sexual harassment and misconduct

We cannot tolerate harassment of any member of our community. UW System Human Resources office can assist with concerns about any type of prohibited harassment or discrimination, including harassment based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, age, disability, and sexual orientation. This website is designed to help prevent and respond to sexual harassment.

When sexual harassment occurs, it degrades the quality of work and education at the University of Wisconsin. 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. Principle investigators, supervisors, managers, and lead workers: 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.


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 or manager, another divisional resource person, or the Office of Human Resources and Workforce Diversity.
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 UW System Human Resources Office
You may choose to seek private legal advice.
Be honest when questioned about alleged conduct and explain its context.


Listen to the report of alleged harassment sympathetically but objectively. Keep the expectations and advice for conversations offered in this site in mind during your conversation(s).
Encourage the individual to contact someone who can explain alternatives available to resolve the situation such as the UW System Human Resources office.
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.

If you are approached by someone who thinks he or she has been sexually harassed, you should refer the person to an appropriate supervisor or the UW System Human Resources office. Encourage the person to seek advice about reporting the behavior and learn about alternatives for resolution from one or more of these resources.

When listening to the person”s concern, you should refrain from labeling the described conduct as harassment or saying that it is not harassment. Listen to the concern and move on to identify resources who can help to resolve the situation. In addition, you may choose to discuss the situation and provide support.

If the person asks you to become involved and/or take action, you should consult a campus resource for guidance. There is no standard advice you can provide. Each case is unique and needs individual attention. If you choose to assist the person through the process of resolution, the principles guiding your approach should be to listen, be respectful, be objective, and use campus resources.

Individuals in positions of authority (e.g., principle investigators, supervisors, managers, lead workers) have additional duties.


(E.g., principal investigator, supervisor, manager, lead worker)
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 UW System Human Resources 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 informational sessions and promote attendance by all department members. 

Encourage employees 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 UW System Human Resources office. 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.

Determine quickly what the individual approaching you wants. Ask “What would you like me to do?” or, “How would you like me to help you?” This will help you avoid misunderstandings and clarify the person”s objective in approaching you. Respect his or her decisions and don”t impose what you think you would do under the same circumstances.

Be respectful. Do not dismiss the complaint as trivial; avoid telling the person to “grow a thicker skin” or saying that the alleged perpetrator “means well, but sometimes slips.” Although they may be intended to help, these comments can make the person feel discounted. Try to keep in mind that what may seem unimportant to you may be offensive or threatening to someone who has different life experiences or less power.

Acknowledge the courage needed to approach you and the difficulty of the situation. If the person cries, remember that tears have various meanings and are often a sign of frustration and anger in professional settings. Acknowledge the person”s emotions without labeling them, by saying something like: “This must be difficult for you.” Something as simple as handing the person a box of tissues can be helpful and also can serve to decrease your discomfort. Avoid asking the person to leave because he or she is in tears; instead, allow time for the person to regain composure.

Remember that the fear of retaliation is common among those who have been sexually harassed and is often the reason they do not bring complaints forward. Reassure the person and explain that the university has created a network of resources to assist in responding to harassment complaints. University policy operates in conjunction with federal and state laws to prohibit retaliation against complainants. Retaliation against persons who participate in an investigation or assist someone in making a complaint also is prohibited. The policy applies even when a complaint ultimately is not substantiated to a degree required by law.
Be neutral. Avoid comments such as, “I”m sure he didn’t mean anything by it” or, “Oh, she does that to everyone,” which may sound as if you are defending the accused. Also avoid comments such as, “Well, you”re so young and pretty” or, “You shouldn’t have been in the lab by yourself at night,” which may sound as if you are blaming the person confiding in you.

If you elect to support the person, you should not feel obligated to follow the matter through to its final conclusion. If you become uncomfortable with your involvement at any time, acknowledge your discomfort and let the person know that you are sorry but you cannot continue in the support role. Acknowledge how difficult it must be for him or her and encourage the person to consult a campus resource to receive appropriate assistance.

If the person asks you to contact the UW System Human Resources office, be sure you understand whether you are free to mention his or her name, or other identifying information such as the department or the alleged harasser”s name, before you approach the campus resource for assistance.

It is generally best for all persons involved and for the effectiveness of any investigation into the matter if confidentiality is maintained. You should not discuss the situation with anyone unless the person has the authority to assist in the investigation or resolution of the matter. Remember that conversations between a staff member and another individual are not privileged communication and can be elicited in the course of legal or administrative proceedings that might ensue.

State and federal laws and university policy protect against retaliation. University policy prohibits retaliation against a person because he or she reported sexual harassment, filed a complaint, participated in the investigation of a complaint, or assisted others who raised a complaint. Retaliation is a serious offense which can result in disciplinary action.

This protection exists even if a complaint eventually is dismissed or found lacking in merit. It does not follow that false claims will be tolerated: a person will be held accountable for knowingly making a frivolous or malicious complaint of sexual harassment.

Mike Kent
Policy & Compliance Analyst
(608) 890-4748