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Coming Out to Coworkers & Employers: Should You Reveal Your Atheism at Work?

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Problems with Revealing Atheism at Work:

Revealing atheism to anyone can lead to problems, but revealing atheism to employers or coworkers comes with unique problems not associated with revealing atheism to family or friends. People at work can undermine your efforts and even your professional reputation. Your superiors, managers, and bosses can deny you promotions, raises, and prevent you from getting ahead. In effect, being known as an atheist at work can negatively affect your ability to earn a living and provide for your family.

Dealing with Anti-Atheist Bigotry at Work:

Even if you don’t reveal your atheism, there’s a good chance that discussions of politics or religion may include snide and negative comments about atheists and atheism. It’s socially acceptable to express bigotry against atheists, just as it was once socially acceptable to express bigotry against Jews and blacks. If possible, you should insist that people not do this while you are around; if they persist, you should walk away and complain because such behavior is likely illegal.

Dealing with Anti-Atheist Discrimination at Work:

Much worse than verbal expressions of bigotry is blatant discrimination: denying you a raise or promotion, limiting access to crucial resources, preventing you from taking the same vacations and benefits, etc. Discrimination because you are an atheist is illegal and you should complain to whomever is responsible for such things in your company. Document everything — every comment and act along with day and time. If you have to go outside the company, you’ll need this evidence.

Dealing with Proselytization at Work:

While a comfortable and well-functioning workplace requires that people be able to have non-work related discussions to develop better social connections with each other, that does not include actively trying to convert each other to some new belief system or idea. A person shouldn’t be trying to convert you to Christianity or Islam any more than you should be trying to “convert” them to atheism. If people try, you should ask them to stop; if they don’t, you may need to complain. Read More...

Dealing with Pressure to Donate to Religious Charities:

Charity must be voluntary, otherwise it isn’t really charity anymore; rather, it has become extortion with a pretty label applied to it in order to make the extortionist feel better. Pressure to give can potentially exist no matter what the charitable cause and it is always wrong when it does. Those exerting the pressure would almost certainly not appreciate being pressured themselves into giving money to a charity they disliked or disagreed with. You don’t have to put up with it. Read More...

Dealing with Religious Symbols at Work and in the Office:

If there are a lot of people who have one or two religious symbols in their work spaces, then that might seem excessive to you, the non-religious person, because you perceive a cumulative quality to them all. That isn’t enough to justify complaining, however. In order for any complaints to be justified there would have to be people who really go overboard with religion, placing many symbols and pictures and such in the area where they work. Read More...

Dealing with Religious Discussions at Work:

It should be expected that people will talk about religion at work and that shouldn’t be a problem. If a manager or owner suggests by deed or word that some particular faith or even that religion generally is favored, though, that sends the wrong signals. In such situations, you may fear that you will be treated differently because of your atheism or even that your evaluations will be based in part on your lack of participation in religion. You should speak up if this happens. Read More...

Dealing with Religious Ceremonies at Work:

Although religious discussions may ultimately be trivial, religious ceremonies are not. People who insist on transforming a place of employment into a place of worship can make things very uncomfortable for everyone else. If ceremonies occur during working hours, you may have a basis for complaint. If ceremonies occur before or after work, it’s probably not a problem — but you shouldn’t be pressured in any way to participate. If that happens, you should definitely complain.

Promoting Atheism or Skepticism at Work:

Some may wonder if they should promote atheism at work in the same ways that many promote their religions. In general, this would be unwise — you don’t like being pressured by religious believers, and you shouldn’t pressure them. While promoting atheism in particular might be a bad idea at work, promoting skepticism shouldn’t be. Skeptical, critical thinking would be helpful in most jobs. If people send you emails about things you know aren’t true, send them a link to a debunking site like About Urban Legends or Snopes. Encourage people to question what they are told rather than gullibly believe whatever they hear.

Is Revealing Atheism at Work Worth the Risk?:

If you are new at your job and still on a probationary period, keeping quiet may indeed be wise - rocking the boat in any form is probably something worth avoiding. Aside from such situations, however, you should consider carefully before going too far down the path of remaining in the closet because it carries with it a lot of problems which you may not want to deal with later on.

Before going forward with telling anyone, one thing to ponder is why you would be telling people. What is your goal and what do you hope to accomplish? If your reason for revealing your atheism is that you simply don’t want to have to hide it, then taking the indirect approach is probably best. Making some sort of announcement to any person or group of people would look very strange and raise questions about what your genuine motivations might be.

On the other hand, if you feel that you are under some pressure from religious coworkers who keep assuming that you, too, are religious and believe in a god, then doing more than dropping hints might be appropriate. Unfortunately, those situations where you feel that you need to say something direct are the same situations where things could be more likely to get worse when people become aware of your atheism.

Only you can determine what risks and benefits would accompany such a revelation. It might be prudent, however, to begin updating your resume and taking a closer look at other job opportunities in your field, just in case. It wouldn’t be legal for your company to fire you or for your coworkers to harass you over being an atheist, but the general environment might become more than you are willing to put up with. Being prepared in advance would make any transition easier to accept.

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