Casual work environments and ubiquitous digital technology have transformed the workplace—and made sexual harassment harder to handle. Between face to face, email and text messages, co-workers interact over a broader swath of the day than their predecessors ever dreamed of doing. And that has blurred the line between personal and professional lives.
By definition, sexual harassment investigations require a strict level of professionalism that may be at odds with the modern blue jean-clad, open floor plan office. Employees may be reluctant to rat out a co-worker, even if he is a harasser. They may feel, “The harasser may be a jerk, but he’s our jerk, and the person lodging the complaint has betrayed us by airing dirty laundry in public.”
Regardless: Supervisors and HR pros who receive harassment complaints must take them at face value and refer the complaining employee to the appropriate person who can launch the investigation. These personnel must be trained not to make judgments about the complaint’s veracity, but merely gather all information the investigator will need.
No matter how informal the workplace, every employer must have a mechanism in place to receive and investigate employee harassment complaints.