Getting back around the table
When you have a dispute with your boss, things can get very difficult. For bosses, disputes can be costly, time consuming, and have a negative effect on morale throughout the company. It is in everyone’s interests to resolve disputes as quickly as possible, and with minimum fuss. If things haven’t yet escalated to the point where you are initiating a tribunal, then mediation may get everyone back around the table and talking again, preventing the situation from escalating.
There are three ways to resolve disputes with third-party help. They are mediation, conciliation, and arbitration. In this instance, we’ll just be focusing on mediation.
This is when an independent and impartial third-party acts as a mediator between an employer and employee, or between two employees. It’s the next step after informal discussions, and is voluntary. You don’t have to accept any of the recommendations made at mediation, and if you are still unhappy with the proposed resolution you can then take the process on to conciliation or even straight to a tribunal.
It is important to point out, though, that mediation shouldn’t be used if a problem should be formally investigated, such as harassment or discrimination.
Picking your mediator
The most important part of mediation is choosing your impartial mediator. Remember, they are not there to sit in judgement of the situation, but to help both parties come to a resolution without the need for further action through a tribunal. It’s often advisable to have a mediator who is expert in employment law and can clarify the legal aspect of disputes, such as working hours, overtime, or even something as simple as dress code.
Solicitors frequently act as impartial third party mediators. Other routes include conciliatory service Acas, union representatives or outside professional mediators. It must be someone that both parties agree to, though, otherwise the mediation process could be doomed before it even starts.
While mediation agreements are not always legally binding, it is highly recommended that you talk to a solicitor before you sign any agreement. They will be able to tell you if the contract is in your interests, and resolves the issue to everyone’s satisfaction.
What else does a mediator do?
The mediator is there to guide you through the process, and preside at meetings between the two parties. They’re also there to provide ideas as to how the situation could be resolved, and, if they are legally trained, to offer legal advice throughout the process. It’s up to you whether you take their advice or recommendations or not.
The mediator will probably get the ball rolling by talking to each party separately, to get a better understanding of the situation. Emotions can run high during a dispute, so this is the mediator’s chance to hear both sides of the dispute in a calm and fair manner. It’s important to remember that the mediator is not there to take sides or make judgements, but simply to act as a conduit to encourage both parties to start talking to one another.
The right time, the right place
When the mediator feels the time is right, they will bring the two sides together to sit down and start talking. They will offer solutions, highlight any legal points, and provide expert opinion if required.
Mediation meetings are usually held at the employer’s premises, unless one of the parties asks for it to be held on ‘neutral ground’.
You are entitled to bring someone with you to mediation (whether that’s a friend, a union rep, or a solicitor), but you must let the mediator know beforehand. All parties must agree who will attend, and the mediator will focus on you, rather than anyone you bring with you (even if they are a legal representative). You can take guidance and advice from them during the process. If you don’t bring a solicitor with you but would like to consult with them before continuing the mediation, you can ask for an adjournment so that you can talk to a legal advisor.
You can also work with a solicitor before mediation to prepare your case.