The Disadvantages of Mediation in Employee Discipline

by Stan Mack
Mediators help settle difficult disputes, but the process comes with costs.

Mediators help settle difficult disputes, but the process comes with costs.

Some workplace disputes are difficult to resolve. For example, if a dispute concerning a disciplinary issue occurs between an employee and a supervisor, the organization might not have a clear-cut method for settling it. In this case, the organization might use mediation to help find a workable compromise, but this approach has potential disadvantages.

Possibly Ineffective

In the simplest form of mediation, a mediator familiarizes herself with the details of the dispute and then offers a compromise to both parties. If both parties find the terms agreeable, they resolve the dispute. If one party doesn’t, they haven't settled the dispute -- but no one's worse off. In other words, third-party mediation might not work, but it probably won’t make a situation worse.


Mediation can be costly, which is a major disadvantage. Hiring an outside consultant, for example, might be expensive. In some cases, the cost is worthwhile, especially if the organization needs someone with high-level knowledge and experience to deal with a thorny technical or legal issue. But for some organizations, hiring a mediator is just too expensive. An alternative is to use a hybrid model: hire external mediators to teach staff how to handle in-house mediation, according to the book “The Handbook of Employment Relations: Law and Practice,” by Brian Towers. The initial cost will be high, but the long-term savings derived from having an effective in-house mediation staff could save money in the long run.

Potential for Bias

If a company decides to use an in-house mediator, it runs the risk that the mediator won’t seem credible to either the employee or the person representing the organization. For example, if the mediator has a long-standing relationship with one of the parties, the other party might not believe the mediator's impartial. Similarly, if the mediator stands to benefit from a particular outcome, any action she takes might seem biased.

Possibly Inefficient

If a common cause of disputes is a poorly defined or implemented policy, hiring professionals to write a more effective policy is more efficient than repeatedly spending money on mediation. For example, if the dispute concerns whether an employee may refuse a supervisor's request to work overtime, hiring a lawyer and human resources professional to draft a clear and enforceable policy might prevent future misunderstandings and disputes, forestalling any need for mediation. Another idea is to have professionals draft a method for handling any kind of employee disciplinary issue. In other words, having an established, step-by-step policy for dispute resolution might be cheaper and more efficient than hiring mediators.

About the Author

Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.

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