Techniques for Employee Dispute Resolution in the Workplace

Techniques for Employee Dispute Resolution in the Workplace
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Sway Arguments Before They Begin

Disputes arise in the workplace when workers feel they are at the receiving end of a raw deal, or feel the employer does not give them their due. Common causes for disputes include working hours, pay rates, overtime, bonus, discrimination, sexual harassment, and others. Conflict may also occur among employees owing to ego clashes, misunderstandings, politicking, oneupmanship, or for many other reasons. Most companies have both formal and informal mechanisms to handle such disputes.

Many companies strive for a proactive approach of minimizing changes of disputes through informal bonding mechanisms. Interventions that serve this purpose are regular office parties and outings, extra-curricular activities such as fitness and others that enable employees to strike rapport. Formal mechanisms that promote bonding and preempt disputes between the employee and the management includes providing the promised benefits on time, and taking efforts to create a caring organization where the employer tries best to accommodate employees specific requests such as flexible working hours, a sabbatical, or more.

Standard Approach

Regardless of the initiatives to preempt conflict or anger from occurring, some disputes and conflicts remain inevitable in any workplace. Most medium to large companies have a dispute resolution policy in place that provides the methodology and procedure to address and solve disputes. Although such policies vary from company to company, the following standard procedures apply:

  1. The affected employee makes a formal complaint to the supervisor, or to the human resource office.
  2. The human resource department or any other designated competent authority inquires or fact-finds to understand the complete picture and collect finer details of the case. This usually involves hearing the other side of the story, and allowing opportunity to any affected party to challenge such statements. This may even take the form of a running debate.
  3. A designated committee empowered to handle such cases meet and deliberate on the issue, deciding how best to solve the dispute. The options before the committee are effecting a compromise or reconciliation by clearing any misunderstandings, allowing the claim, or disregarding the claim.

Mediation and Arbitration

In normal cases, failure of the company’s in-house dispute mechanism leads to lawsuits by the aggrieved party. Mediation and arbitration are two common alternative mechanisms for employee dispute resolution in the workplace, available when the company policy or employment contracts make provision for the same. These approaches serve as alternatives to litigation, and provides both parties with a quicker and less burdensome alternative to lengthy and costly lawsuits.

Mediation is a voluntary process where a neutral third person acts as the intermediary to resolve the conflict. The mediator makes an impartial study and undertakes an objective assessment of the situation, and prompts both parties to identify a common ground and reconcile. Arbitration is more-or-less similar to mediation, but a more structured process, and unlike mediation, may have legal validity with both parties bound by the decision of the arbitrator.

Mediators and arbitrators are third party agents noted for their problem solving skills, reputation, and integrity, and selected by a process of consensus between both parties. Usually the employer keeps on suggesting a mediator or arbitrator until the employee accepts one. Arbitrators are usually practicing attorneys who specialize in the field. The many arbitration and mediation associations in the United States provide a good source for arbitrators and mediators.

Management vests such mediators with the rights and powers to inquire about the case and make a decision, and the offended party agree to the same. Success depends on selecting a skilled mediator or arbitrator, and involving them at an early stage of the dispute.

Arbitration and the Law

Arbitration decisions are final and binding, and courts rarely overturn such verdicts unless the affected party proves the arbitrator did not apply the principles of justice when disposing the case. Very often, arbitration agreements require both the employer and employer to waive their right to sue in court. Any party may, however, approach the court to enforce the arbitrator’s award.

The US Supreme Court endorsed binding arbitration of employment claims, including claims involving discrimination in the landmark Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane, 500 U.S. 20 (1991) case. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 also recommended arbitration as a preferred means to solve employee disputes. The Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U.S. 105 (2001) applied arbitration based on the provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act as a mandatory requirement when most employee contracts contain this provision.

Employers implementing an arbitration policy in the workforce need to provide a clear notice of the same to employees, highlighting the fact they would forfeit their right to sue in court, inform them of their right to an attorney, and the provisions for selecting an arbitrator mutually.

Dispute resolution is a basic Human Resource activity. Organizations that take the initiative to address causes for disputes promptly enjoy a favorable industrial relations climate, allowing them to focus their energy on positive and productive activities.


  1. University of Texas at Austin. “Dispute Resolution Process and Grievance Procedure.” Retrieved June 19, 2011.
  2. Virginia Department of Employee Dispute Resolution. “Grievance Procedure.” Retrieved JUne 19, 2011.
  3. “Arbitration: Is It right For Your Workplace?” Retrieved June 19, 2011

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