Mediation is a process for resolving conflicts in which a mediator assists the parties to discuss their issues and reach a mutually acceptable resolution.
The benefits of mediation include:
- Voluntary in nature – Participation by voluntary agreement;
- Informality – Absence of complicated procedure, documentation, witness testimony, investigation, and formal records;
- Opportunity for early dialogue – Early discussion before possible escalation of issue;
- The presence of a neutral third party to facilitate discussion– A resolution is not imposed by the neutral third party, rather the mediator is there to facilitate productive discussion between the parties;
- Opportunity to reach creative resolution – The parties, in most instances, are free to explore creative solutions to the issues presented;
- The process is confidential – Participants sign a pledge of confidentiality prior to the session, and nothing said during the mediation session will be used in future proceeding if the matter is not resolved during mediation;
- Allows the parties to take a proactive approach – Mediation allows the parties to take a hands-on approach to resolving their issues without proceeding to the formal administrative process and then possibly to federal court; and
- Fast – Mediation, in most cases, will allow the parties to resolve issues in a matter of days, and return to a productive working relationship.
The mediator, a third party trained neutral, facilitates the process. The mediator will be an impartial third party, with no personal interests in the resolution and no preconceived bias as to how the dispute should be resolved. Mediators help parties clarify the issues in the dispute, identify interests, and explore potential solutions acceptable to all. Mediators must ensure confidentiality, which includes destroying all written notes taken during the process. Mediators have no authority to make or impose a decision or judge the merits of the dispute.
The mediator, the complainant, and the management official should be present. All parties can have representatives, who may also be present for the session only with consent from all parties, in advance of the session.
This initial step of the mediation process begins with a joint session. At the beginning of the joint session, the mediator clarifies his/her role in the mediation process and those of the parties. Next, each party to the dispute tells his or her side of the story without interruption. Following the joint session, the mediator meets with each party separately- this is known as a caucus which is designed to discuss the issues in greater detail and to gain a better sense of how the parties would like the issues resolved. During the individual caucuses, the mediator attempts to help the parties identify relevant issues, dismiss possible misconceptions based on inadequate or lack of information, and try to find a meaningful way to solve their problem that benefits both parties. After the caucuses, the mediator meets again with the parties jointly and encourages the parties to discuss their issues using interest-based techniques.
After the parties agree to resolve the issues presented during mediation, the mediator will ask the parties to enter into a tentative agreement. The terms of agreement will be captured by the mediator, reviewed with the parties, and sent to the EEO Counselor to draft a binding settlement agreement. All parties shall be given an opportunity to review the agreement and after the parties sign the final agreement, the complaint is resolved and no further processing is required. OPD will monitor the implementation of the terms of agreement.
If the issues are not resolved through mediation, the mediator will ask the parties to complete a mediation evaluation form. The mediator will instruct the parties that the matter will be referred back to the assigned EEO counselor. The EEO counselor will hold a final interview with the complainant. At this point, the complainant has the option of withdrawing the informal complaint or receiving a Notice of Right to File a Discrimination (NORTF) Complaint letter which affords him/her the opportunity to file a formal complaint.