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What Happens in a Mediation Session?

Mediation sessions usually begin with the introduction of the mediator to the two parties. The mediator will provide procedural ground rules, such as making no interruptions when the other party is speaking. He/she will explain the mediation process including clarification of the issue of session confidentiality, securing agreement on time allocation and securing a commitment from the parties to seek resolution in good faith. The mediator will then explain the role of the mediator -- to be an impartial facilitator, not an advocate or judge of either party, and to assist the parties in arriving at their own solutions.

The mediator will end the opening statement by informing the disputants that any settlement agreement developed during the session must be reviewed by the Department's Office of General Counsel (OGC), the servicing Human Resources Manager, and the Bureau EEO Officer, before the parties sign. After it is signed by the parties, concurrence signatures must be obtained from the servicing Human Resources Manager, the Department's OGC, and the Bureau EEO Officer before the settlement agreement is enforceable and binding1.

After the opening statement from the mediator, the mediator will ask the person initiating the mediation session -- usually the aggrieved employee -- to explain in his/her own words the nature of the complaint and what type of remedy he/she is seeking. The mediator will then ask the respondent, or management official, to make an opening statement to explain in his/her own words his/her perspective of the complaint.

The mediator will proceed to facilitate the session so that clarifying questions can be asked and potential solutions can be discussed. Everyone is encouraged throughout the process to be thinking of ways in which the dispute might be settled to the satisfaction of each party.

Following the joint discussions, the mediator will caucus as necessary. A caucus is a private meeting during which the mediator talks with each party separately about the dispute. Information revealed in the caucus that is confidential will not be shared in the other caucus or when the parties reconvene in a joint session unless the party providing the confidential information permits the mediator to share it.

Following the caucuses, the mediator will reconvene the joint session and determine if there is any area of agreement between the parties on any issue. If not, the parties will continue to negotiate and caucus with the mediator, if necessary, until it is clear that a settlement is or is not going to emerge at this session. Sometimes there is a need to reconvene the mediation on another day, or to consult with another person at a later date before an agreement can be considered. In such instances, the terms of that decision must be made jointly by all parties and be put in writing and signed by all parties before the conclusion of the mediation session. Acopy of the decision necessitating additional time must be given to the EEO staff or ADR Coordinator who arranged the mediation.

If a settlement is reached, the parties will draft the terms of the settlement agreement that are acceptable to the parties. It is suggested that management confer with the servicing Human Resources office to discuss appropriate language relating to personnel actions or benefits before drafting the terms of the agreement. The agreement will then be reviewed by the Department's OGC, the servicing Human Resources Manager, and the Bureau EEO Officer. Once the settlement agreement is cleared by the concurrences, the parties will sign the settlement agreement. The agreement will then be submitted to the Department's OGC, the servicing Human Resources Manager, and the Bureau EEO Officer for execution. After all signatures are obtained, the agreement can be implemented. The Bureau EEO Officer will submit a copy of the fully executed agreement to the Department EEO ADR Manager.

1Certain settlement agreements must be approved by the Department's Director for Human Resources Management, as opposed to the servicing Human Resources Manager.