Policies and Procedures Manual Section 10
Western Michigan University recognizes the value of constructive conflict resolution. Appropriately handled conflict promotes intellectual debate and expanded understanding; provides opportunities for nurturing empathy, promoting moral development, and fostering reconciliation and healing; and can be a positive force for change. The faculty and staff of Western Michigan University are encouraged to seek an appropriate resolution to any conflict within our institution through discussion with the involved individuals or administrative supervisors. If this does not resolve the conflict, the individuals may seek the assistance of the Campus Employee Dispute Resolution Services program and/or one of the other complaint or grievance procedures available through the University or its collective bargaining partners.
Western Michigan University is committed to providing individuals the right to a safe, neutral process for the resolution of conflict. That process shall be fair, efficient and free from retaliation. Recognizing that each individual has both a personal interest in and a share of the responsibility for resolving his/her conflict, Western Michigan University encourages and facilitates the use of the voluntary conflict resolution processes available through the this program.
Campus Employee Dispute Resolution Services was created in early 2000 to help members of the University community to productively resolve disagreements and reduce conflict. The program serves as a resource for all University employees seeking to settle disputes. Among other things, this resource provides members of the University community with the training and resources necessary to resolve disputes consensually and with appropriate avenues to pursue mediation and other facilitated processes for resolving disputes.
A steering committee shall be maintained which incorporates interested individuals from the University community in designing and overseeing the activities of the program. The steering committee shall consist of one representative from each of the employee groups and collective bargaining units on campus (i.e., AAUP, AFSCME, the Administrative Professional Association, MSEA, POA and the Professional Support Staff Organization), one representative from Human Resources, one representative from the Office of the General Counsel, and the program coordinator. The composition of the committee may change at the discretion of the president, or as determined by the steering committee based on their own rules and procedures This steering committee will advise and assist with design, development, implementation, promotion, evaluation, monitoring, and oversight of the program. The steering committee will also advise the president and the University community, as needed, concerning the program and employee dispute resolution matters. The program coordinator shall serve as the chair of the steering committee.
The program provides consensual resolution alternatives as an addition to the other available complaint or grievance procedures available through the University or its collective bargaining partners. The service may be used prior to pursuing other resolution options, or as a complement to other processes in order to address interest-based and interpersonal issues not resolved by the rule-based resolution procedures. Individuals choosing to pursue mediation or the alternative dispute resolution services provided by this program maintain their right to access other dispute resolution options if program participation fails to resolve the issues. There are, however, federal and state laws that cover workplace complaints and provide remedies for some workplace disputes. Participating in dispute resolution efforts through the program does not extend the deadlines within which to seek redress from outside agencies or initiate appropriate legal proceedings, nor does it extend the deadlines of a grievance procedure. If all appropriate persons agree, grievance deadlines may be extended through the terms of the contract or policies that apply.
Campus Employee Dispute Resolution Services staff will assess requests for services on a case-by-case basis. Staff may accept and open the case for services, determine that the situation is not suitable for mediation, or provide a referral to a more appropriate service. There are some circumstances where mediation will generally not be appropriate, including, but not limited to:
- Disputes primarily related to the interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement.
- Cases involving claims of sexual harassment or employment discrimination.
- Conflict related to some types of discipline and/or discharge for misconduct.
- Cases involving criminal charges or serious threats to persons or property.
Examples of workplace situations in which mediation or conferencing may work well are:
- Disputes between co-workers or colleagues who are finding it difficult to function together in the workplace environment.
- Frustrations and disagreements related to perceived lack of clarity or consensus regarding work assignments, goals, or expectations.
- Conflict stemming from differing personality types or work styles.
- Misunderstanding due to culturally-based differences or assumptions.
- Interdepartmental conflicts.
- General communication breakdowns and barriers.
It is important to be aware that mediation is not a hearing or arbitration. It is a structured discussion between disputing individuals, facilitated by a neutral third party (the mediator). Unlike arbitration, disputants do not plead their cases to the mediator. The mediator's role is to facilitate the discussion and to help promote productive communication, with the goal of assisting people to reach a mutually agreeable resolution to their dispute.
Participation in facilitated processes such as mediation and conferencing shall be voluntary. Mediation may be requested and initiated by any person involved in a dispute or conflict. However, managers are strongly advised to utilize or recommend mediation, where appropriate, in the early stages of a dispute before it results in a grievance. Time spent in mediations shall be considered part of an employee's normal working time. Employees shall not be required to take annual or other leave to participate in mediation, and supervisors are strongly discouraged from authorizing the use of overtime for mediations. Supervisors shall make reasonable efforts to make employees available to participate in mediation.
There are some restrictions upon those who may participate in a facilitated process:
- The intention of a mediation is to give the primary disputing persons an opportunity to meet face-to-face, to gain a greater understanding of one another's positions, and to develop an agreement for how to resolve the problem and move forward. Therefore, the primary disputing persons in mediation are asked to speak and negotiate for themselves. On occasion, the primary disputing persons may wish to bring others for support, advice, or to provide access to an individual with decision-making authority. These additional individuals will only be allowed in the mediation session if all of the primary disputing persons agree to their participation.
- The intention of a conference is to gather the whole community of people who have been affected by a conflict, to discuss what happened, explore how people have been affected, and to generate a plan for what can be done to make things better. Therefore, the primary disputing persons in conferencing will be encouraged to invite supporters and others who have been affected by the conflict to participate in the conferencing session. Program staff or facilitators may also include others who they have identified as having been affected. Everyone who is invited and wishes to attend will be included.
The individuals involved in mediation and conferencing will generally reduce the mutually agreeable resolution of their dispute(s) to writing. A settlement agreement cannot violate University policy or any relevant collective bargaining agreement. Any settlement that violates University policy or the collective bargaining agreement will be null and void. No person may later use concessions, admissions, and offers made during mediation, which are not included in the signed agreement, in any other proceeding if the dispute continues beyond mediation, except as otherwise provided for by law, University policy, or contract. However, a complaint based on failure to comply with an agreement reached in mediation may be the basis of a subsequent action.
Many matters addressed in mediation are communication and interpersonal issues which can be resolved through good faith measures between the disputing individuals. In matters involving financial claims or adjustments, requests for changes in job descriptions or classifications, scheduling changes, or other matters requiring supervisory or administrative approval, it is recommended that all persons come to the mediation table with any records or materials, which may be necessary to clarify the issues in dispute (i.e., records of absences, performance reviews, etc.), and that those persons attending the mediation have the authority to make a resolution agreement, or have made arrangements to have access to those persons with authority, so that any agreement that is reached during mediation may be officially reviewed and approved.
If it is not possible to make such prior arrangements, a mediation session may be adjourned in order to gain supervisory approval. Because mediated agreements between supervisors and their subordinates are considered binding, it is important for supervisors to be certain of the enforceability of the terms prior to entering into such agreements.
Any attempt to intimidate or retaliate against a person solely for raising an issue or participating in dispute resolution under this policy is strictly forbidden. Any person who makes such an attempt will be subject to whatever disciplinary action the University concludes is appropriate, up to and including termination.
The signed mediation agreement is the only record of the content of the mediation process that is not considered confidential-unless the signatories of the agreement include nondisclosure of the agreement as one of the written terms of the agreement. In the event that an agreement is not reached in mediation, program staff may provide documentation to participants or their supervisors which states one of three things: 1) that the participants attempted mediation and did not come to agreement, 2) that one or more of the individuals refused to mediate, or 3) that one or more persons failed to attend the mediation. Program staff may also provide documentation to the participants or their supervisors stating that a mediation was held, and that a confidential agreement was reached. With the exception of the above-listed disclosures, the work product, all case material and correspondence generated by volunteer mediators and program staff, as well as all communications relating to the subject matter of the dispute, information about the disputing persons, and information about the volunteer mediators (in aggregate, hereafter referred to as "case files") will be kept at the program office in locked file cabinets. Program staff must have a signed confidentiality agreement on file from every person who is given access to the case files. Information in the case files will be accessed only by mediators or program staff who are working on a case and have need for information pursuant to delivery of services, or in order to prepare service reports or evaluate services.
The work product and case files of a mediator or this program will not be disclosed to anyone outside of the program unless:
- A release has been signed by all individuals involved in the dispute resolution process allowing disclosure.
- The case file is used in subsequent action between the mediator and a party to the dispute resolution process for damages arising out of the dispute resolution process.
- Information has been given in which there is suspicion of past or continuing child/adult abuse or neglect or intent to cause immediate harm to a person.
- Such disclosure is otherwise required by law.
Aggregate data on dispute resolution activities, such as case numbers and percentages of cases meeting certain criteria, or producing certain outcomes may be reported as necessary to document program activities and efficacy.
As with all University policies, the University reserves the right to change these policies at will.
Approved by president Oct. 14, 2002; revised June 17, 2003.