TX LEGAL EDGE

54

In-House Counsel’s Use of Mediation for Workplace Disputes

Carol Keough January 21, 2013

Mediation is often thought of only as an effective resolution to settling lawsuits.  However, this is only one use for mediation and every day there is potential alternative dispute resolution scenarios in the workplace when there are disputes between employees, between supervisors and employees, between upper management and lower or middle management.  How many times does a company end up losing a good employee simply because the only mechanism to resolve disputes is a complaint procedure which employees may or may not take advantage of? Often times the end result is management makes a decision which may leave one or both employees involved in the dispute unhappy.

 A good employee dealing with a supervisor with poor management skills may simply choose to take a new job somewhere else.  This approach is not cost effective for the company which loses an employee that the company has invested thousands of dollars in training, only to see the benefit of that training go to another employer.  Even worse, the person who may be the cause of the problem, still remains in their job without any recognition of what their role was in the dispute which caused the employee to leave.

More and more companies are starting to realize the benefit of utilizing mediation as a tool to resolve workplace disputes and to change behaviors which inhibit the cohesive functioning of the workplace. An impartial outside mediator helps the employees who have a dispute to work out a resolution themselves and to agree to implement that resolution.  The resolution is more effective because it is created by the disputing employees themselves and not by management.  At mediation, the employees are free to vent how upset they are with each other, without fear of any repercussions.  The mediator then guides the employees to explore a workable solution or at a minimum to recognize, sometimes for the first time, a behavior that needs to be changed.

Mediation can be a win-win situation for the employer.  In-House Counsel can play an important role in working with management to understand the benefits of a mediation program as a dispute resolution avenue for workplace disputes.  How many times does an employee file with the EEOC, the Department of Labor or the Texas Workforce Commission simply because the employee felt no one at the workplace was listening?  Each complaint takes up hours of Human Resource, In-House Counsel and sometimes outside counsel time.  As In-House Counsel, the next time a workplace dispute presents itself, you might consider the role that mediation can play in your company to change behavior, create cost-effective solutions and promote a more cohesive and satisfied workforce.

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