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Workplace disputes with or between employees or with a union can be financially devastating for a business because of professional costs; reduction of staff efficiency; time spent investigating the matter and attending a Tribunal.

On a human level the employees involved often lose their self-esteem and dignity.

In a recent workplace mediation successful resolution was achieved in a situation where a female member of staff was complaining of inappropriate verbal comments being made by three younger male colleagues.  She had stopped coming to work and was being treated for depression.  The employer wanted to try to deal with the situation to get her back to work if possible for her own good and restore what had been only a short time before a good working relationship.  The mediation was difficult given the nature of the complaint but by the early afternoon she felt able to meet her colleagues, albeit singly.  The effect on them of being confronted by her telling them how their comments had offended, hurt and distressed her was significant.  She acceted that none of them had intended such consequences or been malicious.  She ultimately decided to return to work with them.  Such a result could not have been achieved at a Tribunal.   

This example illustrates that such disputes are often caused by a lack of understanding, failure of communication and/or misunderstanding.

Traditionally an employer will investigate the dispute for the purpose of determining fault. Attributing blame instead of seeking a resolution can be counterproductive and only exacerbate the problem to everyone’s disadvantage. The next stage for both sides is to refer the problem to solicitors so the trenches are dug, positions adopted and proceedings issued.

The staff member(s) most likely to bring proceedings for compensation very often leave their job due to stress and their health suffers.

Mediation by an independent and impartial mediator at an early stage in most cases can provide a solution that avoids Tribunal proceedings and resolves the dispute between the personalities involved by restoring the working relationship.

Many if not most employment problems are relationship problems and if allowed to fester will usually worsen.

Problems must be addressed quickly otherwise the sense of grievance increases and so does the likelihood of a claim.

Of course there will be situations where the cause of the grievance is money but these too must be dealt with quickly.

Currently employers [and unions] normally deal with disputes on an ad hoc basis that can prove costly to both in money but also in the human damage to employees.

The system of passively allowing a complaint to go to a Tribunal ignores the glaring fact that it would be more advantageous to all involved if matters could be dealt with rationally at or soon after the time they occur.

Immediate can play a part by helping to implement an employer and union dispute resolution strategy designed and utilised to deal with matters expeditiously.

To do so requires all involved - employers, lawyers, union representatives and government servants - to understand how mediation works and appreciate its advantages over other forms of dispute resolution.

The independence of the mediator is a key advantage in such disputes where trust and emotional tension are to the fore.

An objective and neutral mediator can help the parties to an agreed solution by exploring with them separately and later together the causes of their dispute and the options for resolution with the objective of restoring their working relationship and getting them back to work.
The same approach is successful with disputes between employers and unions where views can be entrenched and become polarised to the point that a mutually beneficial resolution becomes difficult to achieve through negotiation.