If you’ve held a supervisory position in the 21st century, chances are good you’ve been given this instruction by your supervisor: Document everything. Any kind of serious conflict or incident involving someone you supervise, write it down and date it, including actions taken by the company.
Why? In the event of legal action taken by an employee against the company, the documentation you’ve accumulated is proof that issues involving the employee were taken seriously. It’s standard practice at most companies above the level of mom-and-pop business.
Which makes us wonder why the University of Wisconsin-Madison is reportedly not insisting on such documentation when it comes to accusations of sexual harassment.
UW-Madison does not require supervisors or human resources officials to keep records of anonymous sexual harassment complaints that are brought forward by students or employees, administrators say.
Failing to document those cases could make it much more difficult for officials to know whether an employee has been disciplined for sexual harassment in the past, according to two experts on the federal gender discrimination law Title IX, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday. They also warned that — as colleges nationwide face mounting pressure to address sexual misconduct by employees as well as students — failing to record complaints could make UW-Madison vulnerable to lawsuits from harassment victims.
“You have to be able to have some documentation, because if that professor or that person harasses again, the school can be liable if it doesn’t take action to address that,” said Neena Chaudhry, director of education and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center. “From a school’s point of view, it should want to know what’s happening if there are multiple complaints against a person.”
Saunie Schuster, a co-founder of the Association of Title IX Administrators, said harassment complaints “should never be undocumented.”
Asked about the criticism, UW-Madison officials said they are working to develop a system to track sexual harassment allegations against employees, as well as clearer policies for recording complaints that are handled through the university’s “informal resolution” process.
“I wouldn’t assume that there isn’t tracking” of anonymous harassment complaints, said Lauren Hasselbacher, UW-Madison’s Title IX coordinator, though she acknowledged there is not a policy requiring employees do so.
“That is an area where the university can improve,” Hasselbacher said.
It can and it must. Because what should be obvious to any Wisconsin taxpayer is the fact that we fund the University of Wisconsin System. When Ms. Chaudhry points out that “the school can be liable,” that means that we would be paying, at least in part, for UW-Madison to deal with sexual harassment complaints.
In a 2015 survey on sexual misconduct, just over half of 1,503 responding women graduate students at UW-Madison said they had experienced sexual harassment in their time on campus. Of those who said they were harassed, 22.2 percent reported the source of the harassment was a UW-Madison faculty member — people in positions of power who in some cases could make or break students’ careers in tight-knit academic circles.
It’s hard to believe that UW-Madison, the System’s flagship, doesn’t require documentation on sexual harassment.
Not only is it the right thing to do — administrators must be aware of, and document, complaints against employees for the safety of all employees and students — but in 2017, keeping a copy of a complaint you file is as simple as flagging a sent email.
UW-Madison should be far more proactive in maintaining a database on sexual harassment, so that repeat offenders can be retrained or shown the door.