Milwaukee County Sexual Harassment Policy
Milwaukee County is committed to providing a workplace that is free from sexual harassment. Employees are expected to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the spirit and intent of this policy. Offensive behavior, including harassment, will not be tolerated, and employees are encouraged to report all harassment, whether as a recipient or an observer. Every harassment claim will be appropriately investigated. Any employee found to have acted in violation of this policy shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
What is sexual harassment? Sexual harassment may be defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It occurs when:
- The victim's submission to such conduct is made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment; or
- The victim's submission to or rejection of the conduct by the harasser is used as the basis for employment decisions and/or retaliation; or
- The conduct has the effect of unreasonably interfering with the victim's work performance or otherwise acts to create an objectively hostile or offensive work environment - a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or offensive.
Sexual harassment can affect anyone. Harassers and their victims can be of the opposite sex or of the same sex. The Supreme Court says:
If the conduct in question may adversely affect the work performance or the well-being of the person who complains, or any reasonable person in the workplace, the conduct is unacceptable and may be illegal. It doesn't matter what someone's intention is - what matters is the impact that the conduct has on others. For example, jokes that are crude, insensitive, or sexually suggestive may be offensive to employees to whom they are told or who may overhear them.
Examples of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment may be verbal or non-verbal. Remember, it isn't about intent - it is about the effect the harassment has on others. Claiming that you were just making a joke or having fun is no excuse for making someone uncomfortable. Regardless of whether someone is offended, behavior like the examples that follow will not be tolerated at Milwaukee County. They all have the potential of being considered sexual harassment.
Examples include, but are not limited to:
- making sexual or derogatory comments;
- sending letters, notes, cartoons, e-mails or audio of a sexually suggestive nature;
- placing harassing phone calls;
- making repeated requests for dates;
- requesting sexual favors.
- grabbing or touching parts of the body;
- brushing against another's body;
- physical attacks, rape or other gross sexual imposition;
- treating employees differently because of their gender;
- viewing, downloading, or displaying sex-related cartoons, pictures, videos or similar material.
It is also about respect
At Milwaukee County, we strive for a professional and respectful work environment - an environment where all employees, regardless of gender, feel comfortable.
Behavior or comments that are unprofessional or disrespectful will not be tolerated. The following examples may or may not constitute sexual harassment, but are unprofessional and do not belong in the workplace.
- using language that is degrading or abusive;
- telling jokes of a sexual nature or making sexually explicit comments;
- referring to someone as "babe," a "hunk," "honey" or similar terms;
- talking about one's sex life or the sex life of co-workers, customers or others;
- turning innocuous statements into sexual innuendoes.
What does all of this mean?
- No one - not a manager, co-worker, elected official, contractor, vendor or customer - has the right to say or do things of a sexual nature that make people afraid, embarrassed or uncomfortable at work.
- Never assume that if no one complains no one is offended. Others may not feel comfortable telling you that your advances, jokes, comments, etc. offend them. These types of behaviors do not belong in the workplace and may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
Importance of reporting sexual harassment
If you are being harassed, one way to resolve the problem is to tell the harasser to stop. However, if you are uncomfortable confronting the harasser, you do not ever have to endure sexual harassment or try to resolve the matter yourself. There are other avenues available to you to report the conduct making you uncomfortable. For example, you could make a report to your manager or to your department's Human Resources representative, your manager's manager, or the manager of a different department. Or, you may escalate your concern to our Employee Relations Hotline, 278-2000. Reporting incidents is the surest way to correct problems and prevent reoccurrence.
- Sometimes, employees do not report inappropriate behavior. This may be interpreted by the harasser as a sign that the behavior is not a problem or that the victim is not offended. However, most employees who do not report sexual harassment fail to act out of fear: fear of losing a job, fear of not being believed, fear of being blamed, fear for safety, or fear of retaliation.
- Sometimes employees hesitate to report harassment out of fear of the consequences to the harasser. Keep in mind that if someone is disciplined for engaging in inappropriate behavior, it's because this person has violated an important policy. You are not creating the problem - this person has caused the problem by engaging in inappropriate behavior.
By reporting the problem, you are helping Milwaukee County enforce an important policy, as well as helping to ensure that other people are not subjected to similar behavior. This is the only way we will be successful at keeping sexual harassment out of the workplace.
And remember -- no employee will be subject to any form of retaliation or discipline for making a sexual harassment complaint. Report the incident and Milwaukee County will conduct a prompt, thorough investigation and will take appropriate action to correct any conduct found to be inappropriate.
If you feel you have been sexually harassed by an employee, manager, elected official, customer, vendor, or contractor, or if you have observed such conduct in the workplace, please follow the procedures below:
- Report the problem to your supervisor, a higher-level manager within your business line, Human Resources, or the Employee Relations Hotline (278-2000). There are many people who are in a position to help - but it is difficult to help if the problem is not reported.
- Maintain confidentiality. During the investigation, we will ask all parties to keep information that is shared confidential. This is in the best interest of all parties who may be affected by or included in the investigation.
- Inform Human Resources if you feel you are being retaliated against as a result of reporting the sexual harassment. Retaliation against the complainant or witnesses will not be tolerated.
- Consider using our employee assistance program. United Healthcare offers free professional counseling to employees who need guidance and counseling during difficult situations. The program is not a substitute for reporting the incident to Milwaukee County, but it exists to help you deal with the emotional and stressful implications of these types of problems.
Once an incident is reported, Human Resources will ensure a prompt and thorough investigation. The investigation may include interviews with the person who feels harassed, the accused harasser, and witnesses, as appropriate. Every effort will be made to keep all complaints and the details of the situation as confidential as possible. However, it may be necessary to share information with others on a "need to know" basis during the investigation.
An important note to managers & supervisors
As a manager or supervisor, you play an important role at Milwaukee County.
- Model appropriate behavior. It is hard to hold others accountable for professional and respectful behavior unless you are setting the example. This also means providing leadership by discussing the policy, encouraging reporting, and providing training opportunities for your staff to help them understand sexual harassment.
- Report and act on problems. If you see or hear of unacceptable behavior within or outside of your work group - whether by a manager, employee, elected official, customer, vendor, or contractor - it is your responsibility to report and act on that behavior promptly. Your knowledge of inappropriate behavior may result in County liability if prompt and appropriate action is not taken.
If an employee tells you in confidence about inappropriate behavior and asks you not to tell anyone, explain that although you have a legal obligation to report the information, every effort will be made to limit the sharing of information with others to a "need to know" basis. Report the behavior to Human Resources so that the problem can be investigated immediately.
- Do not abuse the authority of your position. As a manager or supervisor, you are in a unique position. You make decisions about salary increases, promotions, bonuses, etc. You may never imply that an employee's terms and conditions of employment are conditioned upon a sexual relationship.
Asking an employee for a date or making sexual advances toward an employee who reports directly or indirectly to you puts that person in a very awkward situation. The employee may find it difficult to say no, and he/she may be concerned that saying no could affect his/her employment. You may consider the relationship consensual, but the employee may be very uncomfortable with it.
Even consensual relationships between a manager and employee put others in the work group in an awkward situation. They may be concerned about reporting work issues pertaining to the employee with whom you are having a relationship, or they may feel their own promotions, work assignments, etc. are less favorable than those received by the employee you may be seeing.
Personal relationships between a manager and an employee in his/her work group must be reported to the next-level manager or Human Resources in order to assess the potential business risk and determine appropriate actions.
Milwaukee County’s commitment
Milwaukee County takes sexual harassment seriously. After we’ve concluded our investigation, any person found to have engaged in sexual harassment or in any inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature will be disciplined. Such disciplinary action may include termination, even for the first offense. Remember, Milwaukee County will not tolerate sexual harassment that affects employees in the workplace or at County-sponsored events. We are all expected to conduct ourselves in a manner consistent with the spirit and intent of this policy.
To view the pdf, click here
Created: 4/23/2013; REVISED 5/8/2013