The University of Michigan has put in place a best-in-class policy that prohibits a supervisor from initiating or attempting to initiate an intimate relationship with anyone they supervise.

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The policy also covers employees whose career the supervisor has the ability to influence even if the employee does not report directly to the supervisor. A supervisor who violates the policy could face dismissal.

Provost Susan M. Collins discussed the policy, called a Standard Practice Guide, during the July 15 Board of Regents meeting as part of a broader outline of steps the university is taking to create a culture at the university where every person is respected. 

Establishing such a policy is one of the recommendations made in the WilmerHale report that addressed sexual misconduct by former provost Martin Philbert.

“In creating a culture of respect for all employees, it is important to be clear about our values, our expectations and our procedures for handling concerns that may arise,” Collins said. “The policy and practices outlined today provide all of us with appropriate guidance and affirm our shared responsibility for building an inclusive, harassment-free community.”

SPG 201.97 is effective immediately and applies to all three U-M campuses and Michigan Medicine.

In addressing intimate relationships in the work environment, the university is guided by its core values and principles. “Most importantly, the university will maintain a workplace that is inclusive and free from abuse of power, coercion, sexually harassing conduct and favoritism. Such conduct will not be tolerated,” the policy says.

The policy also notes that U-M is a large and complex organization employing tens of thousands of employees and recognizes that intimate relationships may exist between some employees, either prior to the commencement of the employment relationship, or may develop after employment begins. But, the policy says, “the presence of intimate relationships is complicated when those relationships exist or develop between supervisors and supervisees.”

The university understands that many highly valued faculty and staff members are recruited to the university together with their partners, Collins said. This policy outlines what administrators and managers need to do to provide for objective evaluation of employees that is free from conflicts of interest and favoritism.

The policy is based on three guiding principles:

  • A supervisor may not, implicitly or explicitly, initiate or attempt to initiate an intimate relationship with a supervisee.
  • Recognizing that intimate relationships may develop in the workplace that are not initiated by a supervisor and are free from coercion and abuse of power, immediate disclosure of the relationship by the supervisor is required.
  • Upon disclosure, a management plan must be initiated, implemented and continuously monitored. 

A supervisor is defined as any employee who hires, fires, oversees, directs or evaluates the work of a supervisee. Supervisors also may include faculty members in their roles as supervisors of their staff, members of tenure or college executive committees, and participants in decisions affecting the careers of other faculty or staff members or physicians who direct the work of others in an administrative, patient care or training environment. 

“A supervisor is someone who has the authority to influence the career or employment status of the supervisee,” the policy says.

A supervisee is defined in the policy as anyone employed by the university, including full- and part-time faculty and staff or individuals who perform services for the university, under the oversight, direction or evaluation of a supervisor. Volunteers, temporary employees and student employees are included.

The policy describes an intimate relationship as “any relationship that may reasonably be described as sexual, romantic, amorous, and/or dating. Physical contact is not a required element of such relationships. An intimate relationship may exist on the basis of a single interaction.”

The supervisor is solely responsible for reporting an intimate relationship that may violate the policy and must cooperate in the development of a management plan. Management plans will give priority to the interests of the supervisee and must be signed by both parties to the relationship.

“If the potential for exploitation or favoritism or other conflicts of interest cannot be successfully mitigated and managed, the intimate relationship is prohibited or a transition plan to remove/exit the supervisor from the position will be necessary,” the policy says.

Resources are being developed to help employees understand when a relationship exists that must be managed, resources for the development of management plans and who is ultimately responsible for oversight of the management plan. Persons with questions about this policy should contact their human resources representative. 

Anyone who believes a supervisor is in violation of this policy, is encouraged to report the concern to the university as specified in the policy. Retaliation against anyone who “reports a potential violation, assists someone with a report of a violation, or participates in any manner in an investigation or in the resolution of a report made under this policy is strictly prohibited.”

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