This is guidance about the Sexual Harassment Policy, in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs). Other campus resources for people experiencing or concerned about sexual harassment are available; the Resources Chart quickly shows available resources.
These FAQs are organized as follows:
- identifying sexual harassment (different types of sexual harassment and examples)
- reporting, including hypothetical scenarios
- failing to report/consequences
- confidentiality, anonymity, and reluctant reporters
- unwelcome conduct that isn't severe enough to constitute sexual harassment
- false complaints/complaints that do not result in a finding of sexual harassment
All examples and scenarios used in these FAQs are fictional.
This guidance is aimed at employees, including faculty. Resources for students, particularly for survivors of sexual assault, are provided by the Dean of Students Office.
Is sexual harassment just between a man and a woman? No. It can occur between persons of the same sex or members of the same sex.
Does sexual harassment have to include sexual behavior? No. Harassment may be conduct based on sex that is not sexual in nature. For example, if a faculty member repeatedly and publicly tells his female colleagues that they are inferior because of gender-specific cognitive processing differences and that they are not qualified to research in certain subject areas, this could constitute sexual harassment, even if the male faculty member is not demonstrating any sexual interest in his female colleagues.
The policy defines a few different types of sexual harassment. What’s the difference? The two main types of sexual harassment are quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment. Quid pro quo is “this for that” – a supervisor requiring sexual favors in return for a promotion, a raise, etc. Other examples of quid pro quo harassment are a professor giving a student a lower grade because the student rejected his romantic advances, or a dean responding to a faculty member’s request for a recommendation by asking the faculty member out to dinner, and then refusing to discuss the recommendation until they became more comfortable back at the dean’s home.
The second type of harassment is typically a series of actions that cumulatively create a hostile, offensive, or intimidating workplace. This type of harassment often does not involve conduct of a sexual nature, which distinguishes it from quid pro quo harassment. For example, if a supervisor repeatedly tells a female employee that he prefers male employees, says that he regrets that no qualified men applied for her position, and makes comments in her hearing such as “women are so moody” and “of course a woman can’t make up her mind”, this could constitute a hostile workplace environment – even though the supervisor never shows any romantic interest in the employee nor makes any sexual overtures.
At a social function, you spend some time talking with your supervisor. At one point in the conversation, he reaches out and puts his hand on your hip. You freeze, completely uncomfortable but not sure how to proceed. After a few minutes, he takes his hand away and you end the conversation and move away. Now you are scared that he may make further overtures. A single act of unwelcome sexual conduct can constitute sexual harassment. This particular act is not the most severe, but the power differential is an aggravating factor. Unquestionably, it is inappropriate for a supervisor to touch an employee in this manner and the behavior needs to be stopped. You could speak to your supervisor about the situation, but it is often difficult for employees to address what they believe to be harassment or inappropriate behavior with the perpetrator. So it likely will be better to speak to the head of your unit (the appropriate VP, for example) or to Human Resources or the Title IX Coordinator. See alsi the FAQ on unwelcome conduct that isn't severe enough to constitute sexual harassment.
Your office has an informal atmosphere, with a fair amount of joking and casual chatting. Sometimes the jokes and conversations have sexual content. Although these jokes aren’t directed at anyone, one co-worker will occasionally say, to other employees, “you’re in a bad mood today, did you not get any last night?” and everyone will laugh. Your supervisor doesn’t usually join in but will laugh along with the others. You are very uncomfortable with this kind of talk. Last week, when you were leaving the office early for a doctor’s appointment, someone said “what, going home early to get dolled up and go out on the town?” This is a borderline situation at best. Whether it constitute actionable sexual harassment would depend on the frequency of these conduct, the exact wording, the position of the individuals who make these types of jokes and statements, and other circumstances. The situation clearly describe unprofessional conduct, which the university does not tolerate and your supervisor should stop. You should speak to your supervisor, if you are comfortable doing so, or you can seek advice from another campus resource.
You are an employee who recently applied for a new position at the university, which has a higher salary. You didn’t make it past the first phase of the search. You think it was because the search chair knows you and is biased against you because of your sexual orientation. If you were not selected because of your sexual orientation, that would be prohibited discrimination. The form of the discrimination would be disparate treatment, not harassment. You should speak with the Office of Diversity & Equal Opportunity. Office staff can help you find out whether you were qualified for the position and whether a complaint should be filed.
When must I make a report? University employees must promptly report a sexual harassment complaint, report, or incident when they become aware of it. This includes the situations where employees are given or told of a sexual harassment complaint or report, and where they become aware of any incident or situation that a reasonable person would understand to be sexual harassment. "Promptly" does not mean that a report needs to be immediate and there is no deadline specified; it is a commonsense notion that we should report as quickly as reasonable. Promptness is important because if there is sexual harassment, the university is obligated to address it promptly in order to be fair to the people involved. It is also important because if a matter is not handled promptly, it can become difficult to investigate or address as memories become stale and records are destroyed, for example.
To whom do I make a report? It depends on the identity of the alleged harasser. If it is a student, report to the Dean of Students. If it is a non-faculty employee, report to the Title IX Coordinator or Human Resources. If a faculty member, report to the Provost, the appropriate Dean, or the Title IX Coordinator. When in doubt, reports can always be made to the Title IX Coordinator.
What are my complaint or grievance options? You may file a complaint internally or externally. Information about complaint options is provided by the Office of Compliance and Policy at www.edu/offices/compliance/reportdiscrim
Why is reporting mandatory? The university cannot meet its commitment to a nondiscriminatory environment if sexual harassment is not brought to the attention of those officers able to fix the problem. For example, if a university employee is sexually harassing someone, or if a university employee believes he is being sexually harassed by a co-worker, the university needs to know about it so that the matter can be looked into. For example, even if an employee is mistaken in his view that he is being harassed, because the unwelcome conduct he is experiencing is not severe or pervasive enough to be sexual harassment as defined by the policy, it is best for the university to know so that it can educate the employee and stop the unwelcome conduct before it becomes harassment.
What if I really don't think a situation is sexual harassment? What if I think the person talking about sexual harassment is being unreasonable or even lying? Depending on the situation, that may matter or it may not. If you are observing a situation and reasonably do not think it is sexual harassment -- then you do not need to report it. If, on the other hand, someone complains to you about sexual harassment, which includes someone telling you that he or she is sexually harassed, then even if you think they are wrong or acting in bad faith, you must bring that to a Title IX Coordinator's attention. You can tell the Title IX Coordinator your opinion and the reasons you think they are wrong or acting in bad faith (lying). Similarly, if you hear second-hand about a report or complaint, we want to make sure that report is addressed, so we require you to tell us about it. (Of course, if the report or complaint has already been brought to a Title IX Coordinator, you do not need to make a second report.) Why do we want this to happen? For a number of reasons, including:
- If one of our students or employees feels harassed, even if he or she is wrong or unreasonable, we want to help this person in distress. The distress may affect academic or professional performance and may lead to damaging rumors. And the feeling of harassment may arise from unwelcome conduct that W&M will want to stop before it becomes sexual harassment; we don't want to sit back and wait for borderline harassment to become full-on harassment.
- You could be wrong, and harassment may be occurring. It is likely that you do not have all the information. You might be mistaken about what is or is not harassment. (Have you kept up with the recent regulatory guidance on this topic?) The person talking to you may be upset and may not present or explain the situation well. If you are wrong, and fail to bring the matter to light, the consequences for the people involved and W&M could be very serious.
- If you are correct and the person is mistaken or unreasonable, it is possible that you could effectively explain to someone that they are not being harassed, that they are confused or mistaken. But this is a very difficult and risky path to take -- risky for you and for the institution. This is a conversation we want only those professionals who are trained and experienced in identifying sexual harassment, and authorized to do so by W&M, to have.
- It is very rare for someone to fabricate a claim of sexual harassment. But if this unlikely event occurred, we would want to address it as quickly as possible to protect anyone being falsely accused. Guidance on false complaints is provided below.
Hypotheticals. Hypothetical situations involving faculty, supervisors, and other employees are provided to help people understand their responibilities:
What if I don’t report something that I should have reported? First, remember that individuals who themselves are harassed or discriminated against are not required to report. For others who are required to report, failure to do so may result in disciplinary action. Any disciplinary action would be imposed under applicable personnel policies. The nature of the disciplinary action would depend on the circumstances. For example, a staff member who failed to report a hostile environment in his department because he failed to recognize the environment as hostile would be treated differently than a faculty member who decided not to pass along a report of sexual harassment brought to him by a student because he (faculty member) decided that the student was being too sensitive.
If reporting is mandatory, does that mean that if I’m a victim of sexual assault or have experienced harassment, and I don’t report it, you will take disciplinary action against me? No. The mandatory reporting requirement is focused on getting supervisors, colleagues, or others to report discrimination of which they become aware. The reporting requirement does not apply to the people who have been harassed. We want people who have been or are being harassed to come to us, so that we can help, but we are not going to penalize them if they do not.
Someone comes to me and says that something bad has happened to her, and seems like she wants to tell me about it, but she asks me whether our conversation will be confidential. What do I tell her? Tell her that you will be discrete, but that depending on what she tells you, you may need to tell someone else. You can explain this is because the university has an obligation to provide a safe, non-discriminatory environment. If she has more questions about confidentiality, you could encourage her to talk to a Title IX Coordinator.
What do I do when the person who appears to be or alleges to have been harassed does not want me to report, or wants to remain anonymous? You need to report the matter. You may, at least initially, make a report without revealing the identity of the individuals involved. For example, if you learn of a student who appears to think she has been sexually harassed, you may call a Title IX Coordinator and tell him or her what you know, without using names. The Title IX Coordinator will consider the nature and severity of the alleged harassment and decide whether additional steps need to be taken; you may be required to reveal the identity of the student. If the Title IX Coordinator decides that action needs to be taken, such as gathering more information, he or she will handle the matter with sensitivity.
If a person who alleges or appears to have been harassed is reluctant to "go on the record" or have his name used in an investigation, university officers will work with this person to help him understand the protections against retaliation and other protections and resources available. If he insists on maintaining his anonymity with respect to the alleged harasser, the university will evaluate this request against the university’s responsibility to maintain a safe and nondiscriminatory campus environment. Even if anonymity is permitted, the university will take other steps to limit the effects of the alleged discrimination and prevent its recurrence.
The policy encourages people to report unwelcome conduct even if it doesn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment. Does that mean that unwelcome conduct is also prohibited? Our goal is to prevent sexual harassment. To help us do that, we want to stop borderline behavior before it becomes sexual harassment. If this type of behavior is reported, the university can take appropriate action, such as a supervisor speaking with the employee and explaining why his or her behavior is causing concerns. It would be absurd for the university to be aware of an employee subjecting coworkers to unwelcome sexual conduct (for example) and do nothing because the conduct hadn't quite yet become severe or pervasive enough to violate the Sexual Harassment Policy. In some cases, the unwelcome conduct is unacceptable and misconduct on its own, even if it is not sexual harassment. For example, if an employee is accessing sexually explicit content on his computer, that may be a violation of state law and university computer use policy, even if it is not sexual harassment.
The policy says that it is a violation to make a false complaint. (Section (IV)(A)) Does this mean if I report something and it is investigated and determined not to be sexual harassment, I will be punished? No. You will only be disciplined if evidence shows that you brought the complaint knowing that it was false – knowing that it wasn’t sexual harassment. Sometimes, an investigation cannot find enough evidence to prove that sexual harassment occurred. That is not the same as an investigation finding that a complaint was false.
What happens if an investigation is made and the determination is that there was not a violation of the Sexual Harassment Policy? The two most common situation that result in a determination of "no violation" are:
(1) the decision-making body cannot find enough evidence to conclude that the alleged conduct occurred. For example, a female student alleges that a faculty member made repeated, negative, comments about her role as a mother holding back her academic success, but the investigation does not find any other evidence supporting this allegation. Unless the investigation found strong evidence that the student fabricated the allegations, the matter would be concluded with no action against the student; if there were strong evidence, that would be processed as a potential Honor Code violation. This would be highly unusual and scrutinized closely, because everyone bringing a sexual harassment complaint is protected against retaliation. Guidance on retaliation is provided below.
(2) the decision-making body concludes that the alleged conduct is not sexual harassment. For example, if a male employee complains about a co-worker asking him out on and complimenting him on his appearance, it is possible that the decision-making body would conclude that this behavior is not severe or pervasive enough to constitute sexual harassment. (It is also possible for such conduct to constitute sexual harassment.) In this situation, it is likely that the co-worker would be directed to stop the behavior but no disciplinary action taken; depending on the facts and circumstances, other remedial action such as separating the individuals could be appropriate. This would not be considered a "false complaint."
What is retaliation? Guidance about the nature of retaliation is available on this website, as a handout for individuals involved in discrimination investigations.
Who is protected against retaliation?
- Anyone reporting or complaining of sexual harassment
- Any witness in a sexual harassment investigation
- Anyone who otherwise opposes sexual harassment, such as Jeff, a supervisor who refused his manager's direction to reduce Samantha's performance rating because Jeff reasonably believed the manager's direction was based on Samantha's rejection of the manager's sexual advances. (Note it would be better for all involved, in this situation, if Jeff reported the supervisor rather than just refusing the direction)
- Anyone closely associated with one of the above individuals. Sometimes people accused of sexual harassment try to get back at their accuser by taking action against their accuser's spouse, for example.
What can W&M do to protect me against retaliation? Many things. We handle complaints as discretely as possible, since breach of confidentiality increases the motivation for retaliation (and also makes investigations more difficult). In some situations, relocation or reassignment of the accused party or the reporting party, pending the investigation, may be appropriate. (We will not force a reporting party to relocate or move.) In very severe cases, an accused employee may be placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation. We warn individuals accused of harassment of their obligation not to retaliate, given them detailed information about retaliation, and require them to complete a retaliation acknowledgment form, putting them on notice. We ask others involved in the investigation to be alert for retaliation, and inform the investigator immediately if any adverse action is taken. If any retaliation is reported, we immediately investigate it and take steps during the investigation if warranted. If retaliation is found to have occurred, appropriate disciplinary and corrective action will be taken. For example, if we find that you were retaliated against by being given a negative performance evaluation, the typical appropriate action would be to modify the performance evaluation and discipline the individual(s) who knowingly engaged in the retaliatory conduct.