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How would mediation work for my firm as an alternative way of dealing with disputes?


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Q I have a grievance policy in place that allows three options for staff to avail of if they have an issue in work they wish to have resolved. Those options are informal, formal or mediation. I have a clear understanding of what is involved if someone wants an informal or formal process, but can you clarify what the mediation would involve and what I as the employer would be required to do.

A Mediation is a form of ADR (alternative dispute resolution) and it can apply in many areas - for example, commercial issues, legal issues, community issues, workplace issues or family disputes.

These disputes may involve difficulties between management and staff or between individual employees. The process of mediation can be very effective for many types of disputes, particularly complaints of bullying and harassment, and has become an increasingly popular alternative to the formal investigation process.

The Principles of Mediation

Mediation involves an independent, neutral mediator helping parties to agree through collaborative engagement. Mediation helps understand the reasons behind the conflict and agrees on ways of future interaction and behaviour. The most important principles of mediation are:


1 Voluntary: The voluntary commitment of both parties is essential for the mediation's success -both parties are free to leave the process at any time, at which stage the mediation will end.

2 Impartiality: The mediator remains impartial and does not take any sides or make judgements - any agreements are made by the parties themselves. Mediation is not about disputing parties blaming each other and it is not about who is right or wrong - it is about understanding what has happened, where things may have gone wrong and agreeing on a way forward.

3 Confidentiality: Discussions during the process and any agreements remain confidential at all times, unless both parties agree otherwise.


The Process of Mediation

Mediation is most effective when used as early as possible, before the conflict becomes too entrenched. There are two main stages in the mediation process.

The first is a meeting between the mediator and each party separately. The purpose of this initial meeting is to clarify the parties' understanding of mediation, confirm their voluntary commitment to the process, and ascertain what each hopes to achieve by partaking in the process. The mediator will also use this meeting to gain an understanding of the interests and needs of each party, and the underlying reasons for the conflict.

The second stage is a joint meeting between both parties facilitated by the mediator. At the joint meeting the mediator's role is to oversee the process, assist communication between the parties, support them in identifying their issues and needs, and facilitate the parties to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.

At the beginning of the mediation joint session both parties will have the opportunity to set the ground rules by which the meeting will abide (eg, 'no bad language'). During the mediation, private meetings between the mediator and either party can take place at the request of either party or the mediator.

The Benefits of Mediation

There are many benefits of using mediation for resolving disputes. These include companies are now recognising mediation as a faster, cheaper alternative to the traditional methods of dispute resolution and parties are allowed to have ownership of the resolution process.

Other benefits are because the parties take responsibility for the development and implementation of their own agreement, this increases the parties' levels of satisfaction with the outcome and leads to more sustainable resolutions. Mediation also reduces the risk of losing good employees.

Caroline McEnery, managing director of The HR Suite, is a member of the Low Pay Commission and is an adjudicator in the Work Place Relations Commission. She is also author of The Art of Asking the Right Questions

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