Quoting scripture at work

by Evil HR Lady on April 3, 2012

Dear Evil HR lady,

I have a supervisor that constantly recites scripture to me – especially if he feels  our department is in a particularly nasty situation. It is getting very old. I went to our HR director, and her response was “do you want me to say something to him”?

Is that even an appropriate question to ask?

Of course this is an appropriate question to ask. Some people just want to complain but do not want anything really done. They don’t want anything done because that will require confessing (<–gratuitous religious term thrown in for fun) that they have a problem with their supervisor. The supervisor then knows that you don’t like him and that is never pleasant.

Now, what you’re probably thinking is, “This is religious discrimination! It’s illegal and I want it to stop right now. Why else would I have come to you?” Right?

Now, keeping in mind that I am not an attorney, nor do I play on on the internet, but actual scripture quoting isn’t illegal. What is illegal is discriminating against someone on the basis of their religion (or lack thereof). If you’re being treated fairly, and everyone else is being treated fairly, it’s not really more than a minor annoyance, like someone else who likes to quote Beetles tunes or something. The EEOC defines religious discrimination as follows:

It is illegal to harass a person because of his or her religion.

Harassment can include, for example, offensive remarks about a person’s religious beliefs or practices. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

It doesn’t say annoying scripture quoting is illegal. The question is, is it so frequent or severe that it’s causing a hostile environment?

So, the HR person is just assessing, “Is this a real problem or not?” If you say, “I don’t want you to do anything,” what you’re saying is, “This is a mild annoyance but it doesn’t rise to the level of discrimination.” If you say, “Yes, I’d like you to say something,” it means, “This is a real problem.”

So, say, “Yes, I would like you to talk to him. In fact, I am nervous about being treated unfairly because I don’t share the same religious beliefs.” And then the HR director will go from there. But if you don’t speak up anything, don’t blame her for not doing anything.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

StellsBells April 3, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Sounds like the OP doesn’t realize how many people come to HR just to vent about things that they don’t really want to do anything about. They think we’re their counselors or something.

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Evil HR Lady April 3, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Yes, lots of venting. Lots of, “Fix this, but don’t tell anyone I said anything!”

I haven’t ever had a habit of quoting scripture at work but I enjoy a good doctrinal discussion. I had a manager once who used to corner me and quote scriptures at me and I just quoted right back until I had his theological knees shaking.

I would have worried about my job, but I went to the same church as this guy’s boss. Ha! I win.

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StellsBells April 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Haha! Love that!

I keep a quote board on my desk, but I try to stick with secular quotes, just in case. Our employees love to find something to complain about, especially since I work in HR.

Whenever people doubt the insanity that is “life in HR” I always explain how when we expanded our dress code policy to include capris, we had a complaint filed 2 days later (and therefore had to amend the policy) because women were allowed to wear capris but not men.

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Evil HR Lady April 3, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I shudder to think about men in capris.

Really people, men and women are different.

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StellsBells April 4, 2012 at 12:24 am

I’m just glad they haven’t complained about dresses and skirts yet!

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Gene April 4, 2012 at 6:47 pm

The only place I don’t wear a kilt is at work. Since I work in the right of way I have to wear long pants.

If I move to an office job, you can bet I’ll wear one to work!

Andy Lester April 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm

I’m surprised that you’re OK with all the scripture quoting, since you’re the one with the devil horns and tail in your logo! :-)

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Evil HR Lady April 3, 2012 at 11:16 pm

We evil types know scripture better than you righteous types. :>)

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The gold digger April 5, 2012 at 1:34 am

I learned very quickly not to get into Bible discussions with Baptists. I am Catholic. Baptists beat us into the ground with scripture knowledge.

They also know all the hymns by heart.

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Sara April 3, 2012 at 11:32 pm

I have the opposite problem – my scripture-quoter complains to me all the time about how her co-workers (who also report to me) are Satan worshippers (usually because they have wronged or slighted her in some way – it’s often vague). Then when I ask, “Do you want me to talk to them?” she says no. Do I *really* have to listen to her? If she just wants to complain, can’t she save it for her therapist?

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Evil HR Lady April 3, 2012 at 11:51 pm

It’s probably wrong of me to be amused that he believes her coworkers are Satan worshippers. I mean, I worked for big pharma for 8 years and never met any real Satan worshippers and if they aren’t in pharma, where are they?

You are in a tricky situation because if it is a real problem and they are purposely slighting he because of her religious beliefs and you ignore it, it’s a problem. Chances are they are slighting her either accidentally or because she’s annoying.

But, I would tell her, “Until you are ready for me to take action, I don’t need to hear anything else about this. I am happy to take action if needed, but since you do not wish this to happen, I can do nothing for you.”

Then document the heck out of your conversation.

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The gold digger April 5, 2012 at 1:35 am

if they aren’t in pharma, where are they?

I thought they were all in Hollywood.

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Elizabeth West April 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm

This does get old after a while, especially if you’re not particularly religious. About seven years ago, I applied for a job with a drug screening company. Their lobby had a big literature display full of religious tracts. It made me kind of uncomfortable. In this area, people can be in-your-face about their beliefs. And I couldn’t see how that had anything to do with the business.

I didn’t take the job, although it was offered to me, but it was more because they had a peculiar salary setup that wasn’t quite on the level. When I asked politely about it, the owner got mad. I really feel I dodged a bullet on that one. Going by the blatant literature display, it might have been a lot like the OP’s situation.

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Evil HR Lady April 4, 2012 at 6:25 pm

When the hiring manager get defensive with a candidate, you can be sure he’ll/she’ll be a pain in the neck to work with.

I’d say you did dodge a bullet!

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Charles April 5, 2012 at 11:32 am

Sorry, Evil, assuming that this is happening in the US, I’m with the OP on this one.

“Do you want me to say something to him?” isn’t just an “inappropriate” question, it is a really stupid question to ask in this situation. HR upon hearing this complaint should respond that they will check it out and “thanks for bringing it to our attention.” (Which, in my opinion, is the professional HR response for most complaints)

Yes, it would be okay for HR to suggest to the employee that the manager might guess at who issued the complaint; but, they will do their best to keep it confidential. Good HR and good upper management should know how to check things out without “spilling the beans.” (hint: don’t approach a manager and say “we hear you like to quote bible verses, Is this true?”)

Look at it this way; while you seemed to have jumped “he isn’t doing anything illegal!” rather quickly; Unless this is a faith-based organization, this boss is clearly making some employees feel uncomfortable with behaviour that is not normally accepted in a secular society. So, of course, HR should do something about it.

I’m not saying that there aren’t times when HR isn’t sure if they should act; or there aren’t times when the employee isn’t just venting; this clearly isn’t one of them.

Surely, you know that quoting religious stuff is not the same as quoting pop songs or being a Yankees fan; too many wars and killings have been done over religious differences throughout history. Few have died because of pop songs (The Beetles’ White Album being one exception.)

Quite frankly, if I “spoke up” and brought to HR’s attention that a manager was doing something that was obviously marginalizing employees and HR responded with “do you want us to say something?” I would say “no, don’t bother” and then look for another job. Which, perhaps, would lead HR to believe that I was “just venting” and that they did nothing wrong.

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Another Evil HR Director April 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm

In all fairness, it’s hard to say what the HR person in this case actually said, or what ALL was said. The OP only shared what she felt was relevant to post the issue and her question. Rather convenient when she clearly wants someone to side with her. Don’t we experience that on a regular basis? Only getting the information the speaker wants us to hear, and not necessarily the whole story?

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SunnyInSB April 5, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Hi Evil,
I think you’re awesome and I read your blog regularly, but I’m with Charles on this one. It’s not the employee’s call whether HR decides to conduct an investigation. My rule re: any type of discrimination complaint is investigate now or be sorry later. Imagine this scenario (which happened, but involved a different form of discrimination): Employee reports annoying supervisor. HR asks, “do you want me to do anything?” Employee says no. HR does nothing. Employee gets fired a weeks later for a shortage in her cash till (third time). Employee sues for discrimination and retaliation. Employer’s motion for summary judgment was DENIED and key to that loss was that the employer conducted no investigation of the vaguely reported discrimination. Rather than go to trial and risk losing on retaliation (closeness in time between the complaint and the termination and lack of good documentation were a problem) the employer settled for $90k plus approx $30k in attorneys fees. And as far as I could tell, no actionable discrimination ever occurred. Moral of the story is –let them come to you for counseling, but repeatedly make it clear that HR investigates ALL complaints of harassment or discrimination, no matter what. I can tell you that the whiners with no real issues will quiet right down when you implement this approach.

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Evil HR Lady April 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Annoying behavior or illegal behavior? There’s a difference.

“My boss picks his teeth during meetings,” is annoying behavior, but not illegal and does not have to be investigated.

“My boss looks at porn in his cube,” is illegal and must be investigated.

“My boss quotes scriptures,” is not illegal and does not have to be investigated.

“My boss quotes scriptures and…” can be illegal and probably should be investigated.

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KellyK April 12, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I agree that it’s an appropriate question to ask because people do go to HR just to vent, or complain but then back out of wanting anything to be done about it.

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Linda H June 26, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Your advice mostly hit the mark. We are in America where expressing your opinion is a freedom. My only concern is your suggestion to say: “I am nervous about being treated unfairly because I don’t share the same religious beliefs” It certainly would be effective, but don’t you also think it should be honest, too? I believe it is an unfair tactic to be dishonest and use HR to “get even” for being irritated.

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