Sexual Harassment - Supervisor Scenarios

These hypothetical situations are designed to help supervisors -- anyone supervising another employee, including a faculty member who has supervisory responsibilities with respect to an administrative assistant, for example -- know when and how to bring a sexual harassment-related matter to an appropriate administrator's attention.  They are part of the Sexual Harassment Guidance.  Hypotheticals for faculty and other employees are also available.  

You are a supervisor, and one of your employees tells you she has been sexually harassed by another employee.  The situation she describes doesn’t sound like sexual harassment to you; to you, it seems like the employee is too sensitive. You also suspect the employee may be making more out of this than there is, to try to get out of an unwanted assignment.  You must report the matter to a Title IX Coordinator.  You can give your opinion about the matter to the officer to whom you make the report, and explain to them why you don’t believe it is sexual harassment.  But remember that the employee may not be telling you everything; individuals making initial reports may be upset and not present themselves or the situation well.  And even if you are correct and there is no sexual harassment, if the employee believes she has been sexually harassed, it is best for trained staff members to speak with the employee and help her understand that, rather than her complaint to be ignored or dismissed by a supervisor. 

You may -- but are not required to -- let the employee know that you will report or have reported the matter.  If you do not let the employee know and the Title IX Coordinator later contacts the employee, he or she will be sensitive to the fact that the employee was not aware of this and will handle it appropriately.  

You are a supervisor and Fred, one your employees, tells you that one of your colleagues, another supervisor, is a sexual harasser.  You ask Fred why he says that, and Fred says “I’ve heard it around.”   This is the first indication of anything like this you have had about the supervisor.  You do not need to report.  But because rumors of this nature can cause problems, it would be helpful to discuss the matter with Human Resources or the appropriate campus resource

You are a unit head and Kristen, an employee in your unit, writes you a note saying that Julie, another employee in your unit, is being given a negative performance evaluation by her supervisor.  The supervisor reports to you.  Kristen says that the negative evaluation is part of a series of negative actions the supervisor has taken against Julie and that the supervisor treats female employees this way except for one or two female employees that “play the game” with the supervisor.  You reviewed and approved the performance evaluation and you believe it is based on weaknesses in Julie’s job performance, not anything to do with her being a woman.  You must report the matter.  Do so immediately without discussing it with the supervisor.  You should tell Kristen that you have reported it, and ask her not to speak about the matter until contacted about it.  You may be correct – this may be a situation where Julie refuses to acknowledge performance problems, and has convinced Kristen there is a discrimination situation where none exists.  But you may be wrong; there may be a dynamic in the supervisor’s department you aren’t aware of, and the supervisor may be feeding you limited or even false information.  In any event, the university needs to make some inquiry to find out. 

You are a supervisor of custodial workers.  You notice that one of your employees talks a lot about women – famous women he thinks are “hot,” what physical traits he likes, how his old girlfriend looked.  You have also heard him make comments about female co-workers looks and attire, although these comments haven’t been crude.  None of your other employees have complained about him.   You do not need to report, but you should have a counseling conversation with the employee, after consultation with your supervisor and the Office of Human Resources, because although this does not yet present as a sexual harassment scenario, this kind of behavior is not appropriate for the workplace and can cause problems.  The counseling session should be documented.   

See also the FAQs on retaliation and on confidentiality, anonymity, and reluctant reporters.