update: my boss talks about religion every day

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. 

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose boss talked about religion every day? Here’s the update.

I wrote in a couple of years ago regarding my boss who wouldn’t stop bringing up religion to me and wouldn’t stop touching me. I love hearing everyone’s updates this time of year, so I thought I’d add my own.

After I wrote in, things with my boss got worse, she continued to touch me and make religious and sexual comments (not in the same comments, so I guess that’s good?), and then told me it was just my opinion when I told her it was all inappropriate (thank you again, Alison and commentariat, your advice and belief that this was actually happening and not okay helped me speak up).

I hoped this would be the end of all this since I’d confronted her and she said she’d stop, but I made the decision to report her to HR about this after she said she’d need to tell our team (who I’d never met in person) that I hated to be touched when they’re all like her and love hugs and are very “tactile” and touch freely. She also started to cancel meetings and leave me out of important emails, as well as be rude to me, so I wanted documentation in case she continued to retaliate.

HR stated the investigation was inconclusive since we were working away from everyone else and there were no witnesses. I was also told I needed to learn to “lean in” to my discomfort by the HR rep after she met with my boss, and that it’s okay for people to want to know me better and I shouldn’t be so closed off.

I stayed on the job for another nine months, during which I was “subtly” retaliated against: talked down to, left out of email chains pertinent to my work, directions on work changed and me told I was mistaken on expectations after completing it, having to answer her Slack and email messages within 10/15 minutes no matter what, etc. Nothing that felt actionable. This eventually culminated in me being put on a PIP when my boss claimed to HR that I lied to her about a communication. I was not asked about this or talked to, they took her story at face value immediately.

The PIP was finally it for me, I didn’t care about the job hopping anymore, I just needed out and to not feel so insane. I was having multiple panic attacks a day, couldn’t sleep, and this was messing with my personal life and relationships. I applied to multiple jobs and quickly heard back from a company I’d wanted to work for since 2018. The job was in an area I was much better suited for and the benefits were amazing.

I interviewed and within two weeks I’d been offered that position for the same amount of money I was making at my previous job. I put in a week’s notice and never looked back.

I’ve been at the new job for well over a year now and I am beyond content. My team is amazing and my boss is beyond supportive. He has ensured that I am given all the tools I need to succeed and has helped me regain my confidence. I have received glowing praise at every opportunity and had the opportunity to lead a project that positively impacted our entire department. I also received a raise pretty soon in, and am on track to receive another one very soon. On the personal front, things are also better than ever, as I’m getting married next year!

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. A Simple Narwhal*

    Ugh sorry you had to go through all of that but I’m so happy you’ve landed in a much better place!

  2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    OMG — lean into it. Your boss was harassing you and retaliating against you. I guess you were supposed to just shrug and go no really talk religion and stroke me all you want. UGH.

    So glad you found a better place.

    1. ferrina*

      Yeah, this company sounds super awful. Just “lean in” to the harassment. Ew.

      I’m glad LW is in a much better company now!

  3. Little Blue Dune Buggy*

    Touching anyone at work is so weird. I don’t even like tapping a shoulder to get someone’s attention.

    1. RC*

      And what I’m hearing is this isn’t even the same workplace as that weird “love languages but for business” workplace??? Oy…

    2. Tisserande d'Encre*

      Seriously! Physical contact at work needs to be explicitly, verbally opted-into by all parties (e.g. when some coworkers I’d been working with for months remotely visited my office, we exchanged quick hugs before they left for the airport)

    1. WellRed*

      Right I was hoping that she had but that’s easier said than done! Glad she got the hell away from that nut factory.

    2. François Caron*

      I wished they had sued. It could have encouraged other victims to do the same.

      1. metadata minion*

        That’s easy to say, but downplays *why* people often don’t sue — even if it’s an obvious case, it’s a drawn-out, stressful, potentially expensive process.

        1. ferrina*

          And it sounds like this might have been hard to prove. HR was protecting the boss, and it wasn’t clear if LW had any hard evidence of what was happening. Boss was making sure the retaliation was unproveable, and I suspect Boss also made the harassment hard to prove too. LW might have had an uphill battle for a court case.

          Sometimes getting away is the best thing. It’s okay to just get out and survive.

    3. Random Dice*

      You actually don’t have to sue, which is costly, though the initial lawyer consultation is free.

      You can submit a state discrimination complaint. Those can result in a settlement, and depending on the state aren’t publicly findable without someone already knowing about it and requesting a specific record (unlike the courts which are open records).

      You have so much evidence.

  4. HugeTractsofLand*

    Ughhhh I am so frustrated on your behalf! This was a one-two punch of a terrible boss and terrible HR, and I’m so sorry that they affected your health before you could get out. You definitely could have dropped the term “illegal” and “illegal retaliation” around, but that might have been even more stressful. Congratulations on the new job and your engagement!

  5. Bruise Campbell*

    That sucks though that she got to get away with being creepy and is probably doing it to someone else.

  6. Observer*

    Oh wow! Yeah, that was terrible HR and a dysfunctional company. I’m so glad you are out of there!

  7. Dust Bunny*

    Well, I’m crawling out of my skin.

    I’m sorry this job sucked so badly. Glad you got out.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      Same! I had the cringes just reading all of this. So sorry the LW had to go through that and happy for the positive ending.

  8. Evan*

    Wow, this is great to hear! I just also read your previous post and no one should have to be subjected to that at work. I’m glad you found happiness in a much better environment and congrats on your up and coming marriage!

  9. Ess Ess*

    I really wish you’d spoken to an employment attorney about the illegal harassment and retaliation. Now that you are out of there, you might be more comfortable now pursuing action for forcing you out and should at least talk to an employment attorney now.

    1. Leenie*

      If the LW wants to do that, fantastic. I’d totally support that, and she has a better case than many. But the cost/benefit is still iffy, so I’d never say that I’d *wish* that she’d do something like that. It’s the LW’s life and she’s completely within her rights to be happy to move on, and not want to endure further disruption.

  10. Goldenrod*

    “I was also told I needed to learn to “lean in” to my discomfort by the HR rep after she met with my boss, and that it’s okay for people to want to know me better and I shouldn’t be so closed off.”

    F*cking HR, man. And not only that, they put you on a PIP! That is some massive gaslighting.

    “On the personal front, things are also better than ever, as I’m getting married next year!”

    Oh, so you DO like to be touched? Make up your mind, which is it, OP? I’m glad HR’s guidance helped you to open up more. ;p

  11. Corporate Events in NYC*

    I’m a touchy feely person – but not at work. And then only with those that I’m close to and even then I ask permission first. I’m like the original poster, I’m not into random hugs from people I may not even like. I shouldn’t have to accept that. BTW I’m a middle aged male just in case context is needed.

  12. pally*

    No one would have blamed you if you’d burned this bridge.

    “Lean in” to the discomfort? I don’t think so.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      I vote we leave “lean in” as a corporate buzzword concept in the 00s, maybe even the 10s.

      Because its never used for good.

    2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I don’t even understand what that was supposed to mean. “Lean in” to your discomfort? Did they mean the discomfort was something to embrace? It makes no sense to me!

  13. WantonSeedStitch*

    “Lean into the discomfort” is an appropriate response to someone who’s saying “hearing people talk about the bad things white people do is making me uncomfortable.” It’s not an appropriate response to someone who’s saying “my boss is behaving inappropriately to me at work and is retaliating against me when I speak up.”

    1. Yes And*

      This is the correct take on that “lean in” remark. Appropriating the language of DEI to justify religious and physical harassment is some next-level fecal matter of a male bovine.

    2. Reebee*

      Why your first sentence? Does everything here have to be reduced to a particular demographic? Makes no sense for anyone to use that as a comparable example. None.

      1. len*

        I dunno, it helped me make sense of what HR was thinking in giving that advice. I was struggling to see how “lean in” wasn’t a complete non-sequitur but I think this commenter is right that it comes (misguidedly and offensively) from that kind of sentiment.

      2. JSPA*

        Because that’s one broadly familiar setting where people supportively encourage each other to “lean into the discomfort,” because it’s merely the discomfort of recognizing one’s past ignorance of certain social patterns, and integrating those truths into one’s map of how the world works. (Rather than, say, any actual source of danger, trigger of trauma, or any sort of individualized blame.)

        Similar discussions occur around the treatment of other marginalized or undervalued groups (unhoused, living with trauma, ex-incarcerated… it’s a long list. But given the demographic skew of this site’s readership, is pretty normal to use an example that’ll resonate with a large percentage of the readership, not a small sliver.

      3. Good Enough For Government Work*

        It was an excellent example. Find something else ‘woke’ to whinge about.

      4. Elle*

        IDK, based on your reaction, it kind of sounds like something YOU need to hear.

        It’s like a toddler getting grumpy when bedtime is brought up.

  14. Typing All The Time*

    I’m glad you got out of there, OP. Are you able to post something on Glassdoor?

  15. Lacey*

    I’m so glad you’re out! But so sorry you had to go through all that, none of it is ok.

  16. Bringerofbrownies*

    “talked down to, left out of email chains pertinent to my work, directions on work changed and me told I was mistaken on expectations after completing it, having to answer her Slack and email messages within 10/15 minutes no matter what, etc. Nothing that felt actionable. This eventually culminated in me being put on a PIP when my boss claimed to HR that I lied to her about a communication. I was not asked about this or talked to, they took her story at face value immediately.”

    Is there a handbook or something? Because dang if it isn’t an actual play-by-play of abusive and toxic workplaces everywhere. Like, seriously. I’m surprised (and not, ugh) that the tactics are always, always the same.

  17. Everything Bagel*

    How totally revolting! I’m so sorry you went through that. I can’t believe your HR told you to lean in to religious discussions and physical touch from your manager and potentially other coworkers. Are they all in a cult? Gross. Glad you got out!

  18. Jinni*

    LW I’m so sorry it didn’t resolve as it should. This reminds me of something that happened to me many, many years ago. I complained to my college that the woman next door to me blasted music, stayed up all night partying, etc., and I needed quiet to study. I was told I needed to lean into being more open and social.

    I kind of don’t understand why people don’t want to hold boundaries in the places where it’s appropriate to do so.

  19. Project Maniac-ger*

    “Everyone else likes it!” Is 1. Not a valid reason to continue to do something and 2. Probably not true in a power dynamic, such as a boss doing Weird Ass Shit.

  20. Ghee Buttersnaps*

    As an HR person, I am frequently horrified by some of the stuff I hear about other HR people doing. Where on earth do they even FIND these people?? And it sounds like this kind of crap isn’t even that unusual!

  21. Beth*

    Your old boss sucked, your old HR sucked even more, and I am SO glad you got out to a better place!

  22. KK*

    If it wasn’t so cringe-y, I’d be tempted to return the favor…..rub her back, play with her hair, arm around the shoulders. When it gets too much for her & she pushes back (literally or not), I’d say “Oh you don’t like that? ME EITHER!”

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I wouldn’t be so sure about that reaction, she was obviously trying to push sexual boundaries. You’re right about it being hard to overcome the cringe instinct.

  23. Ellen Ripley*

    Great job getting yourself out of there! And I’m so glad to hear you’re thriving at your new job. I hope you are really proud of yourself, because what you did isn’t easy! :)

  24. Wagging my tail all the way to Work*

    OP, as someone who has learnt to never discuss religion, politics or anything like that at work, I was reading your letter with increasing horror!
    It wouldn’t be acceptable from a peer, let alone your manager who has so much power over your job and wellbeing at work. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

    And what was up with that HR department? This is the umpteenth story here about negligent HR staff. Surely there must be good ones out there, but they seem very rare.

    Good for you, OP, for getting out of that toxic environment and creating a joyous work environment for yourself. And many congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

  25. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    Ugh, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. Your former HR was not only wrong but clearly in cahoots with your manager. Sounds like the whole place was full of bees and you’re much better off in your new job.

  26. Prok*

    Wow, bees all the way down there. I’m so glad you got out, OP!

    I’m also super curious about your mentor who was friends with your ex-boss. Did she know ex-boss was like this? If you feel comfortable talking about it (with details), you might give her a heads-up, not only to inform but also maybe find out if your mentor accepts that kind of behavior. That’d be good to know going forward in that relationship.

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