Conciliation is a confidential, voluntary dispute resolution process in which an organization’s Internal Committee (IC) helps the parties reach a negotiated and mutually acceptable settlement. It is a confidential procedure which can only be initiated at the request of the complainant/aggrieved woman.
It is especially important because some acts, incidents or communications that fall under the POSH Act could have been committed inadvertently, but are prone to cause distress to the complainant. Further, the complainant might not wish to directly approach the person who made them feel uncomfortable, and conciliation acts as a viable setting to discuss any such instances/ issues that the complainant might want to address, but not necessarily escalate.
The Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act provides for conciliation under Section 10:
“10. Conciliation.—(1) The Internal Committee or, as the case may be, the Local Committee, may, before initiating an inquiry under section 11 and at the request of the aggrieved woman take steps to settle the matter between her and the respondent through conciliation: Provided that no monetary settlement shall be made as a basis of conciliation. (2) Where settlement has been arrived at under sub-section (1), the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, shall record the settlement so arrived and forward the same to the employer or the District Officer to take action as specified in the recommendation. (3) The Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, shall provide the copies of the settlement as recorded under sub-section (2) to the aggrieved woman and the respondent. (4) Where a settlement is arrived at under sub-section (1), no further inquiry shall be conducted by the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be.”
When the complainant first reaches out to the IC with a complaint and requests for conciliation, members of the IC must take cognizance of the nature of the complaint. Only cases of a milder nature are resolved through conciliation. For example, a complaint about an inadvertent comment about someone’s outfit could classify as a mild complaint, but a complaint regarding quid pro quo harassment between people at different levels of management would be a more serious matter, one that cannot be resolved through conciliation. It must be emphasized here that monetary compensation is prohibited from being a part of the settlement that results from conciliation.
Additionally, it is mandatory to ensure that both parties have consented to the conciliation process. In some cases, such as those in which the respondent is alleging that the complaint is malicious, they may wish to proceed directly with the inquiry process.
The process of conciliation provides a way to navigate through delicate and complicated workplace dynamics. It is important to maintain strict confidentiality, which is legally mandated not just for the inquiry process, but for conciliation as well.
The goal is to reach a settlement, which is essentially a workable conclusion for both parties; a few key defining factors of such a result would be an acknowledgement of the inappropriate nature of the act, an assurance that such an act would not be repeated.
Finally, it is important to recognize that an employee filing a complaint is a form of positive feedback for the Internal Committee. It is a sign of trust in the institution, and faith that the complaint will be resolved in the best way possible. It is therefore crucial for ICs to harness conciliation as a critical tool in the process of resolving complaints.
Certain unique features of the conciliation process are as follows:
- It can only be initiated by the complainant. Under no circumstances can the IC initiate such proceedings, unless explicitly requested to do so by the complainant.
- Monetary compensation can never be a part of the settlement that is reached at the end of conciliation.
- Conciliation is an informal procedure, merely facilitated by the IC.
- Though a useful process, it is not compulsory. It is a form of informal dispute resolution under the POSH act.
- The agreements reached at the end of the process are recorded in a Conciliation Settlement Agreement.
Conciliation attempts to help employees address problems in the workplace with a scope for rehabilitation. It is important to emphasize the significance of the provision of conciliation, as it provides reassurance that not all complaints require escalation to the inquiry stage.
In case you have any queries regarding conciliation in the POSH Act, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org