Actively avoiding bias and conflict of interest play an important role in the functioning of the Internal Committee. In part one of the series, the discussion revolved around how to prepare Internal Committees (ICs) to work in a manner that does not allow for bias and conflict of interest. This begins from choosing Internal Committee members who have an understanding of gender and sexual harassment. Additionally, investing in effectively training IC members to understand, identity and manage unconscious bias plays an essential role.
When discussing bias or conflict of interest, it is presumed to be only in context of established work relationships such as being a manager or reportee to parties of the complaint or if a Committee member is a party to the complaint themselves. However, bias and conflict of interest can take various forms in a PoSH inquiry.
In addition to obvious biases due to position, there may also be various personal biases that may play a role such as personal relationships and professional dynamics. These can also impact a Committee member’s ability to focus on the facts in the scenario as their personal equation with the parties can impact their ability to stay unbiased. Hence, it is important to consider bias from multiple perspectives to ensure an inquiry is in line with the PoSH Law.
Here are a few scenarios where conflict of interest may arise:
IC member as a witness to an incident mentioned in the complaint
An IC member may have witnessed an incident of sexual harassment, before the complaint is filed with the committee. In these scenarios, the IC member is likely to have preconceived notions regarding the outcome of the case which will impact their ability to take neutral decisions during an inquiry.
In such situations, it is recommended that they do not participate in the inquiry as part of the Internal Committee. They may, however, choose to be witnesses in the inquiry. The Committee member will step down for the specific inquiry and an alternative Committee member shall be appointed to ensure that quorum is maintained.
IC member is the direct reporting manager of the complainant or respondent
A direct manager frequently interacts with their reportees and has access to information regarding the employee’s background, performance etc. which can impact their ability to view the complaint in a manner that is separate from other aspects of their employment.
Hence, it is recommended that direct managers are not part of the Internal Committee to ensure a bias free process.
IC member and the complainant/respondent are co-workers in the same team, are friends
There may be scenarios where an IC member and a complainant or a respondent are co-workers in the same team, have a friendship or a personal relationship. This may create a situation where the IC member and the complainant or the respondent have a relationship which may impact their ability to remain bias-free.
Another potential area of a conflict of interest may arise if the IC member and the complainant or respondent are competing for a promotion. Here, the IC member may have a conflict of interest with the outcome of the inquiry.
As an IC, it is important to recognise the potential areas of a conflict of interest at the beginning of an inquiry to ensure a fair and just process upholding the principles of natural justice and the PoSH Law.