What is workplace mediation, conciliation and arbitration?
Mediation, in a workplace context, is where an independent third party attempts to repair a damaged relationship between two parties, often an employer and employee, or two employees. A mediator may discuss possible solutions with the two parties, but there is no obligation on either side to accept the suggested course of action. After meeting with the parties involved, perhaps via both individual and joint meetings, a mediator is likely to suggest ways the two sides can work together effectively in the future, and will not get involved with determining who was right or wrong in the dispute. Mediation is often used in employer grievance procedures, or to resolve disagreements between employees.
Conciliation could be used where there are grounds for making a complaint about employment rights to an employment tribunal, or where there are other formal legal issues to discuss, whereas mediation is often concerned with more informal matters. Conciliators will discuss the issues with each side, perhaps via both individual and collective meetings, and will encourage the two sides to reach agreement between themselves.
Arbitration also involves a third party trying to sort out a workplace dispute, but unlike mediation, here the arbitrator will actually arrive at a firm decision as to how to resolve the issue. Before entering arbitration, the two parties will normally have agreed in advance to abide by the arbitrator’s decision. Arbitration is often used for collective bargaining issues, such as where strike action is being considered, or is taking place, however the process can still be used to resolve individual disputes if the two parties agree.
All three methods could be used as an alternative to an employment tribunal, or formal proceedings in a court of law. The process is often quicker, cheaper and less stressful than going to a tribunal.
All of these processes are voluntary, so if you suggest to your employer that it engages in mediation, conciliation or arbitration, it is not legally required to take you up on your offer. Conversely, if your employer recommends one or more of these approaches is used, there is no obligation for you to agree.