Mediation is essentially a voluntary process where an independent person (a “mediator”) assists the parties attending the mediation. This typically involves an employee and employer in an employment dispute, working through legal and emotional issues and developing solutions together to repair the employment relationship problems in a semi-formal and confidential environment.
Attending mediation is not like attending court as you are not under oath and are not cross-examined. Mediation requires the employee and employer (“the parties”) to attend the mediation, or it cannot proceed. Each party is entitled to bring representation and a support person to the mediation. At the beginning of the mediation, the mediator will outline the process of the mediation and ask the parties if they have any questions about the process. During the mediation, the mediator will ask each party questions to identify and refine the issues. The mediator will give each party the opportunity to speak; interruptions are not permitted. If the parties are not able to adhere to this rule, the mediator may put each party in separate rooms and talk to each party individually to attempt to reach a resolution.
Anything said during mediation and all documents prepared for the mediation, including the terms of the resolution, if one occurs, are confidential. Because of this, what happens in mediation may not be able to be used as evidence in the Employment Relations Authority (“ERA”) or Employment Court. Confidentiality encourages the parties to be honest and forthcoming with their information to increase the chances of reaching a resolution.
When preparing for mediation, the parties are encouraged to prepare written statements, accounts of events, and collate any evidence and documents such as texts or emails to support their position. To get the most out of mediation parties are encouraged to:
- Listen to the other parties' point of view, even if they do not agree;
- Acknowledge anything they may have done differently or better;
- Be honest and open;
- Have an open mind for resolutions; and
- Be willing to bend a little to reach an agreement.
Even if a resolution is not reached between the parties, they can request the mediator to recommend a non-binding solution under section 149A of the Employment Relations Act 2000 that the parties can consider. The mediator will make a written recommendation. The recommendation will include a date when the recommendation will become binding; the parties may consider accepting or rejecting the recommendation. Please note that if either party does not reject the recommendation before the specified date, it will become a full and final settlement and enforceable.
The parties also have the option of requesting a binding recommendation under section 150 of the Act.
Some advantages of resolving the dispute at mediation are:
The cost is significantly less than hearing the dispute in court; and
Mediation lets the parties have a degree of control over the agreement reached.
The disadvantages of mediation are that it may not result in a resolution, in which case the process will add to the legal costs.
Where the mediator feels that mediation is unlikely to produce a resolution, the mediator will usually conclude the mediation. The parties' options at this point are to refer the matter to arbitration or the ERA or to stop pursuing the matter altogether.
If you are an employer or an employee and facing this situation, it is best to seek legal advice.
Watch this space for our article on Arbitration in our next newsletter.