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Easier Said Than Done

Easier Said Than Done by Gary Shaffer{2:54 minutes to read} I recently came across an Employee Handbook for a large metropolitan hospital. The handbook is relatively short, only 24 pages. It gives all sorts of information about benefits, professional development, direct deposit of paychecks, equal opportunity, employee health services, etc. There is also a brief, two-paragraph section on Grievance Procedures, where it says:

The hospital strives to be consistent and fair in its labor relations and pursues the development of sound working relationships among supervisors and employees. Usually, issues resulting in a grievance are the result of a misunderstanding and can be resolved through improved communication between management and employees.

Of course, as you might imagine, I came across this section because I was reviewing an internal dispute between an employee and management at the hospital. It seems the hospital did all it could to create misunderstanding and avoid communicating with its employee.

A good mediator creates an environment where communication takes place between individuals and misunderstandings of one kind or another are addressed and worked out. My own experience in employment disputes is that most of them could have been avoided had someone taken the first step to address an issue that was creating tension. And this could come from either side. A manager could have earlier raised issues of performance. An employee could have raised concerns over work requirements or what they see as misperceptions from a supervisor. But it’s hard to do. No one wants to take that first step.  

Many employers are beginning to recognize that having a formal mediation mechanism to handle internal employer-employee or employee-employee disputes makes for a more successful workplace. Outcomes can be varied, from slight changes in work assignments or agreements in order to avoid certain language, to termination with a severance and an understanding about references. Where the immediate outcome does not result in an employee leaving, it can be important to schedule another meeting in the future to see if whatever agreement was reached is working.

A mediation mechanism will work only if the mediators are skilled—they need to let people talk and not suggest solutions too quickly so solutions can come from the parties themselves. Those are the ones that will work best. But putting the mechanism in place is what will allow someone to take that first step.


Gary ShafferGary Shaffer
Shaffer Mediation

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An honors graduate of Harvard University and the Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University, where he also served on the Law Review, Gary brings more than 30 years of litigation and negotiation experience to his practice as a mediator. He has successfully negotiated and mediated resolutions in family matters, employment cases, commercial disputes, personal injury cases, and major civil rights matters.

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