Sexual Harassment Information and Resources
What is Sexual Harassment?
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:
- submission to such conduct is a condition of employment, academic progress, or participation in a university program; or
- submission to or rejection of such conduct influences employment, academic or university program decisions; or
- the conduct interferes with an employee's work or a student's academic career, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work, learning, or program environment.
Tangible Action or Quid Pro Quo (This for That) Sexual Harassment and Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment are both illegal and unacceptable.
Key Points About Sexual Harassment
Differences in power or status can be a significant component in sexual harassment. A person who seems to acquiesce to sexual conduct may still experience tangible action harassment or hostile environment harassment if the conduct is unwelcome.
Harassment can occur between men and women or between members of the same gender.
Sexual harassment may or may not involve a tangible injury (e.g., economic loss, lowered grades). A sexually harassing environment, in and of itself, may constitute a harm.
Sexual harassment must be addressed and corrected regardless of the position or status of the harasser or the person being harassed.
Conduct is not always offensive or unwelcome to the same degree when perceived by different people. Courts use a "reasonable person" standard to determine whether contested behavior constitutes sexual harassment.
Individuals in positions of authority are responsible for ensuring that employees, students or others do not harass. In the workplace, offenders can be supervisors, co-workers, or non-employees such as vendors, customers and suppliers. In an academic or program setting, offenders can be faculty, instructors, lecturers, teaching assistants, coaches, tutors, or fellow students or program participants.
The person filing a sexual harassment charge does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone significantly harmed by the harassing conduct.
Harassment does not have to be reported immediately, but a significant delay may be a factor in the evaluation of a complaint. A delayed report may result in a dismissal of the complaint (e.g., 300 days, Wisconsin Personnel Commission).
Allegations involving classroom and teaching expression will be assessed using the university's Prohibited Harassment Policy as it applies to academic speech (Faculty Document 1402c, as amended on 1 March 1999).
Some behavior that is not in violation of university policy may, nonetheless, be unprofessional under the circumstances. Consequences of such unprofessional behavior may include poor performance evaluations or possible discipline.
Defining and Addressing A Community Concern
When sexual harassment occurs, it degrades the quality of work and education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It erodes the dignity and productivity of the individuals involved and diminishes the quality, effectiveness, and stature of the institution. Sexual harassment not only violates the law and university policy but also can damage personal and professional relationships; cause career or economic disadvantage, and expose the university to legal liabilities, a loss of federal research funds and other financial consequences. For all these reasons, it is in our best interest to educate all community members and take other steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment. We have a collective responsibility to do so, thereby promoting an environment that better supports excellence in teaching, research, and service.
Sexual harassment is a community concern. Any one of us may experience harassment, be accused of harassment, or be consulted by someone who thinks he or she has been harassed. Sexual harassment can affect workplace relationships or learning relationships. It can occur in any university setting (an office, a classroom, a university program). Each of us has a duty not to harass others and to act responsibly when confronted by the issue of sexual harassment. Principal investigators, supervisors, managers, department chairs, directors and deans have additional responsibilities: individuals in positions of authority must take reasonable measures to prevent sexual harassment and take immediate and appropriate action when they learn of allegations of sexual harassment.
Many people are not sure what to do to help someone who thinks that he or she has been harassed. This website will provide information about what to do, advice for conversations and resources to contact for further advice.
What To Do About Sexual Harassment?
We encourage early contact: consultation is not escalation. Timely discussion of people’s concerns may allow resolution before alternatives become limited. The university will protect confidentiality to the extent possible under the law.
Seek advice. Consult your supervisor, manager, HR representative, department chair, director, dean, or any campus resource to discuss options for resolution.
You may choose to seek informal resolution or file a sexual harassment complaint.
You may find it helpful to seek support from a trusted colleague. Be aware of your interest in keeping the matter as confidential as possible.
Keep notes of what happened, when, where, and who was present. Retain copies of any correspondence.
Consider informing the individual(s) involved that the conduct is unwelcome and that you expect it to stop.
Early consultation may help avoid claims of retaliation and facilitate resolution of the situation.
You will be informed of any complaint filed against you and provided with an opportunity to respond to the specific allegations.
You should contact the Office of Compliance or another campus resource.
You may choose to seek private legal advice.
Be honest when questioned about alleged conduct and explain its context.
(E.g., principal investigator, supervisor, manager, department chair director, dean)
You are responsible for:
- taking reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in your unit,
- taking immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop harassment when you know or have reason to know it may exist,
- preventing its recurrence, and
- remedying effects that could reasonably have been prevented.
Sexual harassment can arise in a healthy environment but it often develops in negative climates. If you have concerns about the climate in your area, consult with a campus resource to learn about proactive measures to improve the climate for all individuals.
Distribute relevant policies to new faculty and staff and to all employees periodically and when there are modifications to the policy.
Schedule sexual harassment information sessions and promote attendance by all department members.
Encourage employees and students to come forward with questions, concerns, and allegations. Avoid discouraging people from “going outside the department with problems.” (A person may not be comfortable reporting within the department and may not seek help if the department’s culture discourages outside assistance.)
Take every complaint seriously and ensure that others do as well. Ensure that your department adequately addresses all complaints. If you have questions about the scope of your responsibility, contact the Office of Compliance (OC) or another campus resource. Keep the advice for conversations offered in this site in mind during your conversation(s).
Keep allegations confidential except on a “need to know” basis.
Ensure that no retaliation occurs against the person making the allegations and that the person charged with harassment is not assumed guilty and/or disciplined on the basis of allegations.
For the protection of both parties, comply with all applicable university procedures and ensure that your department fully cooperates with any investigation.
Encourage the individual to contact someone who can explain alternatives available to resolve the situation (a sexual harassment contact person, department chair or other divisional resource, the Office of Compliance, or another campus resource
If requested, and if you are comfortable doing so, assist the individual in reporting the behavior. Policies prohibiting retaliation are designed to protect you as well as the person bringing allegations forward.
Keep allegations confidential, except as necessary to cooperate with appropriate university officials.
Consequences of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment injures both the individuals involved and the university. It also damages the campus climate for all of us. Possible consequences include:
For the Individuals
- emotional and psychological harm
- diminished ability to work and study, which may have a lasting career impact
- lost confidence in the university's ability to provide a comfortable and safe environment for work and learning
- potential personal liability for damages if unlawful conduct is deemed outside the scope of employment
For the University
- general disruption and reduced productivity and morale
- diminished reputation that may impair efforts to attract, recruit, and retain students, faculty and staff
- time spent responding to complaint investigators and lawyers
- increased absenteeism and turnover
- costs that may be substantial, including back pay, lost benefits, attorney fees and expert witness fees
- compensatory and punitive damages
While we have a collective responsibility to provide a work and learning environment free of sexual harassment, the university's leaders must be proactive in preventing sexual harassment and responding in a timely and effective manner to allegations of sexual harassment. Actions taken by individuals in positions of authority (e.g., principle investigators, supervisors, managers, department chairs, directors, deans) are pivotal to the determination of legal liability when lawsuits or complaints are filed with federal or state enforcement agencies.
In cases where sexual harassment by a supervisor culminates in a tangible employment action, the university will be liable in spite of preventive and corrective actions and the absence of fault on the part of senior administrators.
In cases where a supervisor creates a sexual harassment hostile environment, the university will be liable unless:
- the university took reasonable care to prevent and correct the harassing behavior, and
- the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective steps provided by the university to avoid harm.
In cases of sexual harassment between co-workers, the university will be liable for harassment if the university (through its agents) knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and remedy effects that could reasonably have been prevented.
In cases of sexual harassment by non-employees, such as customers, program participants or suppliers, the university will be liable for harassment if the university (through its agents) knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and remedy effects that could reasonably have been prevented.
The general principles expressed in these employment examples also apply in academic environments and program settings.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is committed to preventing sexual harassment and will take prompt and appropriate corrective action whenever it learns that sexual harassment has occurred. You are encouraged to report incidents or concerns to your supervisor, manager, department chair, director, or dean for appropriate action and resolution. Sexual harassment (and other prohibited harassment or discrimination) also may be reported to the Office of Compliance, or to any of the campus administrative offices identified here:
Phone: (608) 265-6018; Relay calls accepted
Fax: (608) 263-4725
Hours: Monday-Friday; 7:45am-4:30pm
361 Bascom Hall
500 Lincoln Drive
Madison, WI 53706
The Office for Equity and Diversity (OED) is available to receive allegations of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination or prohibited harassment. While many people prefer to have their concerns addressed at the departmental level, the university also provides an option for complaint reporting, investigation, and/or resolution through the Office of Compliance.
The Office of Compliance will conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations when formal complaints are filed. If informal resolution is an appropriate alternative, the Office of Compliance will work with individuals to facilitate a resolution that assures that sexual harassment is corrected and recurrence is prevented. Additional information about the discrimination complaint process is posted here.
Ombuds Office for the School of Medicine & Public Health and the School of Pharmacy
2262 Health Sciences Learning Center
Division of Student Life
Dean of Students Office
70 Bascom Hall
608-263-5700 (ask for drop-in staff member)
University Health Services
333 East Campus Mall, 7th Floor
608-265-5600 (24 hours)
Brochure: Sexual Harassment: Defining and Addressing a Community Concern (pdf)
What's A Person To Do? (vignettes)
UW-Madison's Prohibited Harassment Policy (amended March 1999)