Virtually any difference that arises in the workplace can benefit from mediation if the parties are willing to deal directly with each other and if the company provides the resources for mediation. Indeed, over time, a workplace in which mediation is the preferred or presumed dispute resolution mechanism is likely to become a workplace in which colleagues and coworkers need less assistance in working through differences and begin to become natural collaborators. However, there are certain types of workplace conflicts in which any company would be well-advised to offer mediation.
1. Sexual harassment complaints. People often assume that parties to a sexual harassment complaint cannot work together to resolve the dispute. That assumption can do both parties a disservice. Many hostile environment complaints arise as a result of differences in perception about what is funny or flattering and what is offensive behavior, or they arise as a result of one person’s failure to respect the other or to understand the effect of his or her behavior on the other. If the parties are willing to talk with each other, these complaints can be mediated to excellent conclusions. The employer can save its relationship with both employees and avoid an expensive and painful lawsuit.
2. Disputes between employees.Sometimes interpersonal differences prevent coworkers from functioning effectively together. If the company needs both employees and wants them working together harmoniously, mediation can be very effective. The employees are offered a controlled setting in which to air their differences, guidance in communicating effectively about them, and a chance to make agreements about how they will function together in the future.
3. Deteriorating performance. A good employee can stop performing well for many reasons. Often, when the manager attempts to address the problem, the employee responds with fear and defensiveness, resulting in further deterioration. Mediation between them can help each understand the other’s needs, requirements and requests and can yield an agreement about how they will work together in the future. Both are more likely to observe such an agreement because both had a hand in creating it.
4. Terminations. When an employer chooses to terminate an employee even though the termination poses litigation risks, mediation on the terms of the separation can be very helpful. Through the mediation process, the employee has a chance to communicate severance needs and to affect the nature and quality of the severance package, while the employer has an opportunity to eliminate its litigation exposure. Mediation can also be beneficial emotionally: the employee may never agree that the termination was warranted but will more likely feel that he or she had a fair hearing, and may come to understand the reasons for the employer’s action. These realizations can make it easier for terminated employees to move ahead with their lives.