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Office Coach: Don’t bring up religious beliefs

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q. Because of my religious beliefs, I am not allowed to celebrate holidays. This means I cannot attend office events related to Christmas, Halloween or even birthdays. I always explain this during job interviews, and I believe it has sometimes kept me from getting hired.

My beliefs also seem to be an issue whenever I join a new company. As soon as I say I don’t observe holidays, people view me as a religious freak and begin to treat me differently. Since I am looking for work, I would appreciate any advice.

A. I can easily resolve one of your dilemmas. Since attending office celebrations has no relationship to your ability to do the job, you should never mention this issue during interviews. If you were prohibited from flying and the position required travel, that would be different. But attending holiday events is irrelevant unless you’re working for a party planner.

There is also no reason to share this information at work until the occasion arises. So instead of announcing your religious prohibitions as soon as you arrive, give your new colleagues time to get to know you. Then, when the subject comes up, you can explain your holiday restrictions.

For example: “I know this may seem unusual, but in my faith we are not allowed to celebrate holidays or birthdays. Since I do follow my religious teachings, this means I can’t attend office parties related to those events. However, I can participate in other celebrations.”

Your co-workers will undoubtedly have questions, so be prepared to answer them in a friendly, non-defensive manner. Should some immature idiots begin to mock or make fun, feel free to ignore them. As long as you continue to be a pleasant and helpful colleague, no one will care if you miss their birthday cake.

Finally, be sure you understand exactly where this line is drawn. Can you be in a room where others are celebrating if you don’t take part? Are you allowed to express good wishes, like “Have a nice Thanksgiving” or “I hope you enjoyed your birthday?” If permissible, these small acts may help you feel more included.

Q. My wife has been having some unpleasant experiences at work. For 12 years, “Rachel” was well-regarded and had positive performance reviews. But after a new manager was hired six months ago, her job description was changed and she received several written warnings.

This manager recently left, but prior to his departure, he gave Rachel a very unfavorable review. The owner of the business assures her that things will improve, yet he refuses to change her low ratings. Although a return to normalcy may be possible, I have advised Rachel to leave because the stress and heartache have just been too great. Do you agree?

A. After spending six months on this career roller coaster, your wife needs to do a careful cost/benefit assessment. Before taking any action, she should weigh the odds of continued “stress and heartache” against her 12-year investment in this company. As a supportive spouse, you can help her assess the situation, but she must make the final decision herself.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”