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How to handle a conciliation conference - Feb 2012

How to handle a conciliation conference - Feb 2012

A conciliation conference occurs when parties to a dispute meet to try and settle the issues they are in disagreement about. It can also be referred to as mediation.

A conciliation conference is usually run by an independent person, often known as a conciliator or mediator. This person will run the conciliation conference and assist the parties in their attempt to reach an agreement.

The conciliator does not decide who is right or wrong and does not tell either side what they must do. Conciliation conferences can take place face to face or over the telephone.

If you find yourself in the position of having to be involved in a conciliation conference, here are 5 things you should do to prepare:

1. Know your case.Review what happened and be clear about what you want. You could perhaps prepare a summary of the key events and dates that relate to the issue in dispute.

2. Get a preliminary assessment of the merits of your legal position.This can be achieved by consulting with your own in-house experts or external advisors, such as employment lawyers or industry associations.

3. Arrange for someone to take notes of everything that is said at conciliation.This should ideally be taken by someone who is not speaking at the conference.

4. Ensure that you bring any relevant documents with you.These may include medical certificates, prior warnings, company policies or any material that sets out the terms of employment.

5. If you are being externally represented, get the best possible estimate of the costs this will incur.Make sure you find out how much representation will cost if the matter ends up proceeding to a hearing.

At the Conciliation

Listen carefully to what is presented by (or for) the employee. When it is your turn to present, you or your representative should answer the employee's best points directly (if you can!). Emphasise your best points.

Understand the employee's claim the best you can. Take careful notes of the employee's presentation. Consider these carefully during the conference and decide if you should reassess your prospects of winning. Discuss these issues with your representative (if you have one).

Obtain the best possible settlement offer from the employee that you can - (the best from your perspective!). Determine a reasonable offer (for example, providing the employee with a number of weeks' pay and a statement of service). Stick to it for as long as possible.

Do your best to achieve a fair, cost-effective and reasonable settlement for your business. By doing so, you will avoid the costs and disruption to your business a hearing would cause. And make sure that the employee doesn't leave the conference optimistic about the prospects of winning the claim.

By Charles Power
Editor-in-Chief, Employment Law Practical Handbook