My Boss Dislikes Christians. Hostile Workplace?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about religious discrimination.

My employer openly admits to disliking Christians even though this person knows my faith. I’m now uncomfortable to be at work. Is this considered a hostile work environment?

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

We’re not attorneys, so we can’t provide you with the complete legal information you might need. However, Internet resources provide quite a bit of information about Equal Employment Opportunity issues. According to the government website, the general definition of a hostile work environment is one in which words, actions or other situations, create a “severe or pervasive” hostile or abusive work environment based on a protected status (and religion is one of those). It would also be illegal for your boss to prevent you from being promoted based solely on the fact that you are a Christian in your religious faith. However, the fact that your boss has said he doesn’t like Christians or any other religion, doesn’t necessarily make your workplace hostile. “Severe and pervasive” would describe unprovoked, very frequent negative remarks or other actions, focused specifically on your faith.

A phrase that is often used to describe a hostile work environment, is that there is a “pattern” of words and actions. So, it will be up to you to consider if the situation has reached that point.Questions you might ask yourself: On almost a daily basis are remarks, jokes or disparaging comments being made about Christians? Does it seem that you are routinely treated much worse than others and you believe it can be proven to be based on your faith? Has your boss ever implied that you would not receive a promotion or a pay raise, because he doesn’t want to give them to a Christian? Are you being kept from doing your job because of your boss’s bias.

Those are all things that might indicate a severe problem.You would also want to make sure you are not considered to be creating an offensive environment because of your own behavior. For example, it has been viewed in some courts as harassing when a Christian employee frequently engages in discussion and arguments about faith-based issues. Inviting people to church repeatedly, when they have said they don’t want to go, has also been viewed as harassing. We receive many letters from people who complain about coworkers who interject their faith into most conversations at work. So, it can work both ways.

A final thing to consider is the size of your business. Employers with less than 15 full-time employees are not usually covered by EEO laws.If your boss is the owner of the business you probably don’t have anyone to complain to. But, if there is someone higher than your boss, you may think it would be worth it to go higher to express your concerns. Or, perhaps you could just say something to him the next time he makes a remark. You could say, “Lee, I wish you wouldn’t say things that you know will make me feel like you’re putting me down or criticizing me. I thought we had a better relationship than that.” Or, “Are you saying that to make me feel badly?”

Sometimes people need to be put on the spot.You may want to talk to your pastor or a friend who shares your faith, and see if they have ideas for how you can deal with the situation. Or, if you think you have a legal case, you could contact the EEOC by looking up their information on the Internet, or you could contact an attorney about it. You may decide you will have to leave this work and find another job where you won’t feel so uncomfortable.

There are many variables to this type of situation, so you will probably find it helpful to write out all of the details, with examples of exactly what you think reached the level of being harassing or hostile. You will need something like that anyway if you take the matter further, and it might help you clarify things in your own mind.Best wishes with this situation.

More Thoughts: How “openly” and how often has your employer expressed her/his dislike of Christians? When did you become aware of that dislike? In what ways and words did she/he “admit to disliking Christians”? Did she/he refer to Christians as being stupid or failing to live up to their faith? Get my point? Simply acknowledging one’s religious belief or doubt is not creating a hostile work environment? Have you or your Christian coworkers made an issue of your belief, such as wearing a cross, posting Bible verses, talking about your faith and prayer? Have you or your Christian coworkers criticized nonbelievers for the way they vote, gamble, dress or express their sexual preferences?

Have you or your Christian coworkers spoken to any other coworkers about coming to your church or them going to hell? As Christmas or Easter or other holy days have approached have you and others requested time off or celebrated them within your work space? Some Christians believe so zealously in their desire to share the Gospel that they make nonbelievers uncomfortable. We occasionally have gotten questions from employees whose boss employs and promotes only Christians and who invites them to Bible study. Guess who is uncomfortable in such a workplace. Get my point?

I’m not assuming that you have been anything but an exemplary employee who has kept your faith quiet, but could it be that some employees have not? Might this be the reason your employer has “openly” admitted he dislikes Christians? Was there not some incident that brought that subject up? Apparently your workplace is not large, and therefore you know your employer. For some reason he/she has “openly’ admitted a dislike for Christians. If your employer has disparaged and/or made a joke about your faith, even once I hope you have told him that is unkind. If he has done that frequently you need to tell him that is harassment and he should stop it. Topics such as one’s faith or doubt apparently are not out of bounds. Occasional mention of them has not interfered with your company’s business.

Few of us do separate our beliefs or lack of them from our work, nor should we have to. Might these thoughts give you some courage to confront your employer if he does belittle Christians or to simply laugh him off as one who doesn’t have the good manners you do? I predict that if you do your job well and are a cooperative employee that your employer will value you because you are adding value to her/his company. And by never even mentioning your belief, you will convince your employer you are one Christian that should not be disliked. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and in your case, that means not allowing faith or doubt to sour what you are hired to do.

William Gorden