Blog: Is mediation at odds with being an employment lawyer?


Rather like Luke, I have been on something of a journey over the past year. Whereas Luke’s route has been into executive coaching, mine has been into the fascinating world of workplace mediation.

I have long-harboured an interest in mediation.  Does that sound rather contradictory coming from a lawyer who specialises in litigation?  I have always been a firm believer in looking out for alternatives to ‘fighting it out’ in an Employment Tribunal for my clients. This usually includes either some sort of settlement or persuading the other party to withdraw.  It can feel like a ‘win/lose’ or worse, a ‘lose/lose’ situation.

As a lawyer, my involvement often comes about when someone has already brought an Employment Tribunal claim and the employment relationship has well and truly broken down. Let’s face it, when it gets to the stage where the employee is presenting 20 page grievances or has been absent on sick leave for 6 months citing workplace stress as the primary factor, the relationship is often already beyond repair.

Reducing costs and damage

Does it have to be this way?  I quite like the old cobbler’s saying ‘a shoe worth wearing, is worth repairing’. I would use the same sentiment with employment relationships. I firmly believe many relationships can be salvaged if caught at the right time.  Mediation has a real role to play in reducing cost and damage of workplace relationship breakdowns and reducing the risks of escalation. This is at the heart of why I’ve spent the last year training to be a work-place and employment dispute mediator.

There are many past cases I’ve advised on where I believe, had mediation been introduced at the right time, then grievances, disciplinaries and even Employment Tribunal claims could have been avoided altogether. I will look at examples of these in future blogs.

I love my role as an employment lawyer but I firmly believe mediation is a compliment to my main role.   Yes, successful mediation means employers will get fewer employment tribunals claims, but the main reason I am doing it is because some of those broken workplace relationships are definitely worth fixing.  With increased levels of conflict at work plus rising commercial pressures on employers, finding positive and cost-effective ways to resolve disputes has never been more vital.

What sort of workplace issues is mediation suitable for?

Some areas where mediation can be very effective include:

  • allegations of bullying
  • resistance to change, particularly for role changes
  • perceptions of/allegations of harassment or discrimination
  • personality clashes or family business disagreements

If you want to know more in the meantime, do read this great CIPD report. Although written some time ago, it remains relevant and well-researched.

Please do feel free to get in touch with me ( 0117 325 0526)  if you think you might have a workplace issue which could benefit from a mediated approach. I would be very happy to chat it through with you.

Over the next few months lookout for more blogs from me about mediation:

–       Why mediate? An exploration of the types of mediation, benefits, and outcomes mediation can offer and why it might work for you

–       How different types of conflicts arise in the workplace and how they can be diffused

–       Mediable and non-mediable matters – what are the best outcomes you can achieve and which cases tend to work best for mediation.

–       The mediation process – what it looks like and how it works.

Anne-Marie Boyle