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Mediation is a vital cog in New Zealand’s system for resolving employment disputes between employers and employees. Technically, mediations are voluntary. However, the New Zealand Government encourages employers to be open to them because they facilitate the early resolution of workplace issues. You arguably have a good faith duty to attend mediation whenever an employee requests it. This article will set out three things that you should know about mediation as an employer.

1. Mediation is Free and Provided by the Government

The New Zealand Government funds mediation services, providing them free of charge. Some employers worry about costs, which is reasonable because private mediators can be very expensive to hire. However, in New Zealand, the Employment Mediation Services team conducts the vast majority of mediations for no charge. Their team is neutral and have extensive expertise on these matters.

To engage the Employment Mediation Services, you should submit a request and any supporting documentation online. The employee also has the option to do this. After lodging the request, one of the Employment Mediation Services administrators will contact both parties to find a suitable time and place for a meeting.

Note that Employment Mediation Services can be flexible around any disabilities or cultural preferences, either on your part or an employee’s. For instance, if you or your employee would prefer for the mediation to occur in a particular place, such as a marae, this can usually be accommodated. It is important that both parties feel comfortable about where a mediation occurs. The options are broad so long as confidentiality can be secured (it cannot be a location that is open to the public). If you have no preferences, the typical location is the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s mediation offices.

2. How Settlement Agreements Work

The purpose of mediation is to reach an agreement with the other party. An agreement will resolve the dispute without needing to go to court. This usually involves the mediator recording this agreement’s details and information in a record of settlement. These are commonly known as a settlement agreement. You, the other party and the mediator will sign the record of settlement. Each will then receive a copy to take away.

Note that a settlement agreement is final and binding. Once the mediator has signed it off, you cannot go back on your word if you later decide that you do not like what you have agreed to. For this reason, it is essential to be clear about what you are agreeing to, and that it is acceptable to you. Most employers will get legal advice before signing a settlement agreement.

3. You Can Opt To Do An Online Mediation

Employment Mediation Services has drastically scaled up its online capability recently. This is largely as a consequence of COVID-19 and the associated lockdown and physical distancing requirements. You can take advantage of this to resolve employment disputes quickly and efficiently. 

Online mediations typically take place over Zoom, using videoconferencing. When you arrange one, you will receive a URL link to your Zoom meeting in your confirmation letter from Employment Mediation Services. At the time of your meeting, the URL will let you into a virtual meeting room. Next, the mediator will introduce themselves. The mediation will proceed from there in a similar manner to an in-person one.

Remember that all technology can glitch and create challenges at points, so there is no need to panic if this occurs. 

Given that Employment Mediation Services often has a backlog of in-person requests, you may find that you can resolve issues more quickly by arranging for an online meeting. This can help you get to the mediation stage faster. It may also be a good solution if you are located far away from the employee.

Key Takeaways

The mediation process is a useful and crucial step in resolving employment disputes in New Zealand. Three things to know about it include: 

  • that the publicly-funded Employment Mediation Services provides them at no cost. They have neutral and high-quality mediators available; 
  • settlement agreements are binding, and can help you reach an agreement at the end of mediations you can agree on terms with the other parties; and
  • you can opt to do an online mediation from 2020 onwards. This can be advantageous if you require a fast turnaround or cannot find a physical location to meet your employee.

If you have any questions about mediation in New Zealand, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

FAQs

Are mediations compulsory in employment disputes?

While mediations are voluntary, as an employer, you have a good faith duty to resolve issues quickly and efficiently where possible. Mediations offer a good way of doing this and are very standard in New Zealand.

How do mediations work over a lockdown period?

The Employment Mediation Services team has offered a comprehensive online system to allow for the resolution of issues over a lockdown or other period where physical distancing rules are in place.

Do mediations have to end in a settlement?

No, they do not. While the parties to a mediation are strongly encouraged to resolve their issues through a settlement, there is no obligation on them to do so if they cannot agree to terms.

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