I'm having difficulty with a co-worker.  I'm not sure I want to or should file a complaint.  Is there someone I can talk to privately before initiating a formal process?

There are specific procedures in place for reporting certain types of behavior, such as:  sexual harassment, discrimination of a protected class, hate crimes, workplace violence, or violation of personnel rules. Click here to learn about those procedures and definitions.

If your co-worker's behavior does not fall into one of these categories, and depending upon your classification, you may take your concern to a variety of individuals.  Whenever possible, you are encouraged to begin with your first-line supervisor, or their higher authority if the co-worker in question is your first-line supervisor.  If that is not possible, a private conversation may be had with Human Resources, Equity & Affirmative Action, or an ombudsperson or other representative from the relevant governance group.

What should I do if I receive abusive or offensive email messages from a student or employee?

The right to be free of abusive, offensive, or patently unwanted material, along with other policies governing the use of university technology is covered under the university's policy regarding Responsible Use of Computing Services.  Although appropriate and thoughtful feedback is encouraged and welcomed by all staff, employees are reminded to retain their professionalism at all times in their interactions with each other and with the public. In this case, the recipient should inform the sender that s/he found the language used to be offensive, inappropriate and unprofessional.  

Issues concerning these policies, or allegations of harassment or other irresponsible use of information technology resources, should be brought to the attention of Equity & Affirmative Action or CIO Mohamed Elhindi (melhindi@uwlax.edu).

What should I do if a professor or staff member is engaging in conversation of a sexually suggestive or explicit nature?

All employees should be respectful and professional when speaking to colleagues, co-workers, students or the public. Even if offense is not intended, words or actions that have a sexual connotation can be disrputive to the educational or work environments and can cause others to feel unsafe. All staff should familiarize themselves with the definition of sexual harassment and our policies.

If you are witness to, or are the recipient of, unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature, you can choose to discuss your feelings with the person responsible. Sometimes, they may not be aware their remarks or behavior are offensive and, when this is brought to their attention, a reasonable person will refrain from that behavior in the future. If you do not see this as an option, there are informal and formal steps to take toward a successful resolution. Informally, and depending upon your status (i.e., faculty, staff, student), there are personnel in a number of campus offices who can serve as a resource, including: Equity & Affirmative Action, Human Resources, Office of Student Life, and Campus Climate. If you are not sure what to do, contact someone in one of those offices for guidance and advice. Formal complaints are filed with and investigated by the appropriate university officials per UW-La Crosse Policy on Sexual Harassment.

(If you do not find your Question addressed, you may email equity@uwlax.edu for a personal response or referral to the appropriate office.)

Terminology

What is Affirmative Action? (AA)

Affirmative action refers to actions, policies and procedures in recruiting, hiring, promotions and all other personnel actions that are designed to achieve equal employment opportunity and eliminate the effects of past and present discrimination, particularly on the basis of race and gender. Affirmative action requires: (1) thorough, systematic efforts to prevent discrimination from occurring or to detect and eliminate it as promptly as possible and (2) recruitment and outreach measures. Affirmative Action does not involve quotas or preferential treatment for any job applicants based on race, gender, or any other status.

What is an Affirmative Action Plan?

An Affirmative Action Plan is a written set of specific, results-oriented procedures to be followed by all federal contractors holding contracts of $50,000 or more and employing 50 or more people and intended to remedy the effects of past discrimination against or underutilization of women and minorities. The effectiveness of the plan is measured by the results it actually achieves rather than by the results intended and by the good faith efforts undertaken by the contractor to increase the pool of qualified women and minorities in all parts of the organization.

What is harassment?

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).

Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, and/or age. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.

Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.

Prevention is the best tool to eliminate harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take appropriate steps to prevent and correct unlawful harassment. They should clearly communicate to employees that unwelcome harassing conduct will not be tolerated. They can do this by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process, providing anti-harassment training to their managers and employees, and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains. Employers should strive to create an environment in which employees feel free to raise concerns and are confident that those concerns will be addressed.

Employees are encouraged to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. Employees should also report harassment to management at an early stage to prevent its escalation.
Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

What is a "Protected Class"?

Protected classes are groups of people protected from discrimination under UWL and UW System policies and external laws and regulations. Under current policy, no employee may be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, ancestry, disability, pregnancy, marital or parental status, genetic information, arrest record, conviction record, military service, veteran status, use or nonuse of lawful products off the employer’s premises during nonworking hours, or declining to attend a meeting or participate in any communication about religious matters or political matters. (Source: UW Board of Regents Policy Document 14-6)

What is "Retaliation"?

Retaliation is an adverse employment action taken against an employee because that employee engaged in a protected activity, and is prohibited by UWL policy and applicable laws. An employer may not fire, demote, harass or otherwise "retaliate" against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposing discrimination. The same laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, and disability, as well as wage discrimination, also prohibit retaliation against individuals who oppose unlawful discrimination or participate in an employment discrimination proceeding.

In addition to the protections against retaliation that are included in all of the laws enforced by EEOC, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also protects individuals from coercion, intimidation, threat, harassment, or interference in their exercise of their own rights or their encouragement of someone else's exercise of rights granted by the ADA.

There are three main terms that are used to describe retaliation. Retaliation occurs when an employer, employment agency, or labor organization takes an adverse action against a covered individual because he or she engaged in a protected activity.  For a definition of these terms and examples of actions considered to be retaliatory, see http://www.eeoc.gov/types/retaliation.html.  
Source: U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.