The Ethical Dilemma: Stop Playing Christian Music at Work!

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Hymns Irritate Him: I have an issue with an employee I work with. I’m employed under the Department of Defense (DOD) as a security contractor, and my co-worker is in the Air Force. We work in a small security enclosure providing security for an airfield. The issue is that she refuses to stop playing Christian prayer music in our office during work hours. I’m not a Christian, but I do believe in respecting other people’s religions by not harassing them with religious propaganda. Surely there must be some policy for respecting others’ religion.

–Pray Stop

Dear Stop,

Respecting others’ religion—or others without religion—or simply respecting the comfort of other people who must share space—this is not necessarily about religion or policy. Regardless of any official workplace guidelines, at the very least there are conventions about coexisting with others. The problem could just as well be crude and explicit musical lyrics, easy listening that soothes you like nails on a chalkboard, humming, whistling, drumming, loud conversations on the phone, a group energetically rehashing last night’s football plays, etc. Adults, just like children, are supposed to play nicely together, and professionals are supposed to behave professionally.

The first thing to do is speak with this person, calmly and politely, about the fact that her music is distracting to you. No need to spell out that the religious nature of it bugs you. Just explain that you have difficulty working productively with her soundtrack. But you say she refuses to stop, which suggests you may already have tried this. If so, there must be some kind of supervisor, office manager, or HR person with whom to lodge your complaint. Perhaps your colleague could be required to listen with headphones. Perhaps she could be moved into a soundproof space with the door kept closed. Or perhaps she could be instructed by her boss to knock it off.

As for official policy, I consulted someone who is a non-military employee in a military institution and has dealt with such issues. She cautions that while government employees have loads of protections, contractors not so much. Finding your way among bureaucratic and legal walls, and delicate relationships among the various parties, can be thorny. How a complaint from you might be handled could depend on your standing in your company, the other employee’s standing, and the relationships between the DOD and contracting personnel at the top of this particular arrangement. A bit of research could be helpful to give you an idea of what, if any, regulations may be on your side.

If you choose to pursue this, start with your immediate supervisor in your contracting company, and if that doesn’t help, talk to your company’s HR department. But be cautious. The contracting company will not want their personnel to make waves and damage the relationship with their clients, and may simply choose to remove a difficult person—i.e., you—from the job, which could become a blot on your track record. The government has ample latitude to toss individual contractor employees for any/no reason and can stop working with a contractor company that becomes troublesome. Consider the culture of your company as well as that of your current workplace and proceed, or not, accordingly.

And don’t even think about stooping to retaliate by blasting music of your own. A workplace is no place for a battle of the bands, even if one is heavenly.