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How to handle displays of religious beliefs in the workplace?

I work in a small office (5 employees).  I don't wear my religion on my sleeve and don't feel the need to.  One employee is Catholic and attends church regularly (I know way too much about her personal life).  During the Christmas Season, she listens to Christmas music and puts a nativity scene at her desk.  I can hadle the "Jingle Bells" but it really bothers me when Silent Night, or other music referencing Jesus comes on.  And she doesn't listen to music the rest of the year.  

I have approached her in the past about the music only, and she gets very defensive and makes suggestions ranging from "get a new desk/office" to "well I can barely hear it, how can you?"  Last year I did approach our supervisor, but I don't think he did anything except to ask her to turn the music down.  My desk is right next to her's so it's pretty impossible to avoid.

Any ideas?  She and I don't have the best relationship to begin with, so the month of December is particularly difficult.

Answers

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Sounds like your company needs to put in place a policy that addresses these issues. Without a policy in place I do not think you have a case, really. One such policy could be, no music playing through radios, but this needs to be implemented throughout the company. If the images are not offensive or vulgar, I don't think you will have any luck getting the nativity removed, unless your company has a ban on all religious imagery.

Unfortunately if your company doesn't have anything in place, you might have to live with it, or contact the ACLU. Plus, if she isn't preaching to you, should it matter? That's my opinion. Since your relationship with her is not the best, I would definitely seek help from the supervisor, or the HR director. Nevertheless, if rules are not in place, and it is that important to you, seek to change the rules to something that is more favorable for everyone, like no music being played from radios.

There again, I live in the "Bible Belt" of Tennessee, not many people around here scoff at having religious imagery.

That is my suggestion. I hope whatever route you take, you receive the results you desire.

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

I am surprised that she is not using a headset or ear piece. I would explain to supervisor it is "distracting" you from your work and suggest that she be required to use use a headset/earpiece and also stream the music on line. Hope this helps.

Brian Kennedy
Title: President
Company: peerformation.com
(President, peerformation.com) |

The music should be approached as a general issue, not that it is specifically religious. And if someone wants to decorate their space - let them. It is not like she is trying to convert you. Freedom of religion does not necessarily mean freedom from religion.

Ted Monohon
Title: VP -Finance / Controller
Company: Fantex
(VP -Finance / Controller, Fantex) |

Yes, approach both from a distraction standpoint as the person above suggested. As long as the music or displays are not distrations, they can stay. Distractions! Would be determined by HR. Good luck.

Anonymous
(CFO) |

If playing music is enough of a distraction and affects the productivity of the office in general, then this should be covered in the employee policy manual. If it only bothers you and no one else complains or is affected, I suggest requesting that you be moved to another location where you can't hear it. As to the issue of displaying religious items in a personal space, again unless there is a specific policy prohibiting this including political, cultural, sports, or other types of displays, I suggest you need to display some tolerance here.

Topic Expert
Mark Sphar
Title: Chief Accounting Officer
Company: Veracity Payment Solutions
(Chief Accounting Officer, Veracity Payment Solutions) |

Agree w/ most of the above comments. If the music is distracting, it becomes an issue that the supervisor should handle. You can always bring headphones of your own to eliminate hearing her music.

Chris Holtzer
Title: Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis
Company: Sargento
(Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis, Sargento) |

I have to agree with Mark. I once heard a man who said there are two things you should do when you encounter a problem or conflict in life. (Personal or Professional)

1) Ask yourself what you can do to reduce any negative impact. (Mitigate the impact on everyone, including yourself)

2) What could you have done or what will you do, to avoid the problem from arising again in the future. (What lesson was learned)

This was sound advice, that has served me well. You will note, nowhere in those two things does it ask what should someone else do / have done. You can't control them, and the harder you try the worse it's going to be for both of you. But if you think long and hard, I am sure there are several solutions that you can employ that at least mitigate the problem, if not resolving it. Using your own headphones is one option.

I am not saying she is right, and you are wrong. But instead, neither is right, most likely both are wrong.

I don't mean to sound like an "Old Hen", but I think involving managers at the stage the problem is at, only reflects poorly on both of you. These are problems that can be solved with some simple professional courtesy by both parties.

Topic Expert
Barrett Peterson
Title: Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis
Company: TTX
(Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis, TTX) |

I was thinking reverence for work might apply as a policy...but seriously you need a "noise" policy(use earphones).
You might want to note that Christians find the description of "Jingle Bells" as Christmas music somewhat offensive.

Anonymous
(Contract Accountant) |

Thank you for your posts. I will take them all under consideration. I guess my "problem" is that I find her to be a very distracting co-worker. She is loud, shares too much personal information, and doesn't care if she is distracting. When we through the holiday season into the mix, it's just really annoying. We've had temp workers complain about her.

I will do my best to ignore her and try to acquire more tolerance. I did not mean to offend in my question and apologize if I did.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Text book - you go to your Manager; if it is still not addressed you go to HR; HR develops a policy; and the employee must change their behavior, as it is impacting your productivity. But in reality, the way you handle the situation is relative to the size of your company -- 100 employees and above, follow the textbook; but, less than 100 and you need to take more of an active role to resolve the situation. I don't recommend ear plugs. That may be looked upon negatively by your musical friend. But I am not in favor of "just dealing with it." Why not move your desk for the month of December? That act will make a statement in itself.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

I've never found there to be a positive outcome to complaining about someone's taste in music, desk displays or loudness. My bosses have expected me to always handle my own issues in a way that does not create additional work for them. My bosses particularly don't like to be involved in tiffs between employees. At best you will be rewarded with a "needs improvement" performance rating with respect to escalating issues appropriately, and with respect to getting along well with others in the workplace. Sorry but that is how it goes. Your boss only cares about their own comfort.

Now, if you and a couple of work buddies decided that you all were distracted you would have a movement of force against the holiday tunes. Anything like this should be handled in a group, not by yourself.

As for going to HR, remember that HR will only take notes about how much of a non-team player you are and then report your comments back to you boss. That is what HR does, it protects and reports to management.

If the current employee handbook addresses these issues, but your boss does not enforce the policy, then your group complaint will have an impact. If there is no specific policy, HR will not create one just for you, and your boss will tell you to resolve your differences on your own.

Christmas is about Jesus, and you can't turn it into a generic holiday unless there is a company policy against religion in the workplace.

If you plan to get promoted to a higher level at your current job at some point in the future - I do not recommend making waves around this or any other personal preference issues.

In the end you will only make your co-worker angry and they will gossip about how you ruined their happiness in the workplace and your boss will resent you for making them take action on something so minor and meaningless.

If they are too loud, request to move to a different work area, who knows you might get a better desk.

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