An independent mediator can sometimes help resolve grievance or disciplinary issues. There is no charge for using the Labour Relations Agency's mediation service.
Mediation is a voluntary process where the mediator helps two or more people in dispute attempt to reach an agreement. Any agreement reached is developed by those in dispute and not the mediator. The mediator is not there to judge, to say one person is right and the other wrong, or to tell those involved in the mediation what they should do. The mediator is there to assist the parties in resolving the issue in dispute.
Mediators may be employees, trained and accredited by an external mediation service who act as internal mediators in addition to their day jobs. Or they may be from an external mediation provider like the Labour Relations Agency. They can work individually or in pairs as co-mediators.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for when mediation is appropriate but it can be used:
- for disputes involving colleagues of a similar job or grade, or between a line manager and their staff;
- at any stage in the dispute as long as any ongoing formal procedures are put on hold, or where mediation is included as a stage in the procedures themselves;
- to rebuild relationships after a formal dispute has been resolved; and
- to address a range of issues, including relationship breakdown, personality clashes, communication problems, bullying and harassment.
Mediation can seem most suitable in helping to resolve grievances.
In some organisations mediation is written into formal discipline and grievance procedures as an optional stage. Where this is not the case, it is useful to be clear about whether the discipline and grievance procedure can be paused if mediation is proposed or requested and it is felt to be an appropriate method of resolving the dispute.
Managers may not always feel it’s appropriate to give up their decision-making power in relation to disciplinary issues where they believe a point of principle is at stake, such as misconduct or poor performance. However, disciplinary and grievance issues can become blurred, and the employer may prefer to tackle the underlying relationship issues through mediation.
Employers can make a referral to the Labour Relations Agency to request mediation and the Agency will contact the parties to ask if they wish to use the service. There is no charge for any of the Labour Relations Agency’s services.
When mediation isn’t a suitable option
Mediation may not be suitable if:
- used as a first resort – because people should be encouraged to speak to each other and talk to their manager before they seek a solution via mediation;
- it is used by a manager to avoid their managerial responsibilities;
- a decision about right or wrong is needed, for example where there is possible criminal activity;
- the individual bringing a discrimination or harassment case wants it investigated;
- the parties do not have the power to settle the issue; or
- one side is completely intransigent and using mediation will only raise unrealistic expectations of a positive outcome.