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Occasionally I wandered in where I was not wanted and gave truthful answers.
Sometimes I even did it deliberately. A little disruption now can prevent disaster later.

Harassment: Avoidance & Confrontation

This is a page from the third version of Technopagan Yearnings. There are some formatting differences. Originally published at www.neowayland.com/C1325529963/E358721146

Hopefully the first article under the NeoWayland byline

A slightly different version of this article appeared in the PagaNet News. I know the byline says somebody else's name there, but it is mine. You can see that in the "About The Author" at the bottom.

Quick! Decide!

Is this thing with your job because you are making a political stand? Or is it because you’re actually being harassed?

I can’t help you with a demonstration. I don’t think your company hired your politics, I think they hired you to do a job. My advice is to avoid power confrontation if you can. Don’t deliberately provoke a reaction. I believe it is dishonorable and bad faith you don’t tell your employer before you start invoking politics on company time and on company property.

If you are out to “freak the Christians,” you’re reading the wrong article. In most cases, I don’t think Pagans should work for Christian churches or businesses.

I might be able to help with actual harassment.

First, start before there is a problem. It’s much easier to take the time and gradually show that you are “mostly normal” before you need people to believe it. It’s not going to happen overnight or even in a couple of weeks.

Avoid the use of the words witch, Wiccan, Wicca, spells, workings, witchcraft, the Craft, spirits, and curse. There is one simple reason for this. Imagine you got into an argument with someone at work. A few minutes later they get a shock from the copy machine. They look straight at you and yell “Hey! You put a spell on me!”

Now prove that you didn’t.

Like it or not, the world isn’t always fair. People aren’t going to dance your tune unless you sometimes dance to theirs. Choose to be an outsider and you will be the first blamed when things go wrong.

Keeping this in mind, if you are really want to help people by prayer or by workings, there are safe ways to ask. I ask people if I can put them on my bless list. It sounds good, it shows that you are concerned, and it can be any of a hundred religions.

Look at yourself and the face you show to the world. How do you dress at work? Do you dress to get attention? Are your clothes off the rack, or do they have bits and pieces of ritual garb mixed in? Are you going for that “witchy” feeling instead of what everyone else is wearing? There are times and places where you can be as “witchy” and mysterious as you want. A job where you are trying to avoid religious harassment isn’t one of those places.

How many pieces of pagan jewelry do you wear? Be proud, but don’t invite trouble. A few pieces well chosen for both look and “feel” can symbolize your faith. Go for quiet power instead of loud declarations. Remember too that some jewelry is a little heavy on the eroticism. No matter how open you are about your sexuality, it’s a safe bet that your boss and coworkers don’t want you to open it in front of them.

How many people do you really know at work? Do you know their spouse’s names? What about their kids? Birthdays? Anniversaries? If they go to church, which one? How often? What do they do outside of work? What do they know about you? If your car broke down, could you call them for a ride to work? Could they call you?

Is there a company softball team? Can you start one? Even if you don’t think you can play, can you get out there every so often and cheer them on? Who’s providing the drink during the game and the food after?

Besides the fun you will get out of it, your coworkers will know that you aren’t a monster who will steal their puppies for a blood sacrifice at the next dark moon.

After your coworkers, the next priority should be your company. Check what the policy is for harassment. If it’s a small privately held company or single proprietor company, there may not be one except for what the state and Federal laws require. If it’s a larger company with union contracts or locations in more than one state, there is probably some standard boilerplate that shields the company from any but the most blatant violations.

Look at people’s work areas. If there are cubicles or offices, do people keep religious material there? That will give you an idea of what is allowed.

Listen to the conversations around you. Look at the wall decorations. Harassment comes at the expense of someone else. If someone is always putting down the “Jews” or the “Catholics” or “blacks” or “Mexicans” without getting called on it, this is a company that tolerates prejudice and abuse. If you stick around, you can expect to be harassed as a Pagan.

Watch yourself here too. It’s way too easy for some Pagans to Christian bash. It might be time to clean up your own act.

Now, find out about your boss and your boss’s boss. Do they stick pretty close to company policy? How do they feel about minority rights? How devout are they? Which church? Will they feel the need to convert you?

Time to do some poking around in your community. I’m sure you already know the closest ACLU number, but what about the local interfaith groups? Especially if they welcome all faiths. Is there a charity you can contribute some time and effort to? What about a local food bank?

Look for some church or private community outreach programs. There you’ll probably find the “aunts & grandmothers,” ladies who may not be in the official power structure but tend to be the ones who pull it all together. They have influence all out of proportion to what they seem to do. No matter who has the titles, these are the ladies who make it work. Help these ladies out every once in a while, make the time, even if it is not your group or your faith. Whatever you do, do NOT upset these ladies.

Local service organizations like Rotary or the Lion’s Club not only give back to the community, but they are practically talent and contacts on the hoof. Take some time to find out who is active and doing things in the community. Find a couple of their projects and help if you can. You don’t have to know the Grand High Muckety-Mucks, but be on better than first name terms with a couple of members.

Learn to use thank you cards. Handwritten, hand addressed, and above all PERSONAL thank you cards. Never address a thank you card to just a group, always address it an individual first and then maybe the group. But don’t just wait until someone does something for you. If you help out with something, write them a thank you card for letting you help. If you didn’t help but you see someone giving to the community, thank them.

You’re making connections while building a perception of yourself, something that can go a long way to defusing problems before they start. You’re also making friends and helping others.

The next consideration is how open you are with your beliefs. If you can, start when you apply for the job.

The safest path is to pretend to be something “normal.” Be warned though, if someone finds out, this will blow up in your face and could well cost you your job.

If you are in the broom closet, get used to holding your tongue. There aren’t that many things you can say or do that won’t reveal your secret. If you are “outed” or if you decide to come out, remember that your friends and coworkers may not accept your faith. They may be insulted that you would dare challenge the “true faith,” and they may be deeply insulted that you hid that part of your life from them.

A little riskier is to tell your employer and coworkers that you would rather not discuss religion at work. If you make this choice, you won’t be able to discuss any religion or religious issues at all.

In one of my online FAQs, I used a more definite and riskier phrase. “Let’s just say that I choose to perceive and acknowledge Deity in a different form than you do and leave it at that.” It also sounds stuffy when spoken.

I suggest that you answer honestly when asked, but don’t volunteer information. Don’t correct anyone else when they are talking about their beliefs, but don’t be afraid when they are spreading misinformation about yours.

Before you say word one though, make sure you know what you are talking about. There weren’t nine million killed in the “Burning Times,” and there isn’t an unbroken line back to prehistory. That kind of sloppy history will undo much of the good work you’ve done up to this point.

Avoid saying things like “I’m a Pagan witch. Mess with me and you’ll regret it!”

Remember, be proud but don’t invite trouble.

Now that you have the lay of the land, you’re in a better place to respond to any harassment that comes your way.

Harassment can come from three places 1). People outside your company who object to the company actions, 2). Coworkers, 3). Management or the company itself.

1). From outside your company
There is nothing you can do officially if the harassment comes from outside your company. Even if you are normally a spokesman for your company, there is nothing officially you can say or do that won’t make the situation worse. Nothing. Officially.

What’s worse is that company management may feel that they can’t risk antagonizing so many potential customers. Even if those protesting have never bought anything from your company. An angry mob outside chasing away customers really makes management nervous. Those people outside don’t look like people to management, they look like vanishing dollar signs.

There’s nothing I can officially advise you to do. Nothing. Officially.

Unofficially, I might be tempted to point out that a bigger stream of paying customers coming in will discourage the mob and stiffen the backs of management at the same time. Unofficially I might mention that you have friends and contacts who are genuinely interested in just seeing people allowed to do their jobs and live their lives. Unofficially you might remember there are people who know that you aren’t a demon worshiper and might have fond memories of you pitching it to help every once in a while. Unofficially if there was a strong show of support for someone, it just might make a great human interest story. And unofficially I might say something to your boss about great publicity for the company and giving back to the community.

But officially I advised you to do nothing and let the company handle it. It’s really too bad that I can’t officially advise you to do more.

2). Coworkers
Most harassment isn’t because people are out to hurt anyone, it’s just because they don’t know any better. This is not the time to jump on them with claws bared. Don’t confront them in public. As soon as you can, get them alone and QUIETLY tell them that they have offended you. If they apologize, thank them.

Don’t argue about whose religion is better. Don’t argue about whose god came first. Don’t point out contradictions in their religious writings. “Live and let live” applies here.

If they say you don’t have a sense of humor, tell them that you don’t find jokes about someone’s personal faith funny.

DO NOT try to joke about their faith. You might ask them how they would feel if someone poked fun at their beliefs.

Once you have talked it over with them, then it should be settled. Don’t bring it up again. Don’t tell other employees. Unless of course, it continues.

Now you have a problem. If you make a complaint to your boss, things will get nasty. Even if you “win,” the people you work with will choose sides. It’s never going to be the same place again, and chances are that some coworkers and your boss will blame you for that. After all, if you had just “ignored” it, everything will still be hunky-dory.

Starting with the first formal complaint to your boss, you should document everything. One of the best ways to to this is in a spiral bound notebook. Be sure to include the names of anyone who also witnessed the harassment. Sign and date every entry. Don’t tell people you are keeping this record. Do not keep this notebook at work. Do not keep this notebook in your car if you drive to work. Both of these can be searched at your employers discretion.

Are you a member of a union? If so, this is the time to get your union representative involved. Do what they say and ignore the rest of what I say in this section.

Give your boss a chance to solve the problem first. If that doesn’t work, go to Human Resources/Personnel. If it is a small company that doesn’t have an HR office, go to your boss’s boss.

You should know that each step you take in the complaint process might make things worse.

3). Your boss or your company is the problem
Start documenting immediately, but otherwise follow the steps I gave in section two.

If you don’t have a contract, be very careful. It is up to you to prove that the discrimination happened.

Depending on your state, your employer may be able to demote or fire you for “disrupting the workplace” or almost anything else. There are some exceptions. You can’t be fired for any reason mentioned in the Civil Rights Act, which includes religion. There is one very big proviso there though. If your employer is a church or religious organization, they can claim that employing someone with an opposing religion is a threat to their religious rights.

You can’t be fired any disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. You can’t be fired for filing safety complaints as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. And you can’t be fired for attempting to organize a union as defined in the National Fair Labor Practices Act. Without a contract though, your employer can use nearly any other reason.

If you have gone through all the steps including making at least two formal complaints and the situation has not been resolved, there is one other option. If it has been almost 300 days since the last time you have been harassed and you have received no satisfaction from your complaints, call the nearest office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and ask to speak to an investigator. If the investigator suggests filing a formal complaint, ask if you need to file with your state as well.

Posted: Mon - October 3, 2005 at 05:05 AM

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