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More needs to be done to educate employers and employees about the benefits of mediation to solve workplace conflict, says leading business and employment law firm The Legal Partners.
“Employers and employees need to know they can ask for Mediation if there is a dispute,” says Shân Veillard–Thomas, Mediator Partner at the firm.
She currently works with HR staff and company leaders and believes it can be very constructive to include the option of mediation in employment contracts and staff handbooks. “There are so many disputes which can cause stress, whether it’s bullying, issues around women returning from maternity leave or flexible working. Mediation can help,” says Shân.
The Government has been promoting mediation as a cheaper alternative to employment tribunals. Increasing support for mediation has accompanied the introduction of fees for employment tribunals. This has led to a big drop in the number of cases being taken to court, particularly for issues such as sex discrimination.
Shân says that in addition to cost, one of its main benefits over other forms of conflict resolution in the workplace is that it is rapid and can be organised quickly, within a week to 10 days or quicker. It is also a confidential process. No-one else but the two parties are involved. HR departments will arrange and pay for the mediation but are not present during the process and are only informed that it has taken place and of the agreed outcome. “It’s like executive coaching or counselling,” she says. “The parameters are the same. The mediator is independent and impartial, they do not and are not seen as taking sides and their role is to facilitate agreement.”
The alternative is legal action and this involves the employee first taking out a grievance. Cases taken out without going through the grievance process first risk having any award from a successful case being reduced by 25%. Grievances can take a lot of management time and energy and often end up with neither party feeling happy. Shân says mediation can be a useful part of the grievance process and provide a more effective, longer-term resolution.
She states: “An employment tribunal can take months and lots of management time and energy. The dispute leading up an ET claim not only causes stress to those involved, but can have a toxic effect on the wider company. And it’s expensive, she says. ”The management time spent investigating the grievance before the ET claim, legal fees, disruption to the team and other costs can exceed £20,000 or more.”
Moreover, she says situations like bullying can be nipped in the bud pretty early. Shân was brought into The Legal Partners to set up and head their mediation service. She was an executive coach at the time and also conducted academic research into both sides of mediation coaching and into the role of mediation in preventing disputes.
Shân explains the process: “On the day the mediator will speak with each party separately, listen to them and identify any underlying issues. When the mediator feels they can be brought together, they will have a joint discussion. At this session the parties can talk to each other with the safety of a mediator present.”
Shân says 94% of cases are settled. Moreover, the mediator can agree to keep in touch with both parties for up to a year afterwards. At its heart is the importance of communication, but in a busy workplace real communication is often lacking. Mediation aims to open up those channels of communication.
*For further information about how mediation works, read Shân’s article here. For questions and help on how to ask for mediation, contact workingmums.co.uk.