This is taking place in India.

I have a colleague (we work on the same team and project) who frequently makes offensive comments about my religion at work, and on Facebook. I do not want to further strain our relationship by unfriending him, however I'm also tired of his disparaging remarks creating a hostile atmosphere in the workplace.

My response so far has been to ignore him and remain passive.

What is the most professional way of either dealing with him in person, or bringing this situation to my manager's attention?

  • 60
    Remove your connection to him on the social network.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 13:15
  • 9
    Is this social network part of your work (ie; an intranet or such?) or just an external social media network you happen to connect with him on? If the former, that needs to be part of the question. If the latter; it's not work related and there's no reason for you to keep the connection if it bothers you.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 13:18
  • 36
    If you can create an unhealthy atmosphere by unfriending someone on Facebook, you already HAVE an unhealthy atmosphere in the office.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 13:29
  • 14
    @developer, the fact that he makes these statements at work is much more important than that he says them on Facebook
    – David K
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 13:40
  • 8
    @JoeStrazzere: two "friends" who are "friends" only because they share a workplace and because the questioner has maintained the "friendship" for the sake of the workplace. Seems quite workplace-related to me. If they really were just friends the answer "cut all contact with this person" would apply, but the questioner seeks a solution that respects their ongoing connection via their mutual workplace. Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 16:55

7 Answers 7


Some people are idiots. You can't argue him out of his stupidity. My recommendations would be:

1) Unfriend him, and block him so you don't have to see his posts via shared friends. You do not need to have social media connections to all your co-workers!

2) Simply live your religion as you always do, giving him a living counterexample to his biases. Demonstrating that not all X are Y is the best first step toward making him reconsider.

  • 13
    One of my favourite quotes: "Don't argue with someone stupider than you. They'll drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience"
    – dKen
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 16:17
  • 3
    +1 for "You do not need to have social media connections to all your co-workers!" I don't have a social media connection with any coworkers unless we are actively friends outside of work.
    – David K
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 16:26
  • @dKen Was that Mark Twain or Groucho Marx? or someone else? Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 17:04
  • 1
    Note also that, at least in the case of facebook, you can "unfollow" someone so that you aren't bombarded with their posts, but you're still friends. You can also block posts from specific pages if your friend is constantly 'sharing' vitriol from a few particular pages. I've done that to a few pages from which one of my friends kept sharing vitriol-filled posts.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 17:29
  • 1
    I've seen recently: "Arguing with idiots is like playing chess with a pideon. It doesn't matter how good your are, the bird is going to knock the pieces over and strut around like it won anyway". (With a bit more to it that is a little less work-suitable)
    – Sobrique
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 12:40

As you stated in your comment answering mine, he makes offensive comments face-to-face during work.

First, do as keshlam says. Unfriend him. He is a toxic person, avoid contact as much as possible.

After that, go talk to your manager. It surely will have no positive effect talking to the offender, so you have to talk to your superior.

Explain what is happening and ask him to deal with it. In many places around the world such offences are against the law and might get the offender and the company in trouble.

Wait a few days. If it doesn't stop, ask the manager if he talked to the offender. Depending on the response, go to HR.

  • 9
    @JoeStrazzere In the U.S., it actually could be a legal problem in a workplace for the same reason that making constant racist or sexist comments could be (creating a "hostile work environment.") You can, of course, say whatever you want on your own time, but harassing people at work because you don't like their religion/skin color/whatever isn't normally tolerated. Note, however, that it's not a crime, but rather opens the employer to civil liability for not stopping you (and, thus, they'll probably fire you to prevent said liability.)
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 17:25

There will always be uncivilized people hell-bent on forcing their opinions down your throat. Just don't let them.

It's generally a bad idea to connect to colleagues on social media. Colleagues can become friends but don't start out that way and most workplace relationships never reach that point. Thankfully, most networks have a simple silent block and/or ignore feature. This will make sure your posts are hidden from that connection and you don't see their updates while not actually "defriending" them. Do that if you're uncomfortable with possible backlash. I'd argue that you'd be doing humanity a favour if you defriended him and explained, if he asked, that you prefer not to see the kind of remarks he makes. If you want to avoid a hostile reaction but still want to defriend him, you can also just explain with: "I've realised that I want to keep my professional and social life separate."

Now, the social network comments aren't really a workplace issue but if he's making disparaging remarks about your (or indeed any) religion, then that's a bigger problem. The best thing you can do is to directly say to him that it's not okay and you don't want to hear any more:

I understand that you feel strongly about [your religion] but I don't want to bring such a loaded topic into the workplace and would prefer if you not bring it up [around me / at work].

After that, whenever he starts mouthing off again, react in the moment and shut him down by saying one of the following:

I mentioned before that I don't feel comfortable discussing religion in the workplace. Could you please refrain from bringing it up again?

I'd prefer not to discuss it.

I'm sorry you feel that way but I'd rather not bring this up again.

Wow. [a very effective response in many cases]

Repeat ad nauseam. If he keeps bringing it up, even when he's not directly talking to you, you need to escalate this. Go to your manager or directly to HR and mention what's been going on and that you tried to resolve it without success. In most countries, this kind of behaviour is not tolerated and in most Western countries it can have legal consequences. However, I don't know your company and the culture involved. If you know that you'll only get negative reactions for escalating this, you may have to just grit your teeth and ignore it. That wouldn't be fair but you may not want to risk damaging your career over one person's stupid remarks.

Note: OP is from India but I'm not familiar enough with its employment laws to say whether there's anything useful there. India's Constitution has some relevant articles but as far as I know nothing approaching the protections in place in the US and Europe.

My answer assumes that this colleague is speaking directly to you or trying to bait a reaction from you. If that's not the case, you can either write him off as the boor that he is and ignore him, or you can follow Allison Green's advice:

Please speak up. Say something like this to your coworker: "This has been bothering me for a few days, so I wanted to speak to you about it. The other day, I overheard your conversation with Jane about Caitlyn Jenner, and what I heard was disrespectful and unkind. I can’t make you think differently, but I want to ask you not to make comments like that in the office."

  • 2
    Agree; you've taken it beyond the question that was posed but it's all relevant and worth saying.
    – keshlam
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 14:20
  • Can you clarify/rephrase "Letting these kinds of remarks go is certainly an injustice but so is being harassed or fired for making waves in an unreceptive environment."? It sounds like it is an injustice to make waves in a workplace. Injustice to whom?
    – Dennis
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 14:50
  • 3
    @Dennis Rephrased (and move to previous paragraph). My point is basically that this isn't a hill you'd want to die on. If the OP has to let these hateful remarks go unchecked then that's certainly unfair. But the alternative might be that he brings it up with his manager/HR but discovers that they're not willing to handle it or are equally bigoted. Only the OP can realistically predict if escalating it is worth the risk.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 15:00

As a fundamentalist Christian of sorts and fairly right-wing, I may be able to relate to your circumstances. To me its sometimes physically half the office having a public, disparaging conversation about my religion or political views.

General advice: Unfriending them on Facebook may make things worst. Imagine that talk weeks from now if they notice. Just click the little dropdown on the top-right (or wherever it is) of their posts in your feed and click "Not Interested" or "Stop showing me Posts From Jim". Facebook will stop showing you their content and unless you go to their wall, you won't see their posts after awhile. (You can also block them from seeing your all/some posts if they comment on your material often. As a single father, I have a custom filter on Facebook to hide some posts from my child's mother as I know some things like 'went to the beach with daughter' may upset her.)

If they have sincere disagreements: Be polite to them and an example and representative of your religion. If they make "offensive comments to you about your religion", be knowledgeable about your religion and make a polite retort (a rebuttal to a claim). If they make a false claim or statement, be knowledgeable enough to dispute it. If they make a claim you cannot rebuke or that is true, live with it.

If they are being a troll (trying to intentionally upset or offend you at work): When you get into work (or now if your there), e-mail your direct superior and ask for a meeting with them as soon is convenient. Don't tolerate this type of behaviour from co-workers. Sincere criticism or difference is alright, in fact embrace it, but neither you nor your co-workers should be exposed to toxic individuals and the issue must be fixed asap.

  • I wonder how many people would strongly dislike group x (for any value of x) if every member of group x followed your advice? #perfectworld Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 13:04

Should I speak up that I find his remarks offensive

Yes, you should. India is a secular country, and hate comments regarding faith should be dealt against.

If you are finding it offensive, then you have to speak up. And your assumption that the others would consider you in a bad light is an illusionary assumption.

I accept that religious intolerance is high in India, but it doesn't mean you can tolerate it in your workplace and let it affect your productivity and mental health.

If you don't want to un-friend him, at least ignore him. And if you feel that your mental health at work is getting disturbed, then please speak up against the discrimination. Let me re-iterate: You would not be looked upon as unwelcoming, if you speak up.

If he keeps on repeating this even after you warned him not to, then do escalate the issue to higher authorities. Religious discrimination at the workplace should not be tolerated

A post which is a close reference to this one: Link

  • could this not place the OP in physical danger?
    – Kilisi
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 8:12
  • 1
    @Kilisi I don't think so. Speaking up against discrimintion (which I think everyone would appreciate) wouldn't result in physical abuse :)
    – Dawny33
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 8:28
  • 1
    @Kilisi I waited hard for this to get re-opened, as most of the answers are not from an Indian point of vew. :) A been there, done that experience for me, this one!
    – Dawny33
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 8:34
  • 1
    @aProgrammer I don't think I spoke bad of India anywhere. If you've got a wrong meaning from it, then I apologize :)
    – Dawny33
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 10:49
  • 3
    @aProgrammer Please don't speak in such absolutes and portray India as the Utopia that it most certainly isn't. My experiences, even as a foreigner, were enough to show me dozens of instances of such differences stopping plenty of Indians' "growth and progress". It's a wonderful country but it has deep-seated problems and religious intolerance is just one of them. (Note that the same can be said for basically every country.)
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 15:11

Everyone is free to have any opinion as long as it doesn't end in actions which oppress others.

I would do exact one approach to him directly, telling him that he can think whatever he wants but he must stop any behavior which is offensive against your culture.

Do not react to any arguing. This is nothing to argue about, he has to stop this behavior. I don't know where you live, but in most countrys such behavior isn't legal at the workplace.

If he doesn't knock off, go to your manager. You want to avoid getting brandet as a downer so don't just complain. Make clear that you would like to work with this person in a personal manner and that nothing is up against beeing productive, when his behavior stoped.

Everyone benefits from a respectful professional atmosphere.

  • hmm, least upvoted but makes most sense. Workplace should be on professional level. Not everybody should agree or be friends. btw op can also hide his personal stuff from offender without unfriending. That would allow chats and things like that when necessary to reach him. Thing is (that's hard to learn) to not take things personally. If he wants to discredit you, then he's internally uncertain. A basic psychological truth. Ignoring and smiling may also help. I've had colleagues that I was a friend with that I know do not agree with all my beliefs and sometimes say some funny comments. ymmv Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 16:13
  • @developer, forgot to say that it's also important to not try to impose your beliefs on others. That's also sometimes hard to resist :) If they are interested to know - fine. Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 16:17
  • "but he must stop any behavior which is offensive against your culture." That's taking it too far. People can be offended by pretty much anything. Just because you have a coworker that's a member of PETA doesn't mean you have to stop eating meat at work, for example.
    – reirab
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 17:39

Your co-worker is looking to provoke you. The next time you get a comment, you can throw him completely off guard. Look him coldly in the eye, smile very wide, and say:

"Thank you for your opinion about that. You're so kind. But let's get back to business."

This will let your co-worker know that you are aware of the statements being made, and are prepared to make things serious if it continues. His behavior may subside after doing this a few times. But if not, eventually escalate it to:

"Thanks again for your opinion. I wonder what the HR manager would say." Then SMILE, but don't say another word as to the subject matter. Just watch him fumble for words.


And unfriend on Facebook, right away.

  • -1 for making assumptions about the coworker's motivations and because this is a passive-aggressive and immature way of handling the situation.
    – Meelah
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:08
  • 1
    If I said to you "Thank you for your opinion about that. You're so kind" I assure you would not take it as passive-aggressive. You would take it as a warning that very, very bad things are going to happen to you if you repeat this behaviour. "Immature" would be to make very, very bad things happen without a warning. And when someone attacks your religion in the workplace, their motivations really don't matter.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 16:58
  • Thanks gnash729. We have to be firm with people but the construct we live in doesn't really make it simple, or politically correct, for us to say what really needs to be said. I consider my approach to be a 'warning shot'. Bullies will back off if we are firm in our resolution, but they won't ever stop if they get a reaction that communicates to them, "Please, keep kicking me in the a--".
    – Xavier J
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 17:18

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