gets to deal with it as part of Actions Have Consequences. If it’s item 3 (which it doesn’t sound like), there’s nothing you could have done to fix it anyways, and this was already above your paygrade.

      A departing teacher can’t stir drama where there was none. I’ve seen some teachers try- a few parents will bite, but the admin rides it out and it dies down really quickly. But if there was already concerns, a departing teacher can be a catalyst. When I departed a certain teaching job, I used all the diplomatic language but let the parents know that I was leaving with nothing else lined up. There had already been concerns with the admin, so the parents read between the lines and knew I was leaving because of admin. The parents demanded an investigation, and the school’s head was fired within 6 months (the parents were very efficient). My leaving didn’t cause her to be fired; it was just the straw that broke the back.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Years ago a number of good, veteran teachers left my child’s school. Anyone paying attention knew it was the new administration. I wish we’d been able to get rid of him.

    4. Momma Bear*

      If they don’t like parents questioning them now, it won’t look any better for you to be gone before the end of the school year as retaliation. Honestly, I’d keep giving the fairly bland but accurate answer (just like you might say you were laid off) and if they make you go early, let that speak for itself. They’re just unhappy that parents don’t like their choice. That’s on them, not you.

    5. Awesome Possum*

      Please excuse my implication that school boards do the hiring & firing. I thought the conflict Dad weathered was simply a good comparison for this conflict.

      My dad’s school was the same as y’all’s – they did not handle day-to-day at all (that I know of). And they were absolutely all volunteers. Small town school, under 200 students, and my youngest sibling was attending, so Dad looked for a way to be involved.

    6. Data analyst*

      My mom was fired from her job in academic at a private university under very unjust and illegal (but not easily provable, according to an employment lawyer) circumstances. She was very popular with the students and when they asked where she was at the start of the next school year, her former boss told everyone that she’d retired. Considering that the boss was the one doing a lot of illegal stuff, I’m not surprised.

    7. MBK*

      Absolutely DO NOT give in to the emotional blackmail of “causing reputational damage to the school.” The admin knows you care about the school and students, and they’re more than willing to use that against you. As long as you keep bitterness and value judgments out of what you tell the parents, straight honesty is absolutely the best approach.

  2. mztery1*

    RE LW 2 – it’s clear she/he isn’t doing anything wrong, but I think the question was can she be fired if she continues to tell the truth? If she has a contract till the end of the school year can the school just ignore it?

    1. nnn*

      I don’t think so, she said she agreed to say something banal from now on but is asking if she did anything wrong by being honest.

      1. Enai*

        I think “My contract wasn’t renewed” is completely banal, though. It happens all the time for lots of reasons. The school is being very weird and unreasonable.

        1. TootsNYC*

          right! What greater level of banality is there?
          “you’ll have to ask the administration”–red flag
          “I’ve been asked not to comment”–waving red flag

          I suppose LW could say, “it’s time for me to move one,” but then parents want to know where they’re moving to. And it’s a lie.

          You can tell these people in school administration are really inexperienced, because a smart school administration would make a statement explaining the change in teachers, especially now that there’s some attention and controversy.

          1. Ozzac*

            Malicious compliance? “The board explcity told me that I can’t share the reason, because other parents complained to them”

            1. I have RBF*

              I like it.

              The fact is not renewing a contract, then asking the victim to essentially lie about it, is a severely chickenshit move. They are demanding to be spared the consequences of their decision, and are asking the victim of their decision to bear those consequences instead. That’s bullshit.

            2. Cruciatus*

              Or even… “The board asked me not to talk about it, but if you know Timmy’s mom she can fill you in…”

            3. Nina*

              Oh yeah, I’ve had this. “Well, immediately following a team meeting, the substance of which I’ve been asked to keep confidential, I and some others started job hunting. I guess I was just the first one to find something!”

      2. Katrina*

        That’s the sad part. I’d want to know if a beloved teacher was fired, and I’d be livid if I was being deceived about it.

        I know the school year is likely over now or close to it, but I wonder what would’ve happened if the reply to parents had been along the lines of, “I’m as surprised and disappointed about it as you are. No, I’m afraid I can’t share more details, as the board has told me not to. You’re welcome to ask them for more information if you like.”

        I’m guessing it’d be as bad if not worse than saying the contract wasn’t renewed, but I don’t see how you can say something other than those two things without blatantly lying or, as Allison said, being so vague that it’s basically a lie.

        If the OP needs any reassurance…yeah, people who tell you to “lie or else” are generally the ones the wrong. Sorry to hear you had to deal with all that.

      3. I have RBF*

        I think she should stick with the truth, personally. No rancor, just “My contract was not renewed. I’ve enjoyed working with y’all.” If the board/boss don’t like it, tough. Their decision, their consequences.

        The LW should not lie (by omission) to cover for management’s actions. That’s sheer BS.

    2. Tinkerbell*

      I would be really tempted to start telling the WHOLE truth – “Unfortunately, the school district has decreed that I’m not allowed to tell anyone they didn’t renew my contract. Yeah, totally out of the blue, but they’re threatening to not let me finish out the year if I tell any of you that so I guess my official answer is ‘thanks for the well-wishes.'”

      1. Aggretsuko*

        “I’m not allowed to say why I won’t be here any more.”

        “No, I don’t have any great new opportunity coming up. I’ll just be…gone. Collecting unemployment.”

        I’m sure those are GREAT answers that will also make the school look great and make no red flags raise in the minds of sad parents.

        1. SadieMae*

          I wouldn’t go with ‘I’m not allowed to say’ etc. because it could suggest that OP had done something inappropriate or illegal and the school was hushing it up. That’s how I’d interpret it. But I definitely think OP should be straightforward with ‘my contract wasn’t renewed’ and if parents ask why, OP can direct them to the board, whose decision it was, for those answers.

          1. hex*

            “I wouldn’t mind talking about it, but the administration thinks it would cause reputational damage to the school if I told you.”
            Still true, but much less impact for OP?

            1. NeedRain47*

              That one feels like it would start people making up their own rumors, LOL. (which they very well may do anyway b/c that’s how people are sometimes.)

              1. TootsNYC*

                in the absence of info, they absolutely will, and it will be EXTREME!

                I know of a small parochial school whose new principal resigned “effective immediately” in the middle of the school year, with statements about “leaving to pursue other opportunities” or something. It was clear he was fired.

                Parents were asking at PTA meetings if they should be quizzing their kids to see if the principal had been molesting them.

                I heard from a grapevine-type source that the principal’s “sins” were strictly a financial, and that the board’s lawyer had told them to give no reason so that they didn’t face defamation charges, especially since they’d decided not to press charges because of the disruption–they were the second school he’d left abruptly.

                The person I spoke to was really frustrated not to be able to say, because the speculation was probably just as damaging as it would have been to release some other sort of reason.

                1. Irish Teacher*

                  Yeah, we’d a principal who retired unexpectedly, due to health issues. I don’t know what the parents thought but I had students asking me was it true that she got fired because she got caught with a load of cocaine and another teacher was asked if the staff had gotten a petition to get her fired. None of this was remotely true, but things were kept fairly quiet because her health information is personal and she wouldn’t necessarily want students and parents knowing details of her illness (they were told she’d been ill), so of course, teenagers jumped to all sorts of conclusions.

            2. Rose*

              This still sounds like OP was grooming students or dealing drugs or something. Teachers behaving badly does absolutely cause repetitional damage to a school.

              1. Irish Teacher*

                Honestly, I wouldn’t think grooming if a teacher told me, “I’m leaving at the end of the year and I’m not allowed to tell you why.” I would think it really weird but something like grooming or dealing drugs to students would surely necessitate the teacher being removed immediately, not just not having their contract renewed.

                But yeah, it does increase the likelihood of speculation and raises the possibility the LW might have done something wrong.

                1. SPQRBob*

                  Yeah, probably something like teaching about slavery and its lasting repercussions or the fact that LGBTQ+ people exist, etc. that offended one or bigoted parents whose child/children attend(s) the school in question.

        2. Grammar Penguin*

          And I’m sure “I’m not allowed to say why my contract wasn’t renewed.” won’t have any negative effects on LW’s future employment.

    3. Introvert Teacher*

      Honestly I wonder what would make them follow through on this threat — isn’t it much harder on them to maintain sub coverage through the end of the year and won’t parents be more incensed at the situation if the teacher leaves before summer, especially since the reasoning can’t be explained away since parents already know the teacher was not asked to renew their contract? I agree that using general language and being diplomatic is the way to go, but the OP knows their school best. On principal, though, I feel like OP has every right to let the school board and admin deal with the consequences of their decision.

      1. La Triviata*

        I expect you heard that a teacher in Virginia was shot this past January by a six-year-old student. She was seriously injured – she held up her hand when she saw the gun and the bullet went through her hand and into her chest. (She also cleared her other students out and into another classroom before calling for help.) She was going to sue the school because they’d received more than one warning that the child had a gun. Well, now her contract has not been renewed because her injuries fall under Workman’s Comp – like being shot by a child is a normal cause of injury. I’m not sure where the legal case is at this point.

        1. NeedRain47*

          Wowwww, I did not know that.
          The subtext here is very “we want everyone and everything associated with this event out of view.” Yuck.

          It comes down to what Alison said, if the truth makes them look bad, that’s on them, not LW.

        2. RVA Cat*

          Yes and I hope this adds millions to her lawsuit.
          I guess the school expected her to belt out “A Little Fall of Rain” and die?

          1. She of Many Hats*

            Yup, much better media story “Heroic teacher dies in school shooting while getting students to safety” vs. “We are refusing workman’s comp to teacher shot in classroom”. And seeing that first headline once is too many times.

            1. Student*

              If I follow the story correctly, this is the wrong interpretation of the workman’s comp part of it.

              The teacher who got shot is suing the school for $40M for the damages she’s suffered.

              The school is arguing that her $40M lawsuit should be dismissed because the school district contends that the injury should fall under workman’s comp, and be addressed through that program instead of via the lawsuit. Note that workman’s comp would probably care for the teacher’s direct medical costs and provide some relevant benefits to compensate for the permanent injury to her hand, but it would definitely not pay out anywhere near $40M. It would also come out of the pockets of the state, rather than the school board.

              The underlying argument is kind of this:

              The teacher says that getting shot by a 6-year-old is not part of the inherent hazards of the job of being a teacher. It’s extreme dereliction of duty, and the school district should be penalized for this dereliction by compensating her for something that should never happen. (This cost will be born by the taxpayers of the school district – depending on how the school is funded and state laws, that cost may be born very locally or more broadly).

              The school says that getting shot by students is just an inherent hazard of the job of teaching. It’s a cost of doing business, and that cost should be passed to the taxpayers across the state.

              1. RVA Cat*

                Exactly. She was shot by a 6-year-old, which is bonkers in and of itself. But the child had shown the gun to a classmate who (heroically) reported it but the school took no action.

        3. TooTiredToThink*

          I was thinking about this case too because it’s semi-local to me. I hadn’t heard about it being workman’s comp – I assumed it was retaliation for the lawsuit. My immediate thought was; I hope she never has to work another day in her life.

          1. 2 Cents*

            The school is claiming this is case of workman’s comp. Her attorneys (rightly, imo) are saying no teacher goes to school expecting to be shot as a normal danger.

            1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

              I mean, if you teach high school these days, some teachers actually do expect they may get shot. It’s horrible, but school shootings don’t even lead the nightly news anymore unless it’s something extra-crazy.

              But not elementary school teachers, and they definitely don’t expect to be shot by an elementary school student.

                1. New Jack Karyn*

                  No, that’s really not true. School shootings are all too common, but when compared to the number of schools out there, it’s extremely unlikely that any particular school will be the site of one.

                  I’m far more worried about spraining my back breaking up a fistfight than about getting shot. And I’m not really worried about that.

                2. Grammar Penguin*

                  Pretty sure it’s just schools in the US.

                  Thing is, anyone in this country can expect to get shot at any point.

                3. Blackcat*

                  “Pretty sure it’s just schools in the US.”


                  It’s was a big part of why I quit teaching and then why I moved abroad once I had kids.

              1. CowWhisperer*

                I think most teachers are aware that a school shooting is a rare, horrific possibility.

                At the same time, most districts would have taken multiple warnings of an armed student seriously and hopefully intervened prior to the child shooting anyone.

                Arguing that workman’s comp should be responsible for all of the legal payout when the school was severely negligent in preventing the shooting is a huge stretch. That’s a bit like refusing to install power lockout procedures on heavy equipment then expecting workman’s compensation to cover the wrongful death settlement when a mechanic is killed fixing a compactor. An employer can be liable for gross negligence when a worker is injured; workman’s comp isn’t a magic wand that absolves all legal burdens.

              2. CowWhisperer*

                As a para, I worry far more about a shooting at an elementary school. Bluntly, the number of victims at elementary schools tend to be higher because teenagers can implement emergency strategies quickly and accurately without adults.

                1. linger*

                  For shootings conducted by outsiders or staff members, you have a point. Elementary schools may be less common sites of shooting events than high schools, but the expected outcome of one event may be worse at an elementary school. But overall, you still assume a higher risk entering a high school (because of the higher event probability). And it’s specifically the identity of the shooter in this case as an elementary-school student that makes this a much lower-probability (and therefore overall lower-expected-risk) event.

                2. RVA Cat*

                  I imagine so, plus the grim physics of what bullets due to small bodies versus teens who are more or less adult-sized but have youthful resilience.

    4. Smithy*

      I think this is part of the question – if the OP continues to share that they’re not returning due to their contract not being renewed can they wind up without pay for the rest of their current contract? But the second part of this question from where I’m sitting, is the more pragmatic/self-preservation one – does this harm the OP’s references in a way they fear would prevent them from future employment?

      I’m not a teacher – so for the OP and their part of the world and those who teach – they likely know the specific answers to this question better than I. However, I do work in an industry where I build relationships with external partners – so when I leave a job, I do ask my supervisor/employer how and when they want me to share my departure and if there’s any specific language I should use. The answers are sometimes what I’d choose to do – but sometimes have been choices I would have not made. However, once I know what my almost former employer wants – I can add my nuance/tone without risking my reference.

      In no way does this provide the more satisfying blaze of glory, but if the question comes from a place of wanting to know how to prevent a situation like this again – that is a more cautious approach to take. Again, I’m not in schools and not saying that the OP did anything wrong. But if there’s ever a real need to keep your references and a need to be cautious in your departure – that’s where that advice is coming from.

      1. She of Many Hats*

        I don’t know if the LW is part of one since they work at a private school but if they are, the teachers’ union may be ready to respond if the school withholds money earned under the current contract or otherwise penalizes for such a banal issue.

    5. dustycrown*

      If the school fires her before the expiration of her contract for telling the truth about the non-renewal, then she should see an employment lawyer.

    6. BurnOutCandidate*

      An acquaintance of mine last week got into an semantic argument on Twitter (on the #ComicsBrokeMe hashtag) over whether a contract non-renewal counts as a “firing.” She was a freelance editor for a publisher, her contract wasn’t renewed (and the person she reported to abruptly made the decision in the middle of a discussion about the next contract–she shared screenshots), she felt she was fired (told to stop working on projects and was cut off from company email), the company was telling people she was fired. It was clearly a firing. But I saw people arguing with her on Twitter that, no, she wasn’t fired, she just didn’t get a new contract.

    7. Grammar Penguin*

      The school leadership is demanding that she harm her own professional reputation in order to protect their own reputation.

      If a teacher with a decade at the school and no obvious performance issues is suddenly let go without warning and no explanation, and the leadership refuses to discuss it, the obvious conclusion anyone will come to is that there was some kind of performance issue that nobody will talk about. This is going to lead people to suspect a scandal.

      Telling the simple truth, that her contract wasn’t renewed and that no reason was given, is actually *necessary* here to protect herself. They made the choice to let her go, they may well have had sound business reasons to do so but they made that choice without considering all the stakeholders (the parents and students). And now, rather than explain their decision to anyone, they are demanding the LW bear all the weight of it and take the damage to her own professional reputation.

      The administration is being REALLY shitty here.

      Could this be actionable? If this decision makes it at all harder for LW to get another job because she can’t answer the basic question of why she was let go, would she have a case?

      1. Jaxel*

        OMG the school wanting the fired teacher to lie about the reason – I can TOTALLY see that happening! I work at a small private school where the management acts like they’re holier than thou and definitely wouldn’t want the results of their decisions to blow back on them, much as they may deserve it. I am voluntarily leaving at the end of the school year but a coworker (administrative staff, not a teacher) who has been an absolute HERO over the past few years in extremely difficult circumstances -both personal and professional – was just told that her skill set no longer matches what they need in her department going forward, and she’s being laid off. At the end of the year faculty lunch, they usually give very effusive speeches about people who are leaving. She refused to attend. They gave the effusive speech anyway, and emailed it to everyone (it literally included the phrase, “She carried this school on her back,” which was true) and people started chiming in with more praise for her. I am one of only a handful of people who knows that she is not leaving voluntarily. The temptation to join the email chain, sing her praises, and then write “Her reward for all of this was being told that her skill set no longer matches the needs of her department, and she is being let go,” just to expose the hypocrisy of the speechifying. But I didn’t do it. Meanwhile, I’ve had lots of parents asking me what I plan to do. I just say I’m retiring. I actually plan to look for a part time job, but it’s none of their business anyway.

  3. ENFP in Texas*

    #1 – “Is your HR person by chance someone with no actual HR training?”

    Or perhaps a graduate of the “Bob’s ‘Medical Documentation Doesn’t Carry Much Weight With the Company’ School of HR”?

    I really, really hope the OP goes to the next layer of HR and reports this, because the lack of basic understanding of HR law is frightening in this instance. Not to mention the complete lack of respect for the employee.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I hope we get an update on this, too, because my blood is boiling!

      1. MigraineMonth*

        “Here at [X company], we always hold a popular vote on our employee’s fundamental rights.”

        Apparently they think that religious harassment only occurs if someone picks on a religion no one would pick on?

        1. Clorinda*

          We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [persons] are created equal, that they are endowed, by a popularity contest, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    2. JSPA*

      it’s not even an edge case! Human rights laws exist to protect the unpopular / rare / locally rare.

      That said, some organizations are recognized as religions in some countries, while banned as cults in others. And even some very established religions end up in the news for heinous acts.

      I belive it remains possible to discuss said facts, or balance the rights of overseas partners (though I’m hazy on the details) so long as a clear line is drawn about not mocking, harassing, making someone feel “less than” for being an adherent, and generally not being a jerk.

      “I’m having a hard time knowing that Jan is a member of [group] because I care about wellbeing, and in my country, it’s been banned as a predatory cult since 2009” is best meet with, “we are based in [other county] where it is a recognized religion, So while your feelings are very understandable in your own context, I need you to not discuss them in a workplace context” as opposed to, “that’s an unacceptable statement, and you are receiving a warning in your file.”

      1. OneAngryAvacado*

        Although I’d say that “ increasingly critical and mocking of Jen’s church to the point that it was exasperating and uncomfortable to be around” sounds less like they’re expressing concern, and more like they’re just being jerks for the sake of it. I agree that there’s a place for genuine discussion about religion (probably not in the workplace though!), but there’s definitely a difference between that and just being mocking.

        1. Violet Fox*

          Being jerks for the sake of it is something that should be stopped anyways because it does not make a good environment for people to exist in, let alone actually do their jobs well.

          1. linger*

            All together now:
            It’s okay to not like things;
            It’s okay — but don’t be a dick about it

        2. Mister_L*

          HR really needs to step up, before the company get’s sued.

          Also, based on the wording I think I know which church Jen belongs to.
          Since a high profile member and by extension the organisation itself has recently been involved in a very public criminal proceeding, I guess a lot of people seem to be thinking it is acceptable to dunk on every member.

          1. JSPA*

            All we know is that it’s a “church” and that its members have been known to proselytize. That describes several hundred denominations in the US alone.

            I can think of multiple that meet your description, for that matter–many many denominations have had scandals or been locally contentious. (Hypocrisy is a very human trait, no? And as people tend to commit fully to their place of worship, it’s easy for them to overlook early warning signs, and forgive transgressions.) I see no upside in playing guessing games (and we’re encouraged not to do so, or at any rate, not to hint and share).

            1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

              The letter doesn’t even say the religion is one that proselytizes, only that Jen is not proselytizing. I think that’s to head off “well, is Jen bringing this on herself” type comments and not a suggestion that the church itself proselytizes.

          2. Totally Minnie*

            I don’t think it matters what religion Jen belongs to and I’d rather not speculate. What her coworkers are doing is inappropriate, and finding out why they’ve decided it’s okay to mock her for her religious beliefs doesn’t change that.

            1. Ann Onymous*

              This. Jen’s coworkers are entitled to whatever private opinions they may have about her religion, but it’s not ok for them to harass her about it.

              1. Quill*

                They’re even entitled to discuss the news between themselves if there’s been a major scandal, but NOT to make that Jen’s problem.

            2. Momma Bear*

              Very much agreed. Jen is not being unprofessional in the workplace – her coworkers are. You could substitute age, race, sexual orientation, weight, etc. and it would still be harassment and Not Good. I hope OP takes it over the HR person’s head and goes in force with whoever else agrees that the harassment of Jen needs to stop.

            3. Jessica*

              Exactly. With very, very few exceptions, your coworkers’ memberships and beliefs aren’t your business unless they make them your business. They don’t have to socialize with Jen outside work if they don’t like her religion, but they don’t get to create a hostile work environment for her.

            4. MassMatt*

              This. Lots of religions that are very mainstream in some places are very much disliked or misunderstood in others.

              HR’s thought that “enough people” have negative opinions on the religion in question so that makes it OK to insult or otherwise harass someone over it is idiotic. Protection from discrimination based on religions is most needed EXACTLY FOR minority or unpopular faiths, just as freedom of speech is most necessary for unpopular views. No one needs a constitutional amendment to say puppies are cute.

              On top of that, it sounds as though people harassing this coworker don’t have enough work to do.

              I hope this DOES a turn into a lawsuit and the company is forced to make a huge payout. And the HR a manager (!?) gets fired.

          3. There You Are*

            And, conversely, there are so many scandals happening in so many different religious sects right now — and always — that I immediately came up with a dozen different possibilities without even putting any thought into it.

        3. JSPA*

          agreed, thus the line about “not mocking, harassing, making someone feel “less than” for being an adherent, and being a jerk.” Which describes the LW’s coworkers to a T, I’m afraid.

          Just pointing out (regarding other people who may seek guidance and happen on this thread in the future) that edge cases do exist, even for this near-impregnable rule (though LW’s situation isn’t an edge case, in the slightest).

        4. OP First*

          It wasn’t expressing concern. Just jokes and comments that went beyond being funny to the point it was rude and overkill.

          I won’t name Jen’s church and if it has any glaring human rights issues I’m not aware of them, but nothing of “Save Jen from the cultists!” ever came up.

      2. JM60*

        I think that whatever distinction there may be between a religion and a cult isn’t important when it comes to discussion of religion in the workplace. Being a cult and a religion aren’t mutually exclusive, and some might even argue that a venn diagram of the two is a circle. Beliefs should be criticized – and sometimes even mocked – in the broader “marketplace of ideas”, but the workplace usually isn’t the place to do it (especially criticism in the form of mockery). Whether a religion might also be a cult doesn’t really change that.

        1. JSPA*

          Cults (as governmentally-designated) are literally illegal in some countries, not just socially contentious.

          As with anything that is illegal for part of your workforce, and protected for another part of your workforce, there has to at least be acknowledgement of the disconnect between the reasonable surprise or discomfort of people on one side of the divide… while requiring commitment to the protections required, on the other side.

          Could equally be a medication or medical procedure or accommodation, mandated right to extended parental leave, LGBTQIAA+ equality issues, tattoos, or navigating sauna / onsen norms. “I somehow never thought I’d encounter this as a right, and while I am committed to complying, I could use support while I internally struggle to come to grips with such a stark divide between our societies” isn’t intrinsically disrespectful. (What the LW’s coworkers are doing? That’s intrinsically disrespectful.)

          1. JM60*

            I get that some countries categorize some organizations (often religious ones) as “cults” and make illegal. I really don’t see how that’s any of the government’s business, and I don’t see how that illegality should make it a more valid target in the workplace.

            You mention parallels with other issues, including “LGBTQIAA+ equality issues”. In countries that criminalize homosexuality, should employers take the stance that, “Since homosexuality is illegal here, we therefore have to allow homophobia in the workplace”? I don’t think so. (this isn’t a perfect analogy with religion because mocking beliefs can be appropriate in some contexts depending on the belief in question, but not in the workplace, while homophobia is never appropriate)

          2. Littorally*

            “As with anything that is illegal for part of your workforce…”

            That’s where you’ve lost me here. There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that there’s an international component to the LW’s workplace, and regardless, “I’m from a different country and your religion is illegal there” is not an excuse to violate employment law in the country you’re actually working in.

            I know that in some countries it is acceptable and even socially required to be a dick about someone’s differing beliefs, but in the USA that is something you have to leave outside the workplace.

          3. Totally Minnie*

            We don’t have any indication that Jen’s religion is designated as a cult in her country. This is unhelpful.

            1. OP First*

              To answer this, we are in the US and her religion is not designated as a cult.

              I am aware that socially some groups will have their own designation of what a cult is, but legally Jen’s is not.

          4. Quill*

            From an anthropology perspective, a “cult” is any religion with closed membership or non-public rituals. (So, historically – christianity, given that it had to meet in secret during the earlier parts of the roman empire.) Which is only relevant because there are plenty of governments that care at least as much about protecting their own power by limiting the scope of legal religions as they do about protecting their people from abuse by religious leaders. So I would lean away, in general, from citing “some governments have banned this” as a reason to give for defending any kind of harassment over any kind of membership in a religion. (Or demographic, etc.)

            Back on topic: if Jen remains workplace appropriate about her religion, the rest of the office should be expected to do the same, period.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Exactly. You can have all the opinions you want about a religion/cult. You cannot express them in the workplace in a way that harasses others. So even discussing the news actually could fall foul of this. So the best thing is no religion in the workplace, save that for your own time.

      3. Irish Teacher*

        “I’m having a hard time knowing that Jan is a member of [group] because I care about wellbeing, and in my country, it’s been banned as a predatory cult since 2009” is best meet with, “we are based in [other county] where it is a recognized religion, So while your feelings are very understandable in your own context, I need you to not discuss them in a workplace context” as opposed to, “that’s an unacceptable statement, and you are receiving a warning in your file.”

        And honestly, while I would be concerned if I knew a colleague was part of an organisation, religious or otherwise, that was noted for controlling where people can work, who they can marry, requiring them to give large portions of their income to the organisation, not permitting them to socialise with anybody who was not part of the organisation and harrassing anybody who tried to leave, I would be concerned for that person, but I would not mock their church. That would only play into the hands of a cult, which often teach their members stuff like “outsiders won’t understand. They will tell you lies about us. This just proves they are ungodly and you must remain strong and resist them.”

        I can’t imagine somebody in a cult coming for help to people who have mocked and criticised their beliefs. It seems like doing that would only make them feel even more strongly that everybody except the other members of the cult are against them and is exactly the sort of thing a predatory cult might use to try and get them to quit their job and work in an organisation connected to the cult or run by a fellow member instead.

        It really doesn’t sound like the other colleagues are concerned that Jen may be being abused or isolated or scammed by the religion and even if they were, it still wouldn’t be the way to deal with it. It sounds more like bullying.

        Not to disagree with you because yeah, lots of religions have had bad publicity for one reason or another, some deserved and some due to prejudice.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        Anyone concluding that human rights laws are there solely to protect the majority is really not cut out to be the person in charge of making sure the company is in compliance with those laws.

        OP, I would underline Alison’s last paragraph, that when you escalate this lead with the violation of federal law and expensive legal culpability.

      5. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        Years ago I saw the (non)distinction phrased as “a cult is a religion small enough to pick on.”

        There’s no objective distinction in terms of behavior or beliefs–religions/cults/groups both large and small may shun apostates, may expect members to ignore bad and even criminal behavior by leaders, and may aggressively proselytize; groups of any size may encourage their members to help each other or volunteer in the community.

        Basically, I agree with you, but also think that this could be true whether Jan belongs to a church with only 12 members anywhere, or her church is the state religion in her home country, or anything in between.

        1. Zennish*

          It’s a pithy turn of phrase, but not completely accurate. There is overlap, primarily because cult leaders often use the mantle of religion to give their actions a veneer of authority and legitimacy. Cults though, are basically abusive relationships, with a charismatic leader (or small group of leaders) who sequesters the followers from the outside world, then deceives and manipulates them for their own financial, sexual, or psychological gratification. Leaving a cult is often problematic either because a financial and psychological dependence has been created, or there is a threat of violence.

          1. My Cabbages!*

            And this behavior can (and often is!) seen in groups following a perfectly common religious practice!

            There was a popular church where I live that had totally mainstream evangelical Christian teachings, but the pastor encouraged insular behavior, shunning of those who disagreed with him, etc. It ended the way so many cults do…he was accused of manipulating multiple women of his congregation into sex, supposedly because it was what God wanted.

            The religion was totally normal, but the church was 100% a cult.

          2. Clorinda*

            My mother in law had a friend who became a nun, and when this woman wanted to leave the convent but remain Catholic, that was VERY problematic and took a few years–and if she hadn’t had a family waiting to catch her, she’d have been alone and penniless when she walked out.
            The story has a happy ending: she married the man in question and they’ve been together for over 50 years.

          3. Burger Bob*

            And in the process of cutting you off from the outside world, cults often encourage new recruits to join quickly, without asking too many questions in the process, and not discussing the decision with outsiders while they’re weighing it. Non-cult religions, on the other hand, often stress that joining is a serious decision, and while they do tend to think that joining will be the “right” decision, they do still usually encourage people to think hard about it and ask good faith questions and whatnot.

        2. ferrina*

          “cult” is one of those annoying words that can refer to two very different connotations.

          Some people do use “cult” in the way you describe- basically, any smaller religion that the speaker does not agree with.

          More often I’ve seen “cult” used in the way Zennish describes- a group that uses brainwashing tactics* to conspicuously promote a religion or philosophy and covertly used to justify and promote abuse.
          *there are identified systems of brainwashing that psychologists identify within cults; this is an observable scientific technique, not a metaphor or exaggeration.

        3. Lenora Rose*

          Since the whole cult thing is a derail, I hesitate to mention this, but one (very faithful Catholic) of my acquaintance posited the difference as this:
          When someone inside the group makes a joke about their religion, is it greeted by fellow insiders mostly with laughter and/or nodding in familiarity, or mostly with cold anger and attempts to repress any further such comments? The first is a religion, the latter is a cult.

          So far as a rubric this hasn’t really failed me. And yes, it does mean different groups inside the same faith can be both religious and culty.

          1. ferrina*

            This is a great litmus test! Not just true of religions- can probably be applied across any organization or group of people (assuming of course that the joke is about something innocuous, like the Committee to Examine the Role of Committees, or singing Happy Birthday in 4-part harmony, or the potluck having enough pfeffernusse to build a life-size cookie house, or how we love the pastor but I lost the thread 2 minutes into the sermon and that was a personal best)

            1. Burger Bob*

              A friend of mine said one of her previous churches literally did once have a Committee on Committees XD

          2. Jessica*

            That’s a very good litmus test, with the key being “someone inside the group.”

            Humor has a reducing function for its target, which is why we have the whole concept of “punching down”: people in disempowered positions laughing at the people who have power over them are reducing the gap in power, while people who have power laughing at the people over whom they have it are increasing it.

            Members of smaller or disempowered cultures often find jokes or criticism from people from the dominant culture at best exhausting and at worst threatening because it’s a way of reifying and increasing their marginalization (and often based in ignorance). But not being able to criticize or use humor in intragroup discussions is usually a sign it’s a high-control group, at the very least.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              Yes, I was very careful about that phrasing for just that reason, and your comment is an excellent clarification of why.

          3. I have RBF*

            I find this to be accurate.

            I’m Pagan. There are inside jokes in the Pagan/NeoPagan/Heathen community, about the community. (Eg “Get three pagans together and you get at least five opinions on beliefs.”) IMO, this is normal religion. If someone in the community gets huffy about it, I know to watch them closely, because they are taking themselves way too seriously, and a well-rounded faith is both serious and lighthearted (IMO.)

            I’ve seen a similar dynamic in Protestant denominations and Judaism. The denominations/groups that don’t have little inside jokes are very cultish, IMO.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              My experience with the Pagan community has been fairly small (I participated cautiously in one full moon ritual) but this is definitely my impression.

              There’s a need to account for individual personality, too; some people just don’t like even inside jokes for reasons besides taking themselves too seriously, so if you have one or to people in a group who sorta sniff at jokes, that isn’t in itself proof the group is turning into a cult. It’s watching how the majority opinion goes and whether the people who aren’t laughing are trying to stop the others or just won’t join in.

            2. Nebula*

              This has honestly made me realise why born-and-bred Catholics often don’t get along with converts. The converts take it too seriously. Meanwhile, when my school did its yearly pilgrimage to Lourdes, a time-honoured tradition for that trip was a competition to see who could find the ugliest Virgin Mary souvenir.

        4. Jessica*

          Yeah, so I specifically studied cults in anthro and this is a fun pithy pop culture trope but not accurate. At all. It’s true that some variants of some established religions have characteristics in common with cults (some long-established varieties of Christianity are high-control, for example), but just because a deer and a horse both have hooves and graze doesn’t make them the same thing. There are large variants of existing religions that have been around for a long time and meet most of the definitions of a cult, too, so it’s not just about size or newness. And there are new religious movements that don’t meet any of the criteria.

          It’s not a bright-line distinction, but that’s not the same as objective distinctions not existing.

      6. Observer*

        hat said, some organizations are recognized as religions in some countries, while banned as cults in others. And even some very established religions end up in the news for heinous acts.

        I belive it remains possible to discuss said facts, or balance the rights of overseas partners (though I’m hazy on the details) so long as a clear line is drawn about not mocking, harassing, making someone feel “less than” for being an adherent, and generally not being a jerk.

        Yes. And that’s the fundamental problem here. What is happening is NOT a discussion of “said facts” but “mocking, harassing, … being a jerk”.

        Thus the correct response actually IS an immediate “that’s an unacceptable statement, and you are receiving a warning in your file.”

    3. Lexi Vipond*

      It sounds like where they’re going wrong is in thinking that ‘X religion is Bad and Wrong’ is also a religious belief that has to be protected.

      And maybe it kind of is, to the extent that no one should be harassed because of their own belief that a certain other religious practice is heretical, or even harmful – but that’s different from allowing them to freely harass the person they think is a heretic.

      1. Ama*

        I think a variation of this is most likely because that situation got so bad because the HR person was incapable of admitting her own biases/ignorance around service dogs and she kept doubling down and employing twisted logic to prove she was right.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if the HR person in this case also doesn’t like Jen’s religion and is twisting her interpretation of the rules for the same reason.

      2. Observer*

        Or “It’s not harassment unless they SAY they are trying to harass you”

        I’m kind of surprised that Alison seems surprised. Sure, it’s hugely incompetent and not just because of legality. But we could probably go down a rabbit hole of crazy and ridiculous responses to this stuff.

    4. OP First*

      Sorry I am late to reply, but it turns out, no, HR doesn’t have any proper HR training but was rather thrown into it.

      On Friday, a clarifying memo was sent from someone above, which I hope ends the matter.

  4. anony*

    #2 — You haven’t done anything wrong, but you have broken the unwritten code of the school, reminding them that they can’t keep you in line the same way after they chose to not renew your contract. So they’re reacting poorly in an attempt to maintain power that they no longer have, hoping you’ll be scared into line by mostly-empty threats. (I say “mostly empty” because there is probably some line in your contract about professional behavior that they could call on in kangaroo court if they really wanted to oust you before the end of the year.)

    That said, you’ve been at the school for ten years… I’m sure you’ve seen a mix of departures and scandals in that time… how were those handled? That’ll tell you a lot of what you can expect going forward, and how much is bark vs bite.

    1. Brooklyn*

      Not to start a union argument, but if you’re unionized (I’m aware that few private schools are, sadly), take it to your union rep.

      But I also think it’s an empty threat. I’ve never heard of a school that was swimming in enough headcount to actually want to get rid of a teacher so deep into a school year. No way they’d voluntarily prevent you from closing out the school year.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Meh, it can happen. My husband is a private school teacher and his school has had MASSIVE issues with subs all year — it is practically impossible to get one. One of his colleagues told the admin in March that he wasn’t going to return in the fall…and they literally walked him out in the middle of the school day.

        Was it a dumb decision that resulted in those classes basically getting zero instruction for the rest of the school year? Yes. Did it happen anyway? Also yes.

      2. Moodbling*

        It’s June, how much school year is even left? The schools in my area are on summer break.

        1. MondayMonday*

          I thought the same thing, but I am wondering if a contract is for a calendar year not a school year. I know some teachers’ salaries are split over 12 months not 9 even though they are not teaching in the summer.

          1. High School Teacher*

            It would be really weird if it were for a calendar year instead of school year. I’m a teacher and I’ve never heard of it. When I was paid year round my contract was July-June, and now that I’m only a 10-month employee my contract is from August-June.

            The exception, of course, would be if the OP teaches in the southern hemisphere! In which case contract would still have quite a bit of time left on it (but also… she probably wouldn’t know yet about her contract for next year?)

          2. My Cabbages!*

            The salaries are usually paid over 12 months but earned over 10. So the summer pay couldn’t be significantly docked because the work has already been performed.

        2. EngineerMom*

          Questions aren’t necessarily answered immediately – this could have come into AAM in March

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          There may be significant lag between OP’s friend getting told to hush and when OP wrote Alison– and Alison often has a delay as well.

  5. Ms. Teacher*

    #2, solidarity. I had a similar experience when I left a school (not non-renewed, just one of many staff that chose to leave after a chaotic year). Admin tried to reprimand me for telling students I wasn’t coming back (I wasn’t inflammatory, literally just letting them know so they weren’t surprised when I didn’t teach them the next year). Totay delusional.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I feel like the past decade or so has seen a rise in “If someone states accurately what we are doing, that is reputational damage and it should be illegal for them to say that stuff.” The school may be tapping into the zeitgist of “This makes me uncomfortable, ergo this person is probably doing something illegal.”

      Which I say to perhaps give some helpful context to OP2, that you are right and they are wrong. And you’re allowed to prioritize drawing a paycheck for the next month over telling other people that you are correct.

    2. MF*

      This is exactly why I think the OP should continue to tell parents why she’s leaving. They need to know that the board is engaging in controlling, power-tripping behavior–the kind that is negatively impacting their kids’ teachers!

    3. Rose*

      This seems extra dumb because as a teen, I would have been upset if I heard one of my favorite teachers was leaving, but I would have pretty quickly gotten over it because summer was so full of fun activities and drama and summer jobs. Two days into vacation school. It was a distant memory.

      When I got back to school and there was such a long period of school in front of me, it felt like I would be in school forever, and I would be way more likely to complain to a parent or just continue to make a stink about some thing. Especially because like most people, I don’t like getting bad news by surprise.

    4. anon today*

      #2 : Solidarity.
      I was reprimanded by the principal for spreading rumors of being unhappy and planning to leave. Only I hadn’t. The school backpedaled and claimed I had “indicated” said rumors by my behavior and to stop doing that. This confirmed my need to look elsewhere.

  6. yvve*

    while pretty intense, i admit that after having to wake up three people at 2 am yesterday to figure out who had the password because day shift yet again failed to make emergency backups available to everyone and locked required machine access behind random peoples individual passwords…. im pretty sympathetic to whatevers going on in #4

    1. Observer*

      Yeah. Me too.

      Of course, the REAL solution here would be to administer the systems properly. But the I’m actually surprised at how reasonable he’s being despite the ridiculously aggressive language. He even realizes that the passwords need to be locked away.

      1. Lucy P*

        Yes, for starters, how about having a server where everything is stored and have someone create a good digital filing system. Want to be more authoritarian?? Have your network admin set the user passwords. Set the user accounts so that they can’t change their own passwords. Prevent storage on their local drives so that everything has to be stored on the server.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          I mean that 3rd solution is actually pretty reasonable if you’ve got a large team that might all need access to the same information.

        2. Observer*

          Actually, #1 and #3 is exactly what you do. That’s not “authoritarian”. That’s good basic practice.

          One of the ways to reduce risk and related costs (like insurance) is to make sure that all important data is properly managed, secured, accessible and backed up. This is the only way to do it.

          On the other hand #2 would be my nightmare. I don’t have your password, I do not WANT your password, and I’m actually not supposed to have it or know it!

          1. Weyrwoman*

            That’s still using servers. “Cloud” is just the fancy new term that gets thrown around for “we buy/rent space on a data company’s server farm” and can mean anything from your little plot of 50GB (or whatever) to your company paying enough to have entire dedicated server units.

    2. anna*

      Right but you don’t fix this by gathering everyone’s passwords up! That’s a real 1988 solution.

      1. MK*

        This was apparently an old memo they found when moving, so maybe it did actually happenιν 1988.

        1. Other Alice*

          As a data point, the last time I worked in an office that required all passwords be written down in the office manager’s file was 2020. At the other job that did that in 2017, the cabinet was not even locked.

          Anyone requiring passwords to be shared might as well not use passwords, you’re all one bad actor away from a disaster, please get an actual IT and set up your system properly. I’m not even a security specialist but this gives me anxiety.

          1. I have RBF*

            WTF? Yeah, that didn’t fly in 2011. Their IT department should have shut that BS down, and assigned administrator or individual passwords, or AD passwords for a group of machines.

            1. Vio*

              That’s assuming they HAD a proper IT department. If they did then the computers should have had separate logins for User and Admin anyway

        2. just some guy*

          One of my old bosses did the exact same thing somewhere around 2005.

          Only instead of storing everybody’s passwords in a locked filing cabinet, he stored them on the network share drive in a spreadsheet named “[BOSSNAME]’S MASTER PASSWORD FILE KEEP OUT YOU BASTARDS”. The file itself was “password-protected” but I think that was back before Excel actually encrypted protected files, so it would’ve been easy enough to break for anybody who knew what they were doing.

          1. coffee*

            I love the additional “security” layer of “keep out you bastards” in the file name!

        1. I have RBF*


          Yeah, but you can still have administrator passwords or multiple accounts on a few machines in a small shop. Hell, I can do that on my home network.

      2. Observer*

        I agree that it’s not a good solution. But the essential thing he was asking for was actually reasonable. And 12 years ago, a lot of companies still didn’t have reasonable networks. Many still don’t.

      3. I have RBF*


        If there are “role based accounts”, their passwords should be centrally stored, but in a password manager that the people who need the passwords have a login to.

        If a person needs random access to various machines, they need to be using their own administrator password, not the passwords of other individuals.

        Now, that being said, back in the 80’s the Windows ecosystem didn’t really have administrator passwords, or privilege separation, so this memo might have been reasonable then.

    3. DJ Abbott*

      That kind of stress is the main reason I didn’t go into tech. Kudos to you for being able to handle it!

    4. Student*

      The problem you’re struggling with is fixable. Your computers are misconfigured, and/or your workflow is slightly wrong. Get the right people to pay for an IT consultant to fix it.

      This is like having a locked physical cabinet at work with critical documents, but only 2 copies of the key among 10 people that need regular access to the cabinet. It’s a bit asinine to get angry at the co-worker who forgot to pass one of the two keys around. Get angry at the boss who won’t pay for 10 copies of the key instead.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I’ve never worked at a job where telling someone else my password, even temporarily for a legitimate work reason, wasn’t a firing offense. The only password I would ever share is for my personal WIFI.

        1. STAT!*

          I once worked in a (dysfunctional, hostile) department where giving somebody your password was indeed a firing offence. It was written in the departmental handbook & everything! And yet, once our immediate management demanded we all give up our passwords. (They were written into a little book. Who knows where this was stored.) This was to deal with an instance where one coworker was storing work files on her C: drive instead of the general access drive, which meant said files couldn’t be accessed when she was on leave. I pointed out how pointless this exercise was because the system made us automatically update the passwords each month, but nobody listened …
          (And in an act of malicious compliance – or perhaps passive aggression – I changed my password immediately.)

    5. TootsNYC*

      My IT department has access to my password somehow. In a small operation, it may be hard to have that expertise.
      I don’t find the idea all that unusual, even if the tone is hysterical.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        IT doesn’t need *your* password. They have a sort of “super-password”. Like a pass-key.

      1. I have RBF*

        Agreed. For 2011 that is a very bad memo. They needed an IT person to set up their systems so that everyone who needed to could log in with their own password.

        (Yes, I AM a sysadmin…)

    6. Database Developer Dude*

      As someone who has a large portion of his job being in cybersecurity, I’m -not- sympathetic. Whoever the IT person is in that place either messed up, or is fighting the good fight and losing against a boss who’s priorities are screwed up.

      You do NOT share passwords.

  7. Goober*

    #4: It’s an aggressive way of saying it, but it’s a pretty normal thing. What that company really needs to do, though, is learn how to administer company computers. There are several ways to *reset* user passwords when needed.

    1. Allonge*

      Yep! Our IT support will never have or ask for my password and yet they have the possibility and procedures to access everywhere I am allowed to store work-related files in case I am abducted by aliens or other calamities.

      1. Sprigatito*

        At my previous job, if you ever had to take your laptop to the helpdesk they required you to write your password on a sticky note and leave it attached to said laptop while they worked on it.

        I would always change my password to something like “thisisnotmyrealpassword” and then change it back when they were done.

        1. SarahKay*

          Oh, yes, same here, but I think that’s for ease rather than necessity. Notwithstanding the usual request for password on a sticky note, IT can absolutely get into my computer without me giving the password if they have to.

          1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

            If you don’t have proper remote management of computers, the better solution is for IT to set up a separate admin account when setting up the personal account. It takes about five more clicks when deploying a computer, less if you have a standardized imaging process. (A lot of effort when one of the people who knows that password leaves the org, but that’s a separate issue.)

            Even for computer issues that require being logged into the user’s account, in a security-conscious org, the answer will be either that the user is there to type the password, or that IT resets the password and then the user changes it back later.

            “IT will never ask for your password” is a good policy for a lot of reasons. Tracking, as mentioned below, and also anti-phishing.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I have a former boss who was somewhat notorious for not realizing his cursor was in the chat program and accidentally sending out his password in plaintext. As a result, he had to change his password about every month.

      2. ferrina*

        Exactly! Our IT has effectively created safeguards against themselves, in case a bad actor enters the IT. They can force their way into a system without a password, but the process is heavily monitored and documented and only used in emergency situations. They prefer to collaborate with the user.

    2. Phryne*

      Yup. At my workplace you generally don’t even need an it person, once a business gets big enough just resetting passwords becomes a full time job so there is a dedicated site where you can go for when your password is lost or expires. You need to have it set up once with a phone number and a decoder on your work phone, and then you can reset it yourself whenever.
      But I clearly remember the late 2000 when I started there, and let’s say the IT learning curve has been steep since then…

      So if this is an old note and a small company, I am not surprised there is little to no professional IT department. Those PC’s might well be sand-alone units rather than workstations on a network.

    3. amoeba*

      I’m so confused by this – if it’s work files that need to be accessed by multiple people, why would they be on individual computers? Sharing passwords seems like the worst solution (and completely illegal in my company, I assume you could get fired or at least receive a stern warning for that). If multiple people need access, they should be on a shared drive with the correct access settings?

      1. ian*

        Right, this is where I went too. If something is mission-critical, time sensitive, and needed by other people, it should never be stored on an individual’s computer!

      2. IDIC believer*

        I’ve received similar memos when I worked in offices that insisted on recording all passwords (or everyone used the same password). It was bad policy but those offices didn’t have a shared file location, so work files were on the computer’s hard drive of whichever employee created it so access was an issue. Getting the management to understand why this system needed changed was a waste of breath, and definitely wasted lots of employee time & thus money.

        I’ve also worked places with designated in-house server networks or shared cloud storage. But there were always a few employees who used their hard drives instead (against written policy) which caused major problems when they took leave or when their computers had a catastrophic failure. Petty me did snigger alot listening to their screaming about lost work files while IT simply reminded them of policy. You *really* can’t fix stupid.

          1. Victoria Everglot*

            Yes! There are still enough computers using Windows XP in critical roles (I seem to remember the security computers at Chernobyl?) that Microsoft occasionally will release critical security fixes for it. Just because newer, better technology comes along, it doesn’t mean it had immediate buy-in. Lots of people are just happy to keep doing the thing they know works and don’t want the hassle of doing something new, even if it makes things better in the long run.

            – signed, a Windows 7 holdout

            1. JustaTech*

              In a month or two I will be retiring an instrument that uses a computer running Windows ME. It also takes floppy disks (but the small stiff ones, not the big actually floppy ones).

              Every time a new IT person saw this computer they would *freak out* until I explained that it is never connected to the network, let alone the Internet.

            2. Database Developer Dude*

              “even if it makes things better in the long run”. This doesn’t make those actions (holding out) right, especially when support from IT is expected.

          2. Observer*


            And you would be surprised at how much stuff is STILL on individual computers.

            Part of our onboarding is me giving people a stern lecture of how they are absolutely NOT to save stuff on their desktop or hard drive. Network drive ONLY. And I tell the my “war stories”. And even then, I sometimes find stuff.

            In fact I’m dealing with this right now with a new staff person. They are great, but this is going to be a fight. Wish me luck…

            1. Lenora Rose*

              Sometimes it’s just a matter of understanding that there is a difference. Due to some transfer of duties back and forth between people-in-charge, I have a bunch of files on my plate for my grandboss. Grandboss’s assistant keeps worrying that should anything happen to me, this will be inaccessible to them. Explaining that it’s all on the network drive, nothing is saved to my computer, and IT can give others access whenever they need did not reassure them… until IT told them it would be fine and IT had and could grant had access.

              It did leave me worrying that *they* save things on their personal drive without realising…

        1. J*

          I’ve been using it at least since college but that’s really only 20 years (or more). An old workplace it might make sense to see it since I know I was cleaning out my old government office and found materials from the late 80s (and I’d bet even earlier if they hadn’t relocated then). But still, it should have been used a lot earlier than many many offices adopted it.

      3. My Useless 2 Cents*

        I may be showing my age here but given that OP mentioned the memo was from 12 years ago, and that it was a newspaper office (ie. low IT budget) I’m guessing computer system was 10-15 years old we are talking late 90’s/early 2000’s technology….

        individual computers was very much the norm, large manageable networks/servers were reserved for the computer literate/companies willing to pony up the money, and password computer security was clunky and difficult. This sounds like a very common set up for making sure the business had access to everyone’s computer.

        Another computer related example that sounds totally implausible but is true, part of my duties when first hired at my job was typing up the correspondence and daily work that coworkers were handwritting to send out to customers. This was early 2000’s! It is not noticeable in the day-to-day grind but the working world has *changed* in the last 20 years!

        1. MustHavePassword*

          Hi My Useless! OP#4 here. You are correct – this was written in 2011, there was no IT and everyone had individual computers with their “own” work on them. Spot on!

      4. Observer*

        if it’s work files that need to be accessed by multiple people, why would they be on individual computers?

        Because this was over a decade ago in a small place that clearly didn’t have an IT department.

        If multiple people need access, they should be on a shared drive with the correct access settings?

        Yes, they SHOULD be set up that way. But that took more expertise and capacity than many companies had.

      5. Nina*

        I’ve been in companies where some important files were indeed tied to specific users (think the kind of thing where you have a license for exactly one copy of a document, nobody from the license-issuer will ever find out or care whether you have a billion copies but the license is for one so for some reason that was the rule we decided to follow…) and the solution was for the user to whom the copy was attached to store that one copy in an area of their hard drive that was accessible to anybody logging into the computer with a company login.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I’m not in IT, but all our computers are password protected – if we need urgent access then IT can do a reset and give us a temporary password, and then policy is that the user needs to reset their password as soon as they return.
      Giving anyone else our password is explicitly against policy .

    5. DataSci*

      If it’s normal, it shouldn’t be. Nobody knows or can access anyone else’s password on a well-run system – IT can reset them, or use root privilege to access anything on anyone’s machine, but not actually see the passwords. And managers CERTAINLY shouldn’t. For one thing it breaks trackability – was that really Xavier that downloaded the secret company files to a USB stick or was it his boss using Xavier’s password?

    6. HonorBox*

      Exactly. A well-administered system would allow access to any computer should an emergency arise.

    7. Zarniwoop*

      I guess our IT is really old-fashioned because we’re still doing “list of passwords on a piece of paper in a safe,” but we’re a *lot* more polite about it.

      1. Observer*

        Your IT is not only “old fashion”, they are irresponsibly out-dated.

        There is never any good reason to have a list of all passwords anywhere. I am going to be the you guys don’t ever have to be audited by fiscal or other monitors. Because in every (non-IT) audit I have had to deal with in the last 5 years or so, this would have been an automatic “highly adverse finding”.

        1. OfOtherWorlds*

          At my previous Episcopal parish church, at a visitation in 2022 the Bishop * was adamant that we needed to stop using “a list of passwords in an unlocked filing cabinet in an office” as our method of ensuring security and continuity of access to data. Before I moved from OH to PA we were discussing switching to a password protected google doc containing all the passwords, but it hadn’t happened yet. *facepalm* Admittedly, this is a tiny rural parish with about 25 people attending in person services (3o-40 if you include the people who only attend via YouTube since 2020).

          *I assume that it was actually our diocesan IT guy who made the recommendations on computer related things.

          1. Zarniwoop*

            Replace “unlocked filing cabinet” with “the safe where we keep the platinum.”

            1. OfOtherWorlds*

              Yes, actually, keeping the passwords in the safe where we keep the church’s silver vessels when they’re not in use would actually have been much more secure (if less convenient for the admin). In all fairness, the church office was locked when not in use, and not everyone with a key to the church had a key to the office, just the two part-time employees (the priest and the admin), and the Senior and Junior Warden (chair and vice chair of the church’s board).

              1. STAT!*

                I know it’s not your problem any more, but would your former job have considered a password wallet? We use Dashlane* at home, & it’s pretty good. You can store documents in it as well as passwords, & it comes with a VPN. I have found it much more convenient than our previous method, viz listing all the passwords in an encrypted document.

                * However unless you are connected to the interwebs, you won’t be able to use Dashlane. Other password wallets are available however, some free!

    8. OfOtherWorlds*

      Since this was an old paper memo, the newspaper might not have had a LAN, or even a full time IT person, at the time.

    9. mx burnout*

      It’s highly unusual for a newspaper publisher to demand access to all staff computers, assuming they were including editorial staff in this little meltdown. Really even *more* than highly unusual — deeply unethical. Separation of “church” and “state” between business and editorial is (or should be) a fundamental tenet of good journalistic practice. As a newspaper reporter, I would raise hell over a publisher who required access to my work on demand.

  8. Ellis Hubris*

    “I will confront you by Wednesday” and ” #hashtag relationship goals, using two fingers as hashtag” are truly some of the best holiday stories. Is there a primer of these story beauties? Made me smile.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      I can’t recall if Alison has a category for letters/posts of sheer entertainment value, but if there isn’t, there should be.

      1. Green great dragon*

        If I post the links it’ll get stuck in moderation, but “I will confront” and “hashtag relationship” in the ‘search this site’ box (right hand side, possibly under an ad) gets you there – the top stories in both cases.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        “the best office holiday party date story of all time” from December 5, 2019. Will post link in reply.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          “I will confront you by Wednesday” has been posted a few times, so here are the links to the original (#2 at link) and the update:

          And, while I’m rounding up holiday story links, here’s the Saga of Sheila:

  9. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    My thought was, “How big is this company? Don’t they have an IT Dept., or even an IT person!”

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      This was supposed to be a reply to Goober, above. *sigh*

      I swear this messageboard has a gremlin that likes to move replies around so they show up in the wrong places!

    2. Beth*

      The guy who wrote the memo was presumably the IT person, or the nearest imitation of one (and not a good imitation).

      As the IT person at my tiny company, I wrote our computer policies, which include the requirement that I have all the passwords and that personnel are not allowed to lock their computers down so that they can’t be accessed by designated company IT staff. I also set up the computers originally, including setting up people’s passwords and insisting that their passwords have to be long enough to meet basic security criteria. I would NEVER have written that kind of memo — nor would I have needed to. Sheesh.

      I also wrote the policy describing permissable use of work computers for personal activities — it’s more or less “be an adult and don’t do stupid things”. I feel very fortunate to have co-workers for whom this kind of policy is sufficient!

      1. MustHavePassword*

        Hi, I’m OP#4. The memo was written in 2011 by the owner/publisher – the Big Big Boss, which makes the tantrum-y tone funny. At the time I don’t believe there was IT. Everyone worked on individual computers.

  10. AJ*

    Dear Bob the HR Person, (from #1)

    I think you will find that even the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has enough people around your office with a negative opinion of it, and fortunately for all of us, that’s exactly why this law exists.

    1. Sakuko*

      Indeed. If only religions everyone already likes are protected by law, do you actually need a law to protect them?

      1. EPLawyer*

        Kinda the whole point of the law there — protect unpopular religions from discrimination in the workplace.

    2. Kaye*

      Yes! There surely isn’t a religion in the world that doesn’t have some people willing to be obnoxious about it and its adherents. And the bigger the religion is, the more likely it’s going to be to have both inoffensive followers like Jen *and* the kind who give it a really bad name.

    3. acva*

      if anything i would imagine that the church of FSM has a much higher hater/proponent ratio than average, given that its a parody religion designed specifically to make fun of real religions?

      1. scandi*

        Nuance, but I believe the purpose is to make fun of the idea that there is such a thing as a *real* religion.

        1. avva*

          well, real as in, a religion that people really believe in, i mean, as opposed to a joke with no actual adherents

          1. scandi*

            Why is Buddhism a religion, but veganism not a religion? They are both sincerely held beliefs about, among other things, the relationship between humans and other animals and come with prescriptions on how to live a “good” life.

            That is the point FSM is making – not that they should be considered a “real” religion, but rather that belief systems are arbitrarily divided as “religious” and “non-religious” and then the “religious” ones are given privileges and protection by the government which is not afforded other belief systems.

            1. avva*

              my understanding is that religions, as opposed to other ideologies, generally posit some kind of set of facts about the world (like, that reincarnation exists, or that a particular person was a prophet, etc), generally ones that are in some way metaphysical or supernatural. Non-religious ideologies such as veganism, traditionalism, etc, generally propose some kind of worldview or moral standard that they feel adherents should uphold

              1. avva*

                not that thats necessarily a good way to divide which beliefs should be protected! You have a point there, its a rather arbitrary division

              2. scandi*

                You can try to argue that there is a meaningful distinction, but in practise, belief systems such as veganism also posit a set of facts about the world which are not testable and arguably metaphysical if not supernatural. The belief that all animals have a consciousness equivalent to that of humans is a metaphysical belief.

                And religious ideologies also propose a worldview and moral standard that adherents should uphold (and, not infrequently, that they sincerely believe also non-adherents should uphold). Quite a significant part of most religious texts is instructions on how to live a “good” life according to the religion in question – not to mention the fact that most legal systems in the world evolved out of religious codes on how humans should act.

                1. avva*

                  first– i actually agree with your larger point, that veganism and similar meaningful beliefs should be protected. But im also a pedantic nerd so:

                  that’s a variation of veganism, but people can be vegan for other reasons. I know someone allergic to nearly all animal proteins who eats exclusively a plant-based diet and considers herself vegan and id consider it odd to claim shes not. Other people might be vegan for environmental reasons or without the metaphysical belief in a spirit (you can believe in a purely materialist version of consciousness and still attribute it to animals)

                2. scandi*

                  @avvaI am also a pedantic nerd, so I will point out that people can live according to the general principles of, say, Lutheranism without believing in a Christian god. Which would, arguably, be equivalent to avoiding animal products on the basis of environmental reasons – the behaviour is there, but with a different moral justification. Or someone with food allergies may find that eating kosher is the easiest way to avoid all their trigger foods without being Jewish. And none of those facts are used to argue that Christianity or Judaism are not religions. A behaviour doesn’t have to be exclusive to a religious context to count as a religious behaviour in some contexts.

                3. avva*

                  @scandi– so in that case, there’d essentially be veganism (belief system), the equivalent of judaism, and veganism (behavior), the equivalent of a kosher diet. yea? Would the person following a kosher diet be legally protected under religious discrimination laws if they weren’t jewish? They could be protected under the ADA for the allergies, but that’s a separate law

                  I actually don’t know the answer, btw, its an interesting hypothetical

                4. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

                  But not everyone who is vegan believes that all animals have a consciousness equivalent to humans. And many non-vegans do believe that animals have a high consciousness.

                5. Kara*

                  Out of curiosity, how would you classify veganism should it torn out that vegans are correct about animals having higher consciousness? That is very much a testable hypothesis and we’ve been inching closer and closer to an answer as we come up with more communication and cognition tests.

                6. Brooklyn*

                  Not to raise the number of pedantic nerds even higher, but most vegan communities actually make a distinction between veganism (a set of beliefs about the value of animal lives and moral principles about not harming them) and plant based (food that contains no animal products). Most vegan communities would refer to my wife, who doesn’t eat animal products because she doesn’t like animals getting tortured in factor farms, as vegan. They would refer to me, who doesn’t eat animal products because of climate change anxiety, as plant based. Most vegans would consider me an ally, the more militant ones would (and have) told me I’m as bad as a carnist. Personally, I would say that I am vegan or eat vegan, but I would not say that I am *a* vegan.

                  In practice, plenty of traditional Christians love to call veganism a religion when someone orders a beyond burger… And unironically want their religion taught in schools.

              3. DataSci*

                As usual in the sphere of generalizations about religion, the counterexample is Unitarianism. No creeds, belief in any sort of God or gods required (and while the joke is that Unitarians believe there is at most one god, there are polytheistic Unitarians out there). Just beliefs about how to be a good person – which veganism has as well, and yet that’s not a religion. It’s fuzzy and complicated.

              4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

                Nope! I’m a Unitarian Universalist and we do not have any dogma/creed, and instead are guided by principles and values. We use many different religious texts as sources of inspiration and can have whatever specific spiritual beliefs (including humanism) that we arrive at. And I have been mocked as not having a “real religion.”

              5. Littorally*

                It’s actually an incredibly messy topic; even people who have dedicated their entire careers to the anthropology of religion have been generally unable to craft a bright-line definition of religion that includes everything commonly identified as religion and excludes everything commonly identified as not-religion.

                It’s like fish. Everyone knows what a fish is, but there’s actually no meaningful scientific definition. The edge cases get dealt with on a case-by-case basis when it matters.

                1. A Cita*

                  I’m loving everything about this whole chain…the topic, the civil discussion….I know it’s off topic but I hope Alison doesn’t delete it.

            2. JM60*

              I think you’re partly right about the point that FSM is making. The FSM was originally invented in an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education to satirize creationism, in which the author satirized creationism in order to argue against creationism being taught in public school. FSM has morphed since then, but I don’t think the point is that the division of “religious” and “non-religious” is arbitrary per se. It is a non-arbitrary division: Religious beliefs are about supernatural beliefs, while non-religious beliefs (like various forms of ethical veganism) aren’t.

              I think you are right in that the FSM is often used to point out that religious beliefs do get privileges and protections by the government which is not afforded other belief systems, and to also point out that they shouldn’t get these privileges and protections.

            3. Cordelia*

              actually veganism is now a protected belief in the UK, following a court case that made pretty much the same arguments as you make above

            4. FairweatherAdventures*

              As it happens, veganism has been protected by the courts in the UK under the same legislation that protects religion. So although it isn’t a religion,
              the law doesn’t care – the protection isn’t for recognised faith communities, it’s for sincerely held beliefs. I think that’s also true in the USA.

              By the same logic, someone could have their rights as a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster protected legally if they could evidence a sincerely-held belief that was negatively affected or discriminated against.

            5. Zennish*

              Buddhism may be a poor example. Whether Buddhism is a religion or not is a good way to start a long and convoluted argument among many Buddhists. :-)

        2. Emmy Noether*

          Not to derail, but, I think we can generously read “real” religion as in “sincerely held belief”, not that whatever is believed in is necessarily real. Belief can be real even if the object of said belief is not. The FSM (as much as I like it) probably does not meet the “sincerely held” criterion for most adherents.

          1. scandi*

            Sure, but there are plenty of “non-religious” belief systems in the sense of “don’t involve faith in a god/gods” that are discarded as not real religions, in spite of being sincerely held philosophical beliefs about the nature of the world/humanity/morality etc. And a main goal for FSM is to discourage specifically *governments* from drawing an arbitrary line in the sand between religious belief systems and non-religious belief systems and giving privileges to one set of them. They don’t really care about whether private individuals consider some things real religions – they don’t want governments to define one set of belief systems as inherently more valuable or “real” than others.

          2. Bagpuss*

            I’m not in the US, and am curious, if the protection limited to actual religious beliefs? I’m in the UK and here the protected characteristic is ‘religion or belief’ and i expressly includes ‘lack of religion’.
            The criteria are:
            – the belief has to be one which is genuinely held
            – it has to be a belief, and not simply an opinion or viewpoint that’s based on the present state of information available
            -it has to relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
            the belief has to attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
            – it has to be worthy of respect within a democratic society, and not be incompatible with human dignity or conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

            So things such as veganism can be a belief, with the same protections as a formal religion.

            1. Michelle Smith*

              That’s not how it works in the US:

              “Religious beliefs include theistic beliefs (i.e. those that include a belief in God) as well as non-theistic “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” Although courts generally resolve doubts about particular beliefs in favor of finding that they are religious, beliefs are not protected merely because they are strongly held. Rather, religion typically concerns “ultimate ideas” about “life, purpose, and death.” Social, political, or economic philosophies, as well as mere personal preferences, are not “religious” beliefs protected by Title VII.

              Religious observances or practices include, for example, attending worship services, praying, wearing religious garb or symbols, displaying religious objects, adhering to certain dietary rules, proselytizing or other forms of religious expression, or refraining from certain activities. Whether a practice is religious depends on the employee’s motivation. The same practice might be engaged in by one person for religious reasons and by another person for purely secular reasons (e.g., dietary restrictions, tattoos, etc.).”

              So if I’m vegan because I practice a religion that requires it, then it’s protected. If I’m vegan solely because I believe eating animal products is morally wrong, that’s not.

          3. La Revacholiere*

            But making “belief” a determining factor in the validity of a religion requires people to accept orthodoxic religions (including but not limited to Christianity) as the norm by which we measure, when in fact many other religions are orthopraxic and don’t rely on belief as the proof of adherence, instead prioritizing communal celebration and engagement in ritual. Insisting that I prove my religious affiliation via criteria such as faith is like trying to measure distance in ounces.

            1. Littorally*

              “Belief” in the law isn’t used in the sense of faith; it’s generally defined in a loose and good-faith way (pun intended) as “you hold a genuine conviction that this idea or behavior is important in a cultural or moral sense.”

              So, for orthopraxic religions, the praxis is the important part and the belief in this case is the belief in the importance of the praxis.

          4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            But pastafarians do have sincere atheist beliefs, and atheism is protected under the 1st Amendment.

      2. Green great dragon*

        It’s designed to make a serious point about the degree to which religion wriggles into secular spaces and requests special treatment. Some of its adherents may lean into the mockery angle, but that’s absolutely not why it was created.

      3. Brooklyn*

        It doesn’t make fun of real religions. It makes fun of morality laws and other attempts to enshrine religion in the civic sphere. It exists to make people who want a state religion have to do ridiculous things, because they’re legally required to treat all religions equally.

        Specifically, it was created to force Kansas schools that teach creationism alongside evolution, to also teach a ridiculous theory about flying noodles. It does not mock Christianity or religion, it mocks the idea that your beliefs are as valid in a science class as established science.

  11. Startup Survivor*

    LW 1: if your company has a chief legal officer, they would be a great person to talk to about religious discrimination. They will likely understand the implications very quickly. I have seen a lot of smaller companies where HR is mostly recruiting, leading to the lawsuits that you would expect.

    1. Grey Coder*

      Yes, when I worked for a “too small to have formal HR” company, we had an employment lawyer on retainer for anything like this. I guess we also had the common sense to know when to call her in.

      Actually now that I think about it, only some of us had that common sense. The CEO would have happily stumbled into some lawsuits.

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      Or even anyone in senior leadership with experience in compliance or law. A first-year law student would understand how problematic this is.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Even printing off the information from the EEOC website and bringing it to them or emailing them the link should work. It’s very, very obvious what the company is doing is blatantly illegal.

    3. Random Dice*

      All of this is a good way for the LW to get fired.

      File an EEOC complaint anonymously.

  12. Elsa*

    LW2, your school was probably hoping you would do what I did when I was in your position. When the school I worked at decided not to renew my contract, by the time it came to announce I was leaving I had already found a new job, so I just announced that I was leaving because of a new opportunity.
    I did it that way because I was a little ashamed of having been let go and it let me save face. But in retrospect I really regret having given the school a free pass for what they did. They should have been held accountable and what you did was totally right.

    1. Jopestus*

      Completely irrelevant. The answer does not change even if it was faith to the Great Green Arkleseizure.

    2. Anon for this*

      If so, that would make the mocking worse to me. If someone is in a group known to be abusive, it is likely that they are a victim of abuse.

      Victims need support and financial stability to leave. Not mocking from their coworkers.

    3. Saddy Hour*

      I can see how the speculation could become derailing and unproductive here, but maybe there can be a discussion in the weekend thread? I’m fascinated reading through the conversations posted so far.

    1. Might Be Spam*

      There was a time when I had to undergo a series of painful injections. I’m a IT person, so my doctor distracted me by talking about not needing or knowing how to do backups. It definitely distracted me, by making me hyperventilate with the effort it took to not yell at him. To this day, I still wonder if he was serious. His nurse certainly thought he was serious.

  13. Name*

    LW 1 – I feel your pain. I have a degree in Hr, was hired as a specialist (lower level on the hierarchy), and could never get my former employer to train me to promote. Meanwhile, they’d promote people in non-HR roles and no previous HR to director and executive director positions. The reason – they new the business and how it was run. Which is how I found myself explaining the following:
    – we can’t call an employee’s wife’s doctor to prove that she gave birth or that his son was born (employee wasn’t responding to calls or emails and had not completed FMLA paperwork); the ED had apparently never heard of or understood HIPAA
    – how FLSA worked. A non-contracted employee worked 35 hrs/wk but his position was only 30. Miscommunication all around and it was addressed. A director wanted me to calculate how much he was “overpaid” so we could recoup. I called his supervisor to confirm he worked the 35 hrs. Director thought he was contract employee and that we overpaid him. I had to explain to her that not everyone in the company is contracted and that he was paid correctly. She then decided that he should have been paid overtime because he worked more than he was supposed to. Told her that only happened if he hit more than 40 hrs/wk. This went on for 10 minutes until she decided to go to the CHO. I never heard back but she decided to move to another department shortly after. (Truly decided, not forced.)
    – you can’t decide not to pay overtime because it wasn’t approved in advance. It would be considered volunteer work. (This was a different ED).
    Needless to say, I left.

  14. SadieMae*

    With #1, I have a corollary question and would love to hear your all’s take. I live in the Bible Belt and it’s common for coworkers and clients to invite me to their churches. I’m not religious, and usually I just politely decline without elaborating on why. However, I have twice now been invited to our local mega church, which is super homophobic: parents encouraged to send their kids to conversion therapy if they come out, lots of talk about LGBTQ folks being child molesters, etc. In regular life outside work I always tell the person inviting me that I think the church’s views are hurtful and dangerous. But could I say that in a work setting?

    1. Don't Be Longsuffering*

      Oh, that is an interesting question. On further thought, the person inviting could be skirting proselytizing rules. How about “We should talk about church outside of work.”

    2. Bagpuss*

      I would have thought you could, because you are not discriminating against or harassing the coworker because of their religion, you are explaining why you personally would not accept their invitation. Perhaps if you were to word it as ‘I believe the views expressed by the church leadership are hurtful and dangerous’ – that isn’t harassment, it is expressing a personal view and you are doing so solely in response to their having raised the issue.

      But it would be interesting to have input from a lawyer or HR expert!

      IF you were going up to them and saying ‘I can’t believe you go to that awful, homophonic, abusive church’ I suspect that would be different and might well cross the line.

    3. Lady_Lessa*

      Could you say, “I’m not comfortable with the church’s teachings about X”. If they ask, then explain.

      FYI, I’m from the Bible Belt, and went from Southern Baptist to Roman Catholic.

      1. Brooklyn*

        I agree. If they’re comfortable inviting you to their church, they’re comfortable telling you that gay people shouldn’t exist. It is beyond the pale inappropriate to invite a work colleague to your church, regardless of how common it is, and they should feel uncomfortable after doing so.

        The question isn’t what the right thing to do is. The question is whether you have the mental and work capacity to deal with the consequences of doing the right thing. There’s no shame if you don’t, you don’t owe them fixing this, but imagine how alienated someone of a marginalized religion would feel, or someone who is gay or trans.

        1. HonorBox*

          If a coworker, knowing that I attend a particular church, approached me and asked if they could attend with me sometime, I’d gladly say yes. That’s actually happened when their church sort of pooped the bed recently. But under no circumstance would I approach someone at work … and only if I knew someone really well outside of work … and invite them to come with me to church.

          1. JustaTech*

            I had a coworker tentatively invite our other peer coworker and I to her church for Easter. The inviting coworker was new, so my peer and I sort of exchanged a look and both said “no thanks you, I don’t do church” in a tone that was both friendly and firmly shut that door.

            Thankfully the new coworker never brought it up again (and maybe was a little relieved that we said no), because that would have been a real detriment to our working relationship.

    4. I don’t post often*

      Op 2. This situation happened in my tiny town in January.
      Well, there was a lot of back and forth and political nonsense, and the Headmistress writing Facebook posts and secret parent meetings (errr which clearly were not secret) and in the end, the entire governing board resigned and Headmistress has her job back.
      It was a local soap opera that involved actual lives and children. :(
      No advice, just wanted you to know you aren’t the only one.

      1. Melissa*

        Me too. This isn’t your fight to take on in the workplace. If a FRIEND invites you, then you have the opportunity to have a real, respectful discussion about your your views (sometime when you aren’t at work). Otherwise, politely decline.

        1. Anon for this one*

          It’s not that simple. The inviter brought the issue into the workplace. I need to smile and say no thanks when someone is one step away from calling me a child molester at work?

          If a “friend” invited me they would no longer be my friend.

          1. Anon for this one*

            I’m not saying I’d be rude or confrontational. Just that “I don’t agree with their beliefs about LGBTQ people” is not bringing anything to the workplace that wasn’t already there.

            1. Brooklyn*

              100% this. They brought it into the workplace. They know their church’s stances, and they feel comfortable telling you at work about it. They believe that everyone in their “community” agrees with them, and so take steps to alienate everyone who doesn’t. Multiple invitations to a homophobic church may not be intentionally harassing gay colleagues, but that is the effect.

          2. Melissa*

            If a friend invited you to a place whose philosophy you disagree with, you would end the friendship? Wow.

            1. The line*

              The philosophy of “you are going to hell for your sexuality” or “who you love makes you a sinner”? Yes.

              Can’t be a very good friend if they think that way about me.

            2. Teacher, Here*

              To a place that actively espouses homophobia and calls gay people child molesters/groomers? Yes, for sure.

            3. Watry*

              Would I end a friendship with someone who saw attending a church that called me (and every single one of my friends) a child molester as no being deal? Frick yes. Right then, right there, and I’m not sorry about it. Conversion therapy and “groomer” rhetoric are actively dangerous, not just philosophy.

            4. WantonSeedStitch*

              If their philosophy is “I believe good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell when they die” versus “I believe in reincarnation?” I wouldn’t end that friendship. But if their philosophy also includes “and I believe all LGBTQ+ people are bad?” Yeah. I’d end that friendship so fast their head would spin.

            5. Lenora Rose*

              A place whose philosophy I disagree with would be eg. a place that said “Any and all animal based food and clothing products are de facto worse for the environment than any and all plant based ones.” I disagree, but I think there is a productive conversation that could be had about what is and is not best practice for the environment.

              NOT a place that said “You deserve to be hideously tortured for a duration infinitely longer than the entirety of your life for having occasionally kissed a woman, and your refusal to treat trans friends and relatives as child molestors.”

              There is literally no common ground there.

            6. RabbitRabbit*

              In cases like this? Absolutely and I’m not even LGBTQ. This “grooming” rhetoric is actively dangerous, as is promotion of conversion therapy.

            7. Environmental Compliance*

              This isn’t a “philosophy to disagree with”. This is actively working to harm people through a dangerous belief structure.

              Human rights are not agree to disagree.

              Honestly, I would also end a friendship with anyone who thought these topics were an “agree to disagree” type of thing, because that is just as dangerous towards *protecting human rights* as the belief itself.

            8. Glomarization, Esq.*

              I absolutely have ended friendships where the other party is homophobic and transphobic, and would do again, yes. It is disingenuous to call homo- and transphobia “philosophy.”

            9. FattyMPH*

              There is a world of difference between “I like pineapple on pizza” and “I like when LGBTQ+ people have fewer human rights than I do”. I don’t end friendships over pizza but I do over human rights. Hope this helps!

            10. Student*

              This isn’t an “agree to disagree” situation. Teaching people to hate and fear LGBT+ people actively endangers LGBT+ people. When a church actively promotes hate against LGBT+ people, their desired outcome is for their church members to go hurt LGBT+ people. This isn’t a school sport where we’re just cheering for different teams. This is war; war against my people.

              I’m LGBT+. A kid tried to burn my eyes out in a school cooking class for it. Luckily, my reflexes were pretty good, and he didn’t get my eyes – but he did give me a third degree burn. The teacher wouldn’t let me go to the school nurse to get the third degree burn treated in a timely manner, because she felt I deserved what I got for being gay.

              We were in middle school. I was probably 12 years old. As was the kid that tried to burn my eyes out. Even at the time, I understood it wasn’t really the other 12-year-old’s fault. He’s 12! It’s the fault of the adults in his life, teaching him this pointless hatred.

              Churches that rail against LGBT+ people and call us an evil that must be purged are responsible for this incident and others like it – they are literally teaching people that hurting and killing us will score them points with their god, help in some invisible war between good and evil that they believe in, encouraging people to hurt us.

              I don’t need them to like us. I do need them to stop actively harming us. I’m certainly not going to pretend this is on par with a disagreement about which beer brand is the best, or a philosophy class debate over the definition of consciousness.

            11. Head sheep counter*

              I don’t think your comment qualifies as on topic, kind or relevant. Further… its weird to equate hate with philosophy.

            12. Quill*

              Uh, yeah. If the friend says “I base my moral beliefs on the teachings of this place” and the official line of that place is that my trans friends should be dead or forced to live in misery, that my gay friends are going to hell, and that I’m property because I happened to be born a woman? They’re not a friend, they want to be friends with the person they think I would be if I followed all their rules.

              This is not hypothetical: Most queer people have someone who had to be cut out of their life because they were like this.

            13. Jessica*

              If a friend told me that they consider who I am inherently evil, broken, or wrong, then they were never actually my friend in the first place.

            14. ScruffyInternHerder*

              There’s no disagreement on the right to exist.

              We can disagree about many things, god(s), what version of what religious text is better; but we cannot “disagree” on someone referring to my sibling as a groomer, a pedophile, or any other nonsense, simply because of their sexual orientation.

            15. I have RBF*

              I’m pagan and non-binary. If a supposed friend invited me to a church like, say, Westboro Baptist, I would end that friendship, because they actively preach against people like me, and say that we shouldn’t be allowed to exist.

              If someone invites me to join an organization that wants to eliminate me from existence or forcibly made into something I’m not, they are not a friend. Hell, even if I was cis, straight, etc I would not look well on being invited to a dominionist church, an anti-LGBTQ+ church, or even a “women submit to men” church.

            16. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

              If the “philosophy” in question is whether or not my existence should be a capital offense? I would nuke that bridge from orbit.

            17. FrivYeti*

              The word “philosophy” is doing some *heavy* lifting in this bad faith argument.

            18. Some Bunny Once Told Me*

              Why on earth would I want to be friends with someone who believes that I and my spouse are inherently evil and deserve to suffer eternal torment and pain because we’re queer and my spouse is trans?

              This isn’t a simple philosophical disagreement, there are churches that are actively working to make it impossible for my spouse to exist, and I have no interest in being friends or even friendly with someone who attends a church like that, much less invites me to attend with them.

            19. Twix*

              I’ve recently seen an idea circulating about resolving the infamous Paradox of Tolerance by treating tolerance as a social contract rather than an abstract ideal. In other words, being treated with tolerance is predicated on being tolerant of others, and vice versa. This is an excellent example of how it works.

              Sure, you can frame something like overt homophobia as a “philosophy”, and thus conflate it with other philosophical differences two people might have, but the content matters. A philosophy that calls for ostracizing and persecuting a particular group of people just for existing is fundamentally, meaningfully different from a philosophy that doesn’t, and the difference is in whether or not that social contract is being upheld. If it isn’t, yeah, that’s probably not someone I want to associate with.

            20. Database Developer Dude*

              I’m a cisgender, heterosexual male, and I would end a friendship in a heartbeat if a friend invited me to a place that all but called LBGTQ+ folk child molesters.

        2. Jessica*

          Coworker #1: “Your identity and beliefs are inherently inferior to mine and I want you to come with me to get them changed to something I find acceptable.”

          Coworker #2: “No thanks. In fact, I find your beliefs harmful. Please leave me alone about this from now on.”

          And you think Coworker #2 is the one bringing the fight to the workplace????

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        I agree. If someone really presses you for details, you could give them those if you wish, but keep in mind that you could easily become a pariah because of where you live.

    5. I should really pick a name*

      At work, I would recommend responding to the megachurch invitation the same way you respond to all the others.

    6. ecnaseener*

      Saying so once wouldn’t immediately be illegal harassment as I understand it, but you’d probably be told you absolutely couldn’t continue saying it. (Unless you had LW1’s HR I guess.)

    7. Persephone Mulberry*

      I would go with the polite decline unless a coworker asks repeatedly or asks why not.

    8. Littorally*

      I would not, simply because the risk (tiptoeing too close to the religious harassment line and HR’s likelihood to side with them over you) is not worth the benefit (what benefit?)

    9. Dust Bunny*

      Liberal atheist in Texas here: I think this very much depends on the coworker and your employer. I’ve had coworkers to whom I could say that we had too many differences of opinion and they’d leave it alone, but I’ve also had coworkers who would definitely have dug in and possibly caused problems for me if they knew more about my views. So far my employers would mostly have told Coworker to let it go and leave the religion at home, and I hope yours would, but you’d have to decide that for yourself–if this person won’t let it go would your bosses/HR back you up or will it make you a target?

    10. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

      If you don’t want to specifically address with your coworkers exactly why you have issues with the megachurch, but want the invites to stop, you could treat it like fetch – it’s never going to happen.

      I took that tack with a couple of Baptists who rang my doorbell (and littered my front porch with their materials) on a Saturday. Standing there in my Satanic Temple t-shirt, I told them I was never going to be interested in their organization. They seemed to get the message.

    11. EPLawyer*

      Nope. You can have this opinion all you want. But for an invite, at work, you just politely decline. Outside of work, denounce this religion all you want. But at work, you are there to work and part of that is getting along with your colleagues.

      Now if they start espousing their beliefs at work, you can speak up. But until then, you just remain civil and professional.

      1. Saddy Hour*

        Is inviting a colleague to attend church with you NOT espousing your beliefs at work already?

        1. Melissa*

          No, they are totally different.

          “Hey, do you want to come to Bible Chapel with me Sunday?” (Then you go google it and discover you disagree with everything they stand for.)


          “Hey, you should come with me Sunday. We will be studying original sin and how children should be beaten into submission and how wives should stay quiet.”

          Those are not, in any way at all, the same.

          1. Jessica*

            I get that you think inviting someone to a place that statistically is likely to be advocating for abusing them (if they’re queer) or wiping out their culture (if they’re a member of any non-Christian culture) is just a normal, neighborly thing to do, but it is not.

          2. Some Bunny Once Told Me*

            If you’re the same Melissa who’s been commenting on this thread multiple times, I just don’t think you have any idea of what it’s like to not be a straight Christian person.

            I literally would have the exact same internal reaction to both of those examples you provided, which is to say that I would feel cornered and threatened. I’d honestly rather have the latter happen, because it would be considered acceptable to report that to HR, whereas it’s a lot harder to explain why microaggressions like assuming that I’m Christian are hostile and make me feel unwelcome in a workplace.

        2. EPLawyer*

          One is a polite invitation much the same as inviting someone to a book club. Finding connections with your colleagues outside of work. Which one is free to accept or decline.

          Espousing at work is if you want to be saved you have to be a member of my religion.

          1. Jessica*

            *stares in Jewish*

            Inviting me to a meeting place for the ideology that’s been trying to wipe out my people for 2000 years is not the same as inviting me to book club.

            1. Quill*

              It being more polite than a higher pressure tactic is not the same as it being innocuous.

              1. Jessica*


                You don’t proselytize to people at work for the same reason you don’t hit on people at work: they’re trapped.

          2. Some Bunny Once Told Me*

            Inviting a coworker to church is in no way the same as inviting them to a secular function. There’s an inherent assumption there – either you’re Christian like me, or you need to be saved – and either way it’s not an acceptable thing to do to your coworkers.

        3. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

          IMO, it absolutely is and it should not be allowed unprovoked. Inviting someone to your church out of nowhere (meaning the coworker didn’t say “I’m new here and am looking for a church) is proselytizing and should not be permitted at work.

      2. Jessica*

        How is saying “there’s something wrong with your beliefs and identity and you need to come to my church to get them changed” espousing personal beliefs less than the person who says “I think your beliefs are wrong, so no”?

        1. I should really pick a name*

          That’s starting from the assumption that they know what your beliefs are.

          1. Jessica*

            I don’t know how to explain to you that proselytizing itself assumes your beliefs are wrong.

            1. I should really pick a name*

              It is also possible that they just like their church and think you might enjoy it.

              I’m not encouraging proselytizing, but you’re jumping straight to the worst case scenario.

              1. Jessica*

                *stares in Jewish*

                I’ll tell you what: when the majority of Christian denominations reject the Great Commission–which advocates for a world in which I don’t exist–I’ll stop assuming they want to eliminate my culture. So far, exactly 0 of them reject it. The goal of a world without my people in it is literally *their doctrine.*

                I’m not assuming the worst: I’m assuming they actually believe what they say they believe.

              2. metadata minion*

                They shouldn’t be inviting me to their church unless they know enough of my (hypothetical my, actual-me is not looking for a church) beliefs to actually have a solid idea of whether I would like their church. If you are inviting your Jewish friend to church, you do not know enough about their beliefs to know that this is inappropriate. (All things being equal, obviously there are exceptions like interfaith events and or wedding ceremonies or whatever; this is obviously not what the initial question is about.)

              3. Joron Twiner*

                Then they should do a bit more thinking about why “you” might enjoy it.
                Unless a coworker has literally said to you “I’m new in town and looking for a new church,” do not invite them to church.

          2. FrivYeti*


            That right there is the proselytizing and why it should not be done.

            If they “think I might enjoy their church” they are assuming, without evidence, that I share their faith. They are, in fact, telling me that I am a part of their faith, that their faith is such a default that it should be assumed, until proven otherwise, that I am a part of their faith. It places the onus on me to decide how safe it is to explain that I’m *not* part of their faith, and instantly and immediately sets me up as an outsider.

            1. Some Bunny Once Told Me*

              Thank you for putting this into words far more effectively than I ever have been able to manage.

    12. Zennish*

      So, not an HR professional, but my take is you can say it, but it’s probably unwise. You have a right to your own beliefs, so saying that you personally believe that X church is harmful or dangerous is a legit position to take, but you’re likely creating an instantly hostile relationship with that coworker for no real benefit. You’re also setting up a situation where any interaction with you they perceive as negative can then be trotted to HR as religious discrimination, based on your own self professed hostility toward their religion.

      1. Littorally*

        Agreed. CAN you, sure, but SHOULD you… eh. I see a lot of downside if they take it personally and not a lot of potential benefit. Why would you, in a workplace context, tell someone you feel that something very important to them is bad and harmful? And I am most definitely saying this as a transgender person; I have enough unavoidable struggles related to the religion-based discrimination I face that I see no reason to take on the avoidable struggles.

        And I’d hold to this regardless of the belief, too, because even if it didn’t fall under potential religious discrimination it would still be needlessly provocative. A coworker pushing veganism on me when I’m desperately trying to crank protein into my diet would get a polite “no thank you, I’m attending to my diet under medical advice” and not a lecture about how I feel that veganism is largely hypocritical and anti-scientific. Just cause it isn’t explicitly forbidden to say doesn’t make it a helpful or productive conversation to have.

    13. Student*

      I wrestled with this in an environment where many, many co-workers and managers would request help outside work with Boy Scout events. I’m an atheist; Boy Scouts have a rather notorious policy against Atheists and have treated Atheist scouts (children!) horribly. They are legally entitled to do this as a private organization. They hold their stance against Atheism even now, after they belatedly dropped objections to having LGBT+ scouts and women scouts, and it is the only religion they exclude.

      I settled on saying just “no” when I was worried about the potential career fall-out, and saying, “no; the Boy Scouts have specific values inconsistent with my own” when I felt it was safe to expound more.

      The phrasing gives the favor-asker the option to follow up to understand better, or the option to just take the “no” and walk away. Sometimes people followed up, sometimes not – but the people who followed up generally knew they were walking into a sensitive conversation at that point.

    14. Pointy's in the North Tower*

      I would, but YMMV. I’m also in the Bible Belt and have a lot of churches with that view in my metro.

      I’m at the point in my life where I have no more cares to give about people who support institutions that claim I’m grooming children, who think people like my nibling and friend shouldn’t exist, and want to legislate the health care choices of people they’ll never meet. I’m not so quietly queer (I wear the “wrong” clothes, and I have my “Everyone is Awesome” Legos on my desk). I’m also open about not being Christian but not as open about being TST.

      Basically I’m a big fan of return the awkward to sender, even if they are shameless and don’t feel awkward. (I had to tell our program director when he invited us to his church “to talk about what we do” that I was NOT going to a place that preached I was inherently evil and going to hell for something that is an intrinsic characteristic of me but was not my entirety. That put a stop to inviting ANYONE to his church.)

    15. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      This is such an interesting question to me.

      It sounds like Jen from the letter is probably a Scientologist – which is a harmful religion, IMO, but is mostly seen as “weird.” It sounds like Jen hasn’t espoused anything harmful and is essentially being mocked for believing in evil alien spirits. So, in your scenario, being asked by a coworker like Jen to attend a session and declining because “it’s freaky and weird and dumb” (I’m making guesses on what the coworkers feel about Jen) might be able to be considered harassment but declining because you don’t hold the same beliefs wouldn’t. But I have no idea!

      But what if Jen was a member of Westboro? (And I don’t mean for the harassment question. I obviously understand that harassment in the workplace about one’s religion is illegal, and Jen should not be ridiculed unprovoked. But I also think that someone who belongs to a church that holds up signs at funerals saying “God loves dead [insert profession, sexuality, etc. here]” is someone who can’t be trusted to behave properly in a diverse workplace. And I would understand there being an underlying hostility from her coworkers about her hateful beliefs. That doesn’t excuse illegal harassment though.) But to your question, SadieMae, if a coworker like that invited someone to church, that feels like the type of person who WOULD view “no, because they are homophobic” as an attack on their religion. But I don’t think legally it qualifies – it could just create an unpleasant working environment.

      Also, I am pretty sure we have a ruling that one protected class doesn’t trump another? So, if you belong to a bigoted church, you don’t get to misgender someone at work. They are protected too and that’s harassment. So, I feel like explicitly declining on the grounds of the church having homophobic beliefs doesn’t meet the sniff test for harassment. But IANAL.

      If a coworker invited me to a church that loudly espoused hateful beliefs, I would have difficulty viewing them without bias. So while others have mentioned the potential fall out of saying why you are declining, I feel like the act of inviting you to a homophobic church has already created fallout. Surely you don’t look at those coworkers the same. ESPECIALLY if you are queer and the person inviting you knows that. Honestly, if you’re openly queer and someone invites you to a known homophobic church, THAT feels like harassment to me (because why are they doing it other than to show you that you are a walking ball of sin?)

      Anyway, I’m all about making hateful bigots as uncomfortable as possible everywhere possible, and I don’t much care about a hateful bigot ignoring me at work, so I would definitely say why I was declining and add in that church requests probably aren’t appropriate in the workplace.

    16. Jessica*

      If they are proselytizing to you, they are already violating basic human courtesy and I think as long as you keep it brief and impersonal (e.g. “Your church’s position on LGBTQ people makes it a complete nonstarter for me, so no thank you. Please don’t bring it up with me again.”), you’re not doing anything HR can really ding you for.

    17. Jessica*

      I think you have to be careful about *how* you talk about your objections to their beliefs in a workplace, but that doesn’t mean you can’t express your objections. I just would probably avoid describing their beliefs. Instead of saying “your church is super homophobic and harmful and dangerous,” I’d probably go with “Your church’s position on LGBTQ people makes it somewhere I’m not interested in going, so no thank you.”

      Not that they don’t deserve to have their own hatefulness called out more strongly, but to protect yourself from any claims that you insulted or harassed them in your refusal.

    18. Ellis Bell*

      I think you have three strengths of reply available to you, depending on how safe you think it is to say to people how you feel. Safest is to not elaborate as you have been doing: “Oh, no thanks!” Less safe is to just phrase it as a question and let the answer hang there silently: “Go to your church? It’s important to me to support inclusivity. How do they treat LGBTQ people there as a rule?” (listen to the answer impassively, then reply) “Huh, I’d have to look into their reputation a bit more, but thanks for the invitation.” Least safe: “I don’t think I’ve heard good enough things about their approach with LGBTQ people, so I’ll pass”. The least safe answer is still totally appropriate, not bashing the religion so much as objecting to becoming a part of it. Still, some companies where people feel free to do this, are toxic, and if you feel unsafe nailing your moral flag to the mast, you’re still declining your support of theirs.

    19. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Could you say something like “No, because I don’t share that church’s view on LGBTQ rights, I have very different views”? That’s giving your own view? It seems similar to saying “No, because I’m Jewish/Methodist/humanist/Buddhist.”

    20. Too Stunned To Speak*

      on #3, aren’t they saying they can’t just apply because the position isn’t posted anywhere? or am I misunderstanding?

  15. Akcipitrokulo*

    #4 – this is such a breathtaking risk to data security and basically inviting the bad guys into your system on a red carpet…

    It’s also illegal if you are in uk, eu, or hold data on citizens of those places.

    1. Observer*

      Sure, and in most places in the US it would also get you into trouble. *Today*. But over 10 years ago? In a small place without a proper IT infrastructure? Even in the EU. The GDPR only went into effect in 2018.

  16. Peanut Hamper*

    #2 explains a lot about what’s wrong with the educational industrial complex in the US. It really does not stand up under scrutiny and therefore does not tolerate scrutiny. No wonder there is a teacher shortage.

    1. Darkwing Duck*

      That, plus the fact that educators are no longer in charge of education. Politicians are, and they want to politicize the teaching of facts in the classroom. Florida, et al.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      “I am a teacher at a small private school,”

      The issues that plague the “educational industrial complex” on the whole may or may not be in play, though, since this is not a public school. Private schools can get away with a lot of weird stuff of their own.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        They are still subject to the same weird social media pressures to appear perfect at all times, alas. And as we know, when you work with people, nothing is ever perfect 100% of the time.

  17. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    Good Lord, I think LW1’s HR person might actually give Bob (aka Mr Medical Documentation Doesn’t Hold A Lot Of Weight With This Company) a run for his money! Please take this as high as you can!

    LW2, I’m very sorry that you lost your job but it sounds like this administration is terrible. They should have anticipated that people would be upset about you leaving after working there for 10 years and they should have given a reason instead of just announcing your departure with no further information! You’ve done nothing wrong. I hope you find a new place that appreciates you and treats you well.

  18. Annie*

    I’ve only ever been a teacher, so I can’t speak to how other jobs deal with this, but yes, independent schools are super weird about how they deal with teachers whose contracts aren’t renewed and definitely expect teachers to say nothing to anyone. My current school has an all-faculty meeting where they give parting gifts to teachers who are departing, including ones whose contracts aren’t renewed: we’re firing you! here’s a present! It’s very weird.

    1. Blarg*

      Is that how people find out they aren’t having their contract renewed?? By getting a present at this meeting??

      1. Phony Genius*

        Totally not imagining a Bachelor-like TV show about teachers with an apple ceremony at the end of each episode.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        Generally, you hear it in a 1:1 meeting with an administrator beforehand. Maybe in February or March. Annie might be describing an end-of-year meeting, in which everyone who is leaving (for whatever reasons) gets a lovely parting gift.

        1. Annie*

          Right–we find out about contracts in January or February, then there’s an end-of-year meeting with gifts for departing teachers. So, the person who has been fired gets praised and given a gift just like the person who is moving on to another school voluntarily or switching careers or whatever. It is very, very strange, since nearly everyone in the room knows who has been fired.

          Still, independent schools often have lots of ideas that seem strange to me about what is “polite” or “respectful.” My high school department has been known interview people we have no intention of hiring but who are, say, part-timers in the middle school because not to do so is “disrespectful.” Again, maybe this is how other businesses work, too, but it always seems strange to me not to find it more disrespectful to waste people’s time at an all-day interview when you’ve already determined that they don’t meet the qualifications for the job.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I have also worked at this school (more than one of them), and also gone to the end of term get together where the tossed out teachers are fake feted. I really miss the farewell speeches the head or department lead has to come up with when it’s just someone they have decided not to hire but it would be controversial to say so flat out. I’ve been one of the teachers who was shoved out and then showered with a really rubbish speech and terrible gift. A colleague came up to me afterwards and said: “Did our head just say you were amazing…. in your previous career”? She got shoved out herself soon afterwards. I’m guessing, obviously.

  19. BellyButton*

    #1 — not directed at LW, just a general rant, this is why people hate HR. So many people have ended up in HR with no knowledge, and apparently, no desire to learn the basics. There is no excuse for anyone in an HR role not to know HR. There are tons of free online information, webinars, classes, and resources to get yourself up to speed. Seriously, Google “religious protection at work” and just read it! There is no excuse for anything like in the letter.

    We have a personal and professional responsibility to get our skills where they need to be to do our job and to continue to grow our skills as our industry (whatever that is for you) grows and changes.

    For anyone who thinks “hey! they are good with people I’ll hire them in HR.” Don’t. HR is no longer employee relations and payroll.

    /gets off soapbox

    1. Phryne*

      ‘There are tons of free online information, webinars, classes, and resources to get yourself up to speed.’
      Counterpoint: HR is a specialty job, and businesses should hire people trained for that job. Or send people to be educated on the subject at an accredited institution. Not put someone in that position and expect that their knowledge from reading free stuff online is adequate.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        THIS. If you appoint somebody to a position like this it’s on you-the-employer to make sure they’re trained for it. They shouldn’t be cobbling it together from YouTube.

      2. MillennialHR*

        I work in HR and have since I graduated college in 2015, so I now have 8 years in HR.

        I completely agree with you. I knew NOTHING when I first started in HR, but I started low-level with basic compliance, and learned while I was there from mentors, supervisors, and I got an advanced degree. There are still many times I pause to think before I answer a question or make a statement because it is ever-evolving and requires continued education. There are so many laws, contracts, etc. to know. Thank you for pointing this out!!!

      3. scandi*

        Taking webinars and online trainings and reading is for further education for someone already trained on the basics (in all fields, really). The maxim “you don’t know what you don’t know” applies to someone coming in empty. They will, since they don’t know any HR, not know what aspects they need to learn about to reach a basic level of competence.

      4. BellyButton*

        Yes, it is. However I have encountered a ton of HR people who had zero training and would put into HR because they are “good with people” My post was directed at those who have found themselves in an HR role without being educated in it.

      5. kiki*

        Yeah, while there is some personal accountability at play here, I think a lot of jobs today seem to think employees will spend hours of their free time getting trained in their job when it should be (and in some fields used to be) an expectation that some time in an employee’s work week will be spent on training. And it was somebody in leadership’s job to make sure all the training necessary was given to and completed by employees.

      6. Justme, The OG*

        Agree. There’s a reason why universities have HR classes and majors and there’s trainings through places like SHRM.

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      It’s hard for me to fathom, because I’m a fed and all the manager (and sometimes the whole workforce) learn this stuff, not just HR. I have to have training every year or 2 on federal protections for the workforce.

    3. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Lying Around*

      It’s hard to get fired where I work (gov adjacent), but over the years a lot of HR people have been walked out in tears. Most common reason: breach of confidentiality. (How do I know? Because they blabbed something and now 500 people know!) 2nd reason: corp counsel insisted they be bounced. Those, I don’t know the specific whys but I bet it’s something like the fool respthis HR gave the LW.

  20. Laurkew*

    I think the answer to #3 is missing the fact that the second position isn’t posted anywhere, thus not anything OP can apply to. Is reaching out logical in that case?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      I think so. I would send an email along the lines of “I applied for [job title 1] a few weeks ago. [Acquaintance] recently told me you were also looking for a [job title 2] and I believe that position is also a good match for my skills. Are you accepting applications for [job title 2]?”

  21. Gan Ainm*

    Alison – I think LW3 is saying the second, preferred role isn’t posted yet, she just saw a job description on LI from an acquaintance, so she cannot apply and is wondering what she can do instead – wait until it’s posted, reach out to the acquaintance, email HR, do nothing, etc.

    LW3, I’d reach out to the acquaintance and ask when it will be posted and go from there.

    1. len*

      Thanks for flagging this, I was confused by that and a little disappointed that this letter got overwhelmed by all the others in the comments. I think you’re right, hope LW3 sees it. Alternately, if Alison’s advice holds even if the job isn’t posted (like, just email cover letter + resume to the company directly I guess?), I’d be glad to know that’s within norms as well!

  22. PotteryYarn*

    Alison said to apply for the unposted position in #3, but it’s currently unposted…? It’s unclear whether she’s saying to wait until it IS posted to apply and then mention OP also applied for a different job in their cover letter or to send their resume and CV through the contact that gave them the unposted job listing or what.

  23. Snooks*

    Mockery in the workplace can’t be justified or tolerated. It makes no difference what the topic is–religion, race, age, body, sexuality, etc.–and should be shut down. Somewhat related is the practice of using “Jesus” or “Christ” as swears.

    1. mlem*

      Mockery certainly shouldn’t be tolerated, but mocking someone for preferring Picard to Kirk isn’t legally actionable. (Which is only to say that the topic does matter in terms of legal liability; a crappy HR would be entirely within *legal* grounds to tolerate or even join in on ship-captain wars.)

      1. HonorBox*

        And in your example (which I love by the way) there’s an opportunity for the person being mocked to push back. If you prefer Kirk and I prefer Picard, we have an opportunity to playfully debate. That said, if it went beyond good-natured, it could be something that HR might need to know about. But that would be far down the road. Mocking someone for their religion puts the “mocked” in a position to not really be able to push back because if they debated, then those doing the mocking would accuse them of proselytizing.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Playfull debate is the key here. If you like Kirk and the other person who likes Picard refuses to work with you because of your insane belief that Kirk is better, then that’s a problem. Its work related.

    2. Sharon*

      Exactly. Even if there was no legal protection in place, a good manager would shut this down. Everybody should act professionally at work and be able to do their job without being mocked for personal reasons by their coworkers. Is this Mean Girls?

      1. Observer*

        Sure. But the fact that HR claims that it’s not a problem proves that they are the definition of BAD management.

    3. Joron Twiner*

      Using “Jesus Christ” as an exclamation is such a wide practice in the English speaking world that I don’t think it can always (or even frequently) be interpreted as mocking of religion. Many religious practitioners themselves or the “culturally Christian” use “oh my god”, “dear lord” or “holy crap” as exclamations too.

  24. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I think OP ought to get this in writing (if it’s not already), or send themselves an email so it’s date and time stamped for when things come Crashing Down at this company. And it also seems like OP really ought to be looking elsewhere for a different job, because this is the kind of thing that could cause a company huge problems, and to be like hot lava on a resume.

    And OP, good on you for sticking up for someone. None of this is okay and I don’t see why anyone ought to pretend it is.

  25. Dust Bunny*

    #1 Is the HR manager one of the people who doesn’t like Jen’s religion? Because that’s a problem in an HR manager, or at least it is if she can’t get past it enough to treat Jen fairly.

    1. HonorBox*

      I was wondering the exact same thing. If the HR manager can’t get past their own (crappy) opinions about religion, what’s to say that they’ll have similar crappy opinions about someone needing ADA accommodations or medical leave?

      1. Observer*

        I don’t necessarily think so. And I also don’t think it matters.

        Think about some of the bonkers cases we’ve seen here. How often do we see HR saying things like “We can’t do anything about it because it’s not illegal” or claiming that something is not illegal because they are too stupid, incompetent or spineless to deal with the issue? And it’s not just HR.

        I mentioned the case of the person who was being deadnamed by a colleague (“out of respect for his mother” no less), and HR refused to do anything about it. When the colleague’s boss got pulled in, he ALSO refused to do anything about it. The reason? Not bigotry, but because he was apparently a spinless idiot who was not willing to actually MANAGE his staff. He refused to lower the boom on someone even though he *knew* that it was going to cause workflow problems. Because he was “non-confrontational” to a fault.

    2. Jessica*

      Yeah, having watched a trans coworker struggle to deal with transphobic HR people, I feel like we all recognize that HR is there to protect the company, not us, but we haven’t also internalized enough that HR people are also in ideal positions to enforce their personal biases.

      1. Observer*

        HR is there to protect the company. But that includes making sure that the company does not do anything blatantly illegal.

        Which is why, OP, you should put your issue into an email and cc your boss, grandboss, and everyone in the HR chain. You might get lucky and someone competent will have a freak attack and do something about this. Even if not, by doing this, you make sure that the company cannot argue that they “did not know” about it. You have the receipts.

        And if there is someone competent in HR who is also willing to be shady, bcc an outside email address when you send the email.

  26. Irish Teacher*

    “However, the HR manager said that Jen’s specific church doesn’t count because there are enough people in the office that have a negative opinion with it and that people are allowed those opinions. That I understand, but I had never heard that what I thought was a protected right could be “outvoted” in the workplace.”

    This makes absolutely no sense! What if there were a lot of men in the office that thought women shouldn’t be allowed to work? Would that HR manager say that meant women’s rights didn’t count because there were enough people in the office with a negative opinion on women? What if there were a large number of people who were against religion in general and didn’t think any religion should be treated as valid? Or a large number of people from a particular religion that considered their faith to be the only true one and all others to “not count”?

    As others have said, surely it is those religions that a lot of people do discriminate against or mock that such laws are intended to protect.

    1. Angstrom*

      They are allowed to *have* those opinions.
      They are not allowed to *express* those opinions in the workplace.
      HR should not try to dictate how people think. It should hold them responsible for their actions.

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        Did you reply to the wrong person? Irish Teacher said nothing about dictating how people think.

  27. HonorBox*

    LW1 – First, kudos to you for standing up for Jen and for what’s right. Second, go straight to the top with this. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Your HR rep is super wrong and Jen has a great case for a lawsuit. It sounds like she’s doing nothing to draw attention to herself and her religion. The fact that people are mocking her about it is awful. What’s next? Someone being mocked for taking parental leave? Being mocked for an ADA accommodation? As Dust Bunny said above, it sounds like the HR rep may themselves have a negative view of Jen’s religion and that ensures that they can’t be a fair voice. This needs to be shut down immediately. And if you take it to whoever is in charge of your entire workplace, you can at least say that you’ve raised it. If Jen tries to sue if it isn’t shut down, you’ve done your part.

    LW2 – “My contract wasn’t renewed” is perfectly neutral. The school administration is being weird about this and doesn’t want to take the heat for a decision that they’ve made. If people are asking you why you’re not returning, you’re just telling them the truth. You shouldn’t have to wordsmith a more neutral answer nor should you have to lie.

  28. Mads*

    I made a noise like a dying balloon at the HR headline. Can’t wait to see if the context is as bad as I think it is!

    Oh WOW. It is. It very is.

    1. JustaTech*

      Like, I thought that one of our former HR heads not knowing that people have religious food restrictions (“Let’s give everyone a ham for Christmas!” “You know some people can’t eat ham for religious reasons, right?” “Really? Who?”), was a pretty basic miss for an HR person, but not understanding how religious protections work?

      That’s a pretty shocking gap in their understanding of the basics of their field!

  29. Salad Daisy*

    I work at a large (5000+ employees) corporation and I absolutely know that the IT department can get into anyone’s computer whether or not they know your password.

    1. Lexie*

      I worked for a very small corporation (under 50) and our IT guy could get into anyone’s computer without their password.

    2. Berkeleyfarm*

      It did sound to me (IT pro) like a place without “an IT department” and the OP has confirmed.

  30. madge*

    Sounds like Jen is about to retire early. I don’t even know how long I’ve been in therapy at this point to address trauma from a cult religious upbringing but the fact remains that disparaging someone’s religion in the US workplace is illegal. There’s not really a gray area and no one gets a vote. Can’t even imagine what other stories OP#1 must have from this place. Wow.

    1. Alisaurus*

      Right? I also wondered how many other complaints have been wrongly dismissed by this HR person (“Your dog is too small to be a service dog” comes to mind).

    2. OP First*

      Y’know, I do have other stories. Another good one was a manager not understanding basic hourly wage (we have a mix of that and salary, role-depending). Boss wasn’t happy about that when they had to pay a very large paycheck to someone.

      it’s not so bad a workplace but there have been weird events when roles change.

  31. Jamjari*

    I think there’s a typo in the response to LW4 – I think it should be “This MUST be shared”. Correct capitalization is IMPORTANT.

  32. MustHavePassword*

    Hi all! I’m OP #4. To clarify, this memo, and it was a paper memo, was dated 2011. And yes, it was (and still is) a relatively small company.

    1. Alisaurus*

      Was the guy even in any sort of management position that he thought he needed employees’ passwords? I saw you wrote he was a former publisher – and though I’m unfamiliar with newspaper hierarchy, it doesn’t seem like he’d be one to /need/ access to office employees’ computers.

      1. MustHavePassword*

        Hi Alisaurus! He was the owner and publisher, which means he was the big big boss. He was a stomp-y, blustering kind of guy who yes, did expect to be able to go into everyone’s computers for any and all reasons. His office was also physically in the same space as all his tormented reporters and editors so he could have his fingers in all the pies. There was no IT (we have great IT now).

    2. J*

      That’s definitely a point where I’d expect some sort of collaborative environment, though I also understand why they likely didn’t. But definitely a memo worthy of some laughs.

  33. rosieinlondon*

    I’m glad that Alison acknowledged a common but often ignored issue in Letter 1 – *so many* HR people end up in HR not because they have the skills or the training for it, but because it lands on their desk and someone says do it. You wouldn’t ask a customer service rep to start balancing the books but if you work in anything vaguely operations-y you sometimes end up as ‘the HR person’ whether you want to or not, and often you’re left to pursue training on your own terms. Not to defend the actions of that HR rep bc holy heck, that’s bad, BUT it’s relatively common for people to end up in HR without the amount of training you’d expect for other support/functional roles.
    -signed, an HR rep who got into this field in this literal exact way.

    1. Amalfi*

      HR is a super broad field. It covers everything from protecting employees from discrimination (well, protecting the company from lawsuits) to coordinating hiring processes. I think some HR people choose HR or end up in HR to do the latter but not the former. If a company has only one HR person, there’s no telling whether they can do the entire job.
      Employees really need to understand the different kinds of HR roles. I had a problem at a previous company that needed HR intervention, and I only knew one HR guy. SO I called him. He told me he couldn’t help me. I didn’t have a lot of experience with HR and I am extremely literal and only understand the words that are spoken out loud, so I didn’t understand that he couldn’t help bc he was the wrong type of HR and I just needed to call someone else.
      Knowing that every HR person doesn’t know everything about HR would be really helpful to people like earlier me and LW1 when someone tells us something off. You wouldn’t call an ASIC designer ask how to wire your house bc those are different kinds of circuits, so don’t let someone who primarily handles benefits administration tell you about employee protections, you know?

  34. Alisaurus*

    1: Can the LW or other coworkers claim a hostile workplace? Since religious harassment is included in that, and the wording says it “must be severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive,” does it have to be aimed at you to give you the standing to make that claim? I know sexual harassment can include comments made around you that you’re uncomfortable with but can’t exactly get away from. Is that the same here?

    I doubt this HR person would take that claim seriously either, but maybe it could give LW another path to approaching this – on top of, “This is actually textbook religious harassment and it legally needs to stop.”

    1. Veryanon*

      My understanding of religious harassment is that it’s very similar to sexual harassment in the sense that a 3rd party can also make a claim; e.g., not the person that is the target of the harassing behavior, but a 3rd person witnessing the behavior. At the very least, the employer is now officially on notice that the behavior is occurring, and has a legal obligation to investigate and address the issue.

  35. Veryanon*

    Oh my stars and garters, that first letter. Yeesh. This is what happens when companies don’t have trained HR people doing HR.

    1. Rainy*

      My first husband was a software dev, I’ve had a lot of friends over the years who worked in tech, and I’m aware of a truly startling number of startups/smaller tech companies where someone’s relative who couldn’t hack teaching elementary school ended up doing their HR stuff. And they were always predictably bad at dealing with anything that wasn’t pushing paperwork (and sometimes also the paperwork).

      It’s almost like HR is an actual field of endeavour with standards and norms.

      1. JustaTech*

        When my in-laws finally sold their small business a year ago my husband and I helped them go through everything to get it cleaned up to sell (like painting your house to take photos for Zillow). And my MIL, who had retired years ago, decided to step back into her old role of payroll/accounting/HR. (She has formal training in none of these things.)

        The number of times that we, also not HR professionals, had to say “no, you can’t write that in the handbook, that’s a violation of state/federal law” was really amazing. We kept directing her to the state department of labor website, and Evil HR Lady and finally said “please just outsource this before you get sued”. And she was *trying* to do the right thing!

        1. Rainy*

          Oh jeez. I bet that was nerve-wracking. Yeah, of course people can learn HR, but first they have to understand that it’s neither “whatever seems like common sense” nor “whatever suits me”. :)

  36. Rainy*

    With the caveat that I personally think it is much more likely that Jen is a member of a locally-unpopular faith than that she is in an actual cult, I want to address some of the “oh but what if she’s in a cult, why can’t I express my concerns about someone being in a cult” comments I’m seeing upthread.

    Speaking as someone who grew up in a cult and escaped at 17, I really wish people would treat everyone with respect in the workplace no matter their faith. I am strongly opposed to groups that perpetrate religious abuse upon their adherents (probably much more strongly than the average AAM commenter, because of my experience), but my actual lived experience of being raised in a cult tells me that when you say “I’m going to treat this coworker badly so they understand that their religious affiliation is unacceptable and that I’m concerned about their well-being,” you accomplish neither of those goals, and you break the law, to boot.

    There are ways to make sure that people who want to leave a cult can do so, but none of them involve cruelty and verbal or emotional abuse. And you also need to accept that some people will never want to leave. They like it there, they get something out of it, and you aren’t going to be able to berate or abuse them into leaving.

    1. Victoria Everglot*

      Thanks for saying this. When trying to help someone in these situations, it’s important to remember that when you push someone, they get farther away from you just like they would if you pushed them physically. The more you push, the closer they’ll get to the person or group you’re trying to rescue them from. And mocking and being cruel are never good ways to tell someone you’re concerned so anybody saying “I’m just trying to get her out” would be incredibly disingenuous.

    2. Elsewise*

      This is why everyone I’ve ever talked to who is a former member of certain famous door-to-door proselytizing religions tells you not to try to “epic pwn” the people sent to your door. That just gives the religion more ammunition to tell their members that everyone outside of the group is evil and hates you. Mocking someone’s beliefs has never gotten them out of a high-control religion or cult.

      1. Zarniwoop*

        I don’t mock, I just say “No thanks, we’re satisfied with our current provider.”

    3. Observer*

      There are ways to make sure that people who want to leave a cult can do so, but none of them involve cruelty and verbal or emotional abuse.

      Well, gee whodathunk!? /snark

      This is 100% true and it’s infuriating that you even need to say this.

      And you also need to accept that some people will never want to leave. They like it there, they get something out of it, and you aren’t going to be able to berate or abuse them into leaving.

      Also true. And if ~~you *actually* and *really* care about the person and their welfare you will also respect their autonomy and agency.

      ~~Generic you, not @Rainy

      1. Rainy*

        The problem is that what it does involve is having a robust social safety net with a low barrier to entry. :/ Everyone wants an end to cults, but no one wants to vote for candidates who will establish the kind of safety net that would allow people to leave abusive groups (of any kind!). I’ve had many arguments with friends who assumed I’d agree with them about, for example, forcibly removing children from cult parents and placing them with adoptive parents, or jailing people in cults to “fix” them, etc and some of those friendships have ended as a result. The YFZ showdown about 15 years ago marked the end of several long-term if not super close friendships. Sometimes people want to trot you out to endorse their opinion and if you won’t either verbally agree with them or remain silent to allow them to continue assuming, they have no further use for you.

    4. OP First*

      this is well-said and I appreciate it as well. I will say enough that Jen’s religion is not a cult (beyond the definition of “I don’t like them so I’ll call them a cult”).

      I have my own spiritual beliefs and rarely begrudge anyone theirs, even if it waxes “cultish”, so that’s what got me uncomfortable enough to talk to HR.

  37. Nomi*

    If someone is experiencing abuse, mocking them does not help them find safety. Doesn’t matter if the abuser is a partner, a parent, or a religious group.

    1. Victoria Everglot*

      Mocking just proves the abusive party right: “look, everyone that isn’t me/us is so mean and nasty!”

  38. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

    Can we please stop with the comments that Jen is a member of a cult like church. We do not know that for sure. This is all speculation. All we know is “Jen” belongs to a certain church, big enough in size to be recognizable and certainly recognizable as an official religion. ”

    By calling someone’s religion a cult and claiming they may be abused or traumatized is doing the same thing that OP’s coworkers are.

    1. Victoria Everglot*

      It’s pretty fanfic-y! Literally all we know about Jen is that she has a religion and other people don’t like it.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Even if it is an actual cult, as long as she isn’t trying to force it upon her co-workers she’s within her right to practice that religion.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      And it doesn’t even strike me as probable from the letter itself. There is nothing to suggest that her religion even has a bad reputation in general. All we know is that a number of her coworkers have a negative impression of it. There could be many reasons for that, from them belonging to a religion with very different views (such as they belong to a church that takes the Bible literally and she belongs to one that does not or vice versa) or her religion is associated with immigrants or members of a minority race that they are prejudiced against or her religion isn’t a Christian one and therefore is sidelined, if she lives in a majority Christian country or her religion is one that has been misrepresented in fiction and people take that misrepresentation seriously.

      I mean, not that their reactions would be OK even if she were a member of a church that isolated its members or scammed them of money or abused them or harrassed anybody who tried to leave.

    4. OP First*

      Thanks. I felt I had to specify that in my letter to attempt to avoid “but what if it’s a cult?!” musings, but here we are.

      for the record, I don’t think it’s okay even if they were.

  39. Mothman*

    LW 2: If you can, get out of private schools and into public ones–and join the union! I taught at both, and while public schools are far from perfect, they are not above the law like private schools seem to be. Not renewing your contract is, of course, legal. But the things they did…ugh. Plus, public schools pay more.

    Mine told me I couldn’t tell anyone, parents, kids, or COWORKERS, that I was getting divorced. They got really, really mad when I told the security guard I thought my ex might enter the school for nefarious reasons, as he knew the best way to hurt me was to hurt my kids. They would rather have the kids in danger that have something like that (like what??) known. They then tried to fire me because my divorce was embarrassing to them. This wasn’t a religious school.

    Public schools can be a nightmare, but you have far more rights, especially if unionized.

    Good luck, and keep being honest! Those parents DESERVE the truth!

  40. Reading Weaver*

    This may have been mentioned; I haven’t had time to read all the responses Letter Writer 3.
    You may certainly say “The school has asked me to not disclose the reason.”

    1. HonorBox*

      The only issue with that is that it may be assumed that LW was somehow being terminated for doing something wrong.

        1. Reading Weaver*

          Yes, Lexie, that was my thought. I’ve seen this in two schools and that wording has led parents to believe it was the administration that was pulling something; the teachers were not thought to have been fired.

  41. what the nope*

    Problems like #1 are why I almost considered joining the Satanic Temple. My beliefs are not represented by an organized group with legal power and having a little bite in my bark could be useful.

  42. PlainJane*

    On LW1… is it possible that HR is unclear on whether something is discussion or harassment and has come to a different conclusion than LW? (Note, for the record: I would define EXTREMELY broadly and put the kibosh on anything that’s might make a worker uncomfortable. I’m just trying to understand the situation.)

    Eg, if the situation is, “The Jedi are such idiots! Hey, Luke, are you going do some MAGIC to SHUT US UP about it?” (sniggering laughter) then the situation is clear, and HR obviously needs to step in.

    But what if the situation is one that is not involving Luke directly–just two other employees talking about the news–“God, the Jedi screwed up, didn’t they? I hear they goaded one of their own until he basically blew up and now the whole galaxy is a mess.” And then HR hears it and says, “Well, they’re just conversing among themselves about an opinion.” Only it’s every day, and always conspicuously in Luke’s earshot. Is that harassment? (Me: YES. Stop it. But that could be what’s going on?)

    1. Observer*

      It doesn’t really matter. Because the HR person is not incorrectly concluding that the latter is not harassment. Rather they said that it does not MATTER. Specifically, the OP says that “he HR manager said that Jen’s specific church doesn’t count because there are enough people in the office that have a negative opinion with it“. Which means that even if they are directly addressing Jen, it’s still OK because there are enough people who don’t like the Jedi that the Jedi are not protected under the law.

      1. PlainJane*

        A valid point. Of course, I’m inclined to side with any point that says, “YOU CAN’T DO THIS.” But I’m trying to understand how in the world an HR person would say something like that in the first place.

  43. Anne Wentworth*

    It sounds like LW2 really needed to finish the year and didn’t have the ability to push back, but I wish they had the freedom to say “my contract wasn’t renewed and the school has threatened to fire me immediately if I share that with any more people,” instead of trying to smooth things over on the school’s behalf. Hopefully enough parents knew that they could spread the word.

  44. Thebigconspiracypassword*

    The password post reminded me of a time…
    So I had a manager who accessed people’s computers while they were away for no discernable reason other than snoop emails. So….. my friend started emailing me about a possible murder she has witnessed and didn’t want it tied to her because he frightened her so she wanted me to report a missing person to the RCMP….. A couple of weeks would go by and I would report a strange man following me and other such nonsense.( I am 3 time zones away so email was always sporadic because we both had a stressful job… so getting an email was like Xmas with the details she would add). I went on holidays and first thing when I came back I deleted all of “her” emails as Manager was walking by.
    She asked me how the holiday was, I said we had had to change plans a lot as we were it seems followed?
    We stopped it. A few weeks go by and my manager asks me about “friend” Frieda… who I said, I can’t talk about it…
    I was always ready for the big crazy when “Frieda” would email “lettuce shipment confiscated Police are here” in the subject matter and in the body of the email font 2 would state …”tell no one” then we won’t email for weeks.
    When the Manager left the Supervisor and I had a chat and she repeated the details to me to ask if everything was okay and discuss worker safety. Well I told her and she laughed until she cried.

      1. Amalfi*

        Thebigconspiracypassword told us a story about how she pranked her snoopy, password-having, email-reading boss.

      2. Moryera*

        If I’m reading it right, it sounds like they were emailing a made-up crime mystery back and forth with a friend to mess with their nosy manager.

  45. Observer*

    #1 – Terrible HR who thinks religious harassment is ok.

    My temptation is to ask for this policy in writing.

    Might be a good idea.

    Seriously, you want to make sure they don’t have “plausible deniability” here.

  46. Johannes Bols*

    For the guy demanding everybody’s passwords (I know this was 1988) I would’ve changed my password to: GUYWHOWROTETHEMEMOisapowertrippinwankerwhoprollylivesinhismothersbasement.

    Problem solved!

  47. Brain the Brian*

    Honestly, the grammar and word choice alone in that letter are enough to provide grounds for firing a newspaper publisher. Whew.

  48. Former teacher*

    OP2, something similar happened to me. I worked in a small, private school, and was given a mentor, since I was a new teacher, and instructions from the headmaster to do what my mentor told me to do, and he and my mentor would meet regularly so she could update him on my progress, etc. I was fine with that.

    My mentor and I got along well and in the second semester, we developed an extra credit project for my students that took them weeks to complete. The day they finished it, the headmaster called me into his office and told me it was unacceptable, and I had to tell all the students that they wouldn’t receive any credit for it. I was stunned, but I told my next class what the headmaster said, not knowing that the headmaster expected me to take personal responsibility for the decision to deny the students credit for their work. I told the truth instead.

    Before the day was out, I was handed a “resignation” letter and told to sign it or the headmaster would make life miserable for me. It essentially stated that I resigned for mental health issues. I was very young and, by that point, scared, so I signed it.

    After I left, my mentor got all of my classes, and the students received full credit for their projects. The administration of small, private schools still baffles me.

  49. Danielle K.*

    #4 – tell me you don’t understand computers without telling me “I don’t understand computers”

    In a time when Facebook existed – it’s way too odd to be demanding computer log in credentials!!!

    1. Observer*

      You’ve got to be kidding.

      There is nothing about social media in general, and facebook in particular that helps people “understand computers” in a workplace context. And the who “digital native” trope, if that’s what you are referring to, was nonsense that made the lives of actual IT professionals very, very difficult.

  50. Berkeleyfarm*

    I am an IT ops person who does security. You can imagine my reaction to #4.

    At one point when I was interviewing I heard through the grapevine that some firms were asking for creds for socials during the interviewing process. I was fully prepared to ask for bank passwords in return. Fortunately it didn’t come up.

  51. SB*

    Company computers are company property & they have the right to access them at any time they need to. I would have thought it would be common practice to have the IT team or a manager know passwords so information remains accessible even in someone’s absence?

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