What is informal resolution?
Being involved in a complaint can be difficult situation for all parties involved, and the need for a fair and thorough process can mean that investigations take time. Often, a complainant's main wish is for the respondent to understand and acknowledge the impact of their behaviour and to take steps to rectify this and to continue with a productive professional working relationship. Informal resolution is a process which, if successful, may allow for an issue to be resolved for both parties, while helping to restore a professional relationship, or allowing both sides to better understand each other.
How can I access informal resolution?
Informal resolution is offered at several points throughout the case.
- For cases of bullying or harassment, informal resolution can be explored with the Independent Investigator at any stage of the investigation until the draft formal assessment report has been issued for factual accuracy check.
- If the complainant has experienced sexual misconduct, informal resolution can be brokered before a formal complaint has been made; this is done through the complainant contacting the helpline, which is run by Victim Support. Should a complainant of sexual misconduct decide to explore informal resolution once investigation has begun, they will need to contact the helpline to organise this. The Helpline provider can commission a specialist mediation organisation to facilitate Informal resolution in these circumstances, and the complainant can have the support of a specialist Independent Sexual Misconduct Advisor (ISMA) throughout the process should they require it.
For investigations undertaken by the Lords Commissioners for Standards, it is important to note that the Lords follow arrangements in the Code of Conduct. This states that “At any time during an investigation involving bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct the Commissioner may reach an agreed resolution with both the complainant and the member under investigation. At the Commissioner’s discretion, such an agreed resolution can bring the investigation to an end.” This is the equivalent of, but not identical to, informal resolution through the ICGS.
What are the benefits of informal resolution?
For someone who makes a complaint, informal resolution may provide an opportunity to resolve their complaint quickly without the need for a full investigation. The outcome of informal resolution does not automatically place any blame on the respondent, as there has been no investigation to determine this. The benefits of informal resolution can include:
- Timing: For several reasons, any investigation may become protracted. Substantial delays can impact on the wellbeing of those involved. Once agreed with both parties, informal resolution can commence and conclude quickly.
- Flexibility: If a complainant decides to resolve the matter informally, but becomes unsatisfied with the process, they can revert into the complaints process and continue with an investigation.
- Control: During a Full Assessment, complainants can feel a loss of control as the final decision is out of their hands. Informal Resolution can sometimes help a complainant feel more involved in the outcome of their complaint. In most circumstances, sanctions that are the outcomes of an investigation are strictly confidential and actioned by the Decision-Making Body (usually, the respondent’s employer or HR department). So, the complainant may have no knowledge of any sanctions that are the outcome of their investigation. The outcome of any informal resolution should be kept confidential between both parties unless agreed otherwise and does not constitute a sanction.
- Outcomes: successful informal resolution creates a better working environment and can repair relationships in a way that may feel more proportionate than proceeding with a full formal complaint. Through informal resolution, complainants may have higher chances of achieving an outcome that brings them a sense of closure or resolution.