Nearly all disputes between employees and their managers (or the company for which they work) can be resolved through forthright, honest communications. But in a fast-moving, complex business environment, conflicts and differences can arise which need the intervention of someone who is not directly involved. For those occasions, some organizations provide a formal process of resolution that can involve up to five steps. Alternative Resolution is an internal process that allows employees to resolve employment disputes with the company in confidence and without fear of reprisal.

What kinds of disputes are covered? In general, any dispute that arises from a worker’s employment or termination of employment, including wrongful discharge or discrimination. The policy does not cover worker’s compensation, unemployment compensation, or any claims related to benefits covered by ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act). It should be noted when organizations implement an Alternative Dispute Resolution process, it does not prohibit an employee from filing a complaint with a government agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).

The first step is to attempt to resolve the issue directly with your manager. Discuss the issue with your manager, or the manager in the area in which the dispute originates. If you believe the issue is still not resolved or do not wish to talk to your manager, usually human resources can help. Once human resources is involved, this takes us to step two. Human resources may serve as an intermediary, and/or, can facilitate a discussion between the employee and manager, in the spirit of resolving the conflict.

Sometimes human resources involvement does not lead to problem resolution. In this case, the third step is to discuss the issue with a more senior manager or executive to hear the issues and help reach a solution. Often times, with senior management, along with human resources, and both parties, issues can be resolved through open discussion. In my experience, over ninety percent of problems have been resolved by following steps one through three, however, there have been some exceptions over the years.

Depending upon the culture of the organization, and whether a union exists, what happens next can vary. However, typically in Alternative Dispute Resolution programs, the fourth step would lead to mediation. A mediator would be an external, trained, impartial person who facilitates discussions between participants, and helps them to reach a mutual agreement on a resolution that is binding on both the employee and the company. Ultimately, if resolution is not reached by a mediator, the last step is arbitration. Like a mediator, and arbitrator is usually a neutral third party who conducts a hearing and makes a decision that is binding by both parties.

If your organization does use an Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy, it is important to understand it fully. Most organizations will require use of it, at least through the mediation phase. If mediation is unsuccessful, it could be an option to proceed to arbitration, or to hire your own legal representative. If arbitration is chosen, you and the company are agreeing that the results will be binding and only if you choose this option do you forgo your right to sue.

Organizations such as Ford, GE, and Motorola have employed Alternative Dispute Resolution policies as an opportunity to resolve conflicts quickly, and more creatively than when an employee and the company are embroiled in lengthy, costly litigation.

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Richard Finger
Richard Finger
Richard Finger has worked in Human Resources for over 20 years and has worked with small, private organizations, global corporations, and most currently, a healthcare organization. Richard has worked abroad a number of years in England as well as The Netherlands, where he acquired a great appreciation for cultural awareness. He currently holds three Human Resource Certifications (SHRM-SCP, SPHR, SPHRi), and is also teaching the SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP preparation course at Howard County Community College. Richard earned his Bachelor Degree in Psychology at University of Central Florida, and Master Degree in Human Resources Management & Labor Relations at New York Institute of Technology. Richard has been writing for Baltimore Outloud for a number of years, contributing articles about his Human Resources experiences, as well as moonlighting as the author of Finger's Food restaurant reviews. Richard has enjoyed writing for the paper, and looks forward to many more opportunities to do so.