Mediation is defined by Acas as “a completely voluntary and confidential form of resolving workplace disputes between people”.
It involves an independent third party working with those concerned to try and seek an amicable resolution for everyone.
Mediation is considered an important factor in resolving workplace disputes by both Acas and Tribunals.
It demonstrates a willingness by both parties to resolve conflicts, improve communication, restore trust and allow the parties to move forward.
When is workplace mediation appropriate?
Mediation can be used to resolve a variety of workplace disputes.
It is typically used in relationship issues, for example, conflict between colleagues or prior to or as an outcome to a grievance/Importantly, both parties must be willing to resolve their issues through mediation for it to be furthered.
Mediation can be particularly helpful where the employment relationship is continuing, as the parties will want to ensure there is a good working relationship moving forward.
There is no set form to mediation and mediators can be flexible as to how the parties approach it.
They can sit around a table and discuss the issues in an open forum, using the mediator to chair, or the mediator can pass back and forth between the parties and discuss their issues separately, finally bringing both parties together to agree on outcomes and a way forwards.
When is mediation not appropriate?
There are circumstances when mediation is not an appropriate response to dealing with a workplace issue.
A situation involving serious misconduct, for example, would need to be dealt with through a formal process.
Mediation can be an efficient and cost-effective way of dealing with employment problems.
A skilled mediator will quickly identify the key issues in a case and establish what outcome both sides want to achieve.
There are no timelines for mediation and it can be used alongside any stage of a process, for example before or as an outcome to a grievance, or to agree on a settlement where a tribunal is on the cards.
Discussions that are conducted during mediation are not binding and the whole process is entirely confidential.
The outcome will only be binding if it is agreed by both parties.
The main downside of mediation is that there is no guarantee of a resolution.
A commercial view should, therefore, be taken, as a business should only really consider incurring the cost of appointing a mediator if all parties are willing to engage in the process and are prepared to compromise.