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Mediation, conciliation, arbitration: What's the difference?

Disputes at work can cause upset, create stress and be a distraction from the job. Left to fester, they could lead to absences and resignations, meaning the loss of valuable people, not to mention low productivity and morale.

It's important to act quickly to resolve a dispute, but if this can't be done between the parties themselves, then bringing in a neutral third person is often the best way to handle it.

Acas has helped to resolve workplace disputes since its inception in 1896 and offers mediation, conciliation and arbitration services. But what's the difference between the three?

Mediation seeks to rebuild and repair an employment relationship through an impartial and independent intermediary. This person could be a specialist Acas mediator or an employee trained to act as a mediator. Mediation is informal and not usually legally binding. It's confidential and both parties enter into it voluntarily.

Conciliation essentially operates in the same way as mediation, except it is used where a complaint about employment rights has been made to an employment tribunal. Acas offers a free, independent and confidential conciliation service. Acas can also conciliate where a claim could be made to a tribunal..

Arbitration  Arbitration is a little different from the other two in that the impartial third party is asked to make a decision on a dispute. The two sides present evidence to an arbitrator, who makes a decision that they have agreed in advance to abide by. In this way, it can be seen as a confidential alternative to a tribunal or court of law. As with the mediation and conciliation, arbitration is voluntary.

As well as offering these invaluable services, Acas provides practical training courses in Conflict management, including Mediation skills and accreditation through the Certificate in Internal Workplace Mediation.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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