ADR Assessed

letters@govexec.com

Using alternative dispute resolution techniques to solve employee-manager disputes can save time and money and improve the workplace environment, several federal agencies have learned.

After reviewing ADR programs at the State and Agriculture departments, the Postal Service, the Air Force, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and five private companies, the General Accounting Office has reported that techniques such as mediation and arbitration can often settle disputes between employees and managers more quickly and agreeably than the administrative redress system used in most cases of workplace conflict. But ADR programs are not without their pitfalls, as several agencies have learned when experimenting with the new approach.

Federal managers and employees often find the traditional complaint process for allegations ranging from discrimination to retaliation for whistleblowing to be a maze of accusations and bureaucratic processes in which neither the interests of the employees nor the employer are served (See No Way Out, November 1996). In recent years agencies have begun using ADR to reduce their backlogs of cases and cut costs associated with those cases.

In its first two years of operation, Walter Reed Army Medical Center's ADR program resolved 68 percent of the 160 cases it dealt with. Moreover, 90 percent of those who used the program rated it as good to excellent and 70 percent said their work environment had improved as a result of the program.

Employees with disputes visit the ADR Center, a division of Walter Reed's personnel office, where a resolution officer decides if ADR would be an appropriate method to deal with the employee's complaint. Then the employee and supervisor, as well as a senior manager who can authorize settlement agreements, meet with a mediator to work out the conflict. According to GAO, settlement agreements include "handshakes, apologies, training, or other reasonable relief the employees requested."

However, some managers at Walter Reed felt that ADR settlements undermined their authority and conceded too much to employees. Resolving officials have become more judicious as a result, the center's dispute resolution officer told GAO.

A mediation pilot program at the State Department has also revealed valuable lessons. A State official told GAO that complainants "do not want to confront their supervisors, but want an investigation and hearing to vindicate their position." State also found that outside mediators tend to have more credibility with employees than internal mediators. And mediation should not be used in cases involving large monetary settlements, a violation of criminal law or security issues, State found.

The Agriculture Department, which has been plagued by discrimination complaints recently, tried ADR, but attempted to use it to settle cases "at all costs." That focus on settlement for settlement's sake upset supervisors and may have encouraged employees to file complaints, the department reported. "The prospect of receiving a cash settlement may have motivated some employees to file complaints, and the expectation of receiving cash may have impeded solution," GAO said.

Despite the difficulties agencies have faced implementing ADR, all of the agencies GAO studied have committed to using ADR to resolve workplace disputes. ADR processes, particularly mediation, resolved a large percentage of disputes, helping managers and employees avoid the administrative redress system and litigation. Of the 1,714 cases mediated by the Postal Service in Southern California, 1,605, or 94 percent, were resolved.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.