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Disputes and Dispute Resolution

Published July 20, 2017 (last updated on June 13, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator

Any breakdown in the employment relationship can be expensive, and counterproductive. When a breakdown stretches from a miscommunication, or any other minor problem, to a dispute there are some actions you can take to minimise its damage. Every action between you and your employees should be in good faith, and dispute resolution or conflict resolution are no exception.

What is informal conflict resolution?

If the issue which has caused a dispute is a minor one, or is unlikely to happen again, you may find that a simple conversation can help. Where an informal action does not work there are more formal actions you can take such as formal warnings or disciplinary action.

Conflict resolution through informal action is always the preferred option as it tends to be quicker, cheaper and will likely not damage the relationship between employees and employers. There are some basics to be incorporated into any informal action, such as being honest and upfront in any conversation with the employee and treating staff consistently and without favouritism.

More importantly, the first steps in conflict resolution should be a discussion initiated by the employer to resolve the issue. At this step clarifying what the problem is and trying to resolve it in a consultative manner will be key to success.

In the event that the dispute has not been resolved through informal methods, there may be a need for mediation.

Dispute Resolution & Mediation services

Dispute resolution can be difficult to manage when the disputing parties are both directly involved. To help in conflict resolution, the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment has free access to mediation available to both you and your employees. There is a formal process to be followed which starts with completing a Request for Mediation form. After the form has been lodged a date will be agreed on for the mediation meeting, and the meeting will take place in an environment both parties are comfortable in, often this will be offsite.

Successful mediation will end in a record of settlement which will be a written agreement of what has been decided upon. This will be checked by Employment Mediation Services, which is a government representative, and signed off by all parties if agreed to.

What happens if mediation does not work?

There are a number of cases of employers and employees not agreeing on something, and a dispute escalating beyond mediation. If this happens the dispute will likely head to the Employment Relations Authority, Employment Court, or in some cases the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

What to expect in the Employment Relations Authority (ERA)

Following an application being lodged in the ERA, the respondent in the case will be sent a copy with all the claims and facts presented for their response. From here the respondent (normally the employer) has 14 days to provide a Statement in reply. This statement is required to be a plain language description of the problem, their version of the facts and any steps they have already taken to address the problem.

The ERA follows a strict formal process, and with its independent nature, intends to help the parties resolve any dispute swiftly and in the most cost effective way possible. If the dispute has progressed to this stage, the ERA will hold an investigation meeting and determine all of the facts with the parties having a final opportunity to comment on the evidence. The final step in the process is a decision by the ERA following a presentation of all the facts.

ERA proceedings will often be expensive, not only in terms of any financial cost of hiring a lawyer, but also in the length of time taken to resolve any issue.

For more information on what employers should expect, click here for Peninsula’s guide to the ERA.

What to expect in the Employment Court

The Employment Court will hear claims from employees and employers on a number of areas of dispute. In proceedings in the Employment Court, often it will be the employer defending against a claim from a former employee. In which case, there are some basics needed in the statement of defence:

• full name, address and occupation of each party

• specifically state whether the defendant admits or denies the allegations in the statement of claim

• provide sufficient facts (such as time, place, names) to fully inform the court of the nature of the allegations and defence

• acknowledgement that the statement is being filed personally, and a service address of where the court can serve future papers as required

• signature and date

The process in the Employment Court is strict and there are clearly defined timeframes of which both the defendant and the plaintiff must comply. Not only does the Employment Court have the potential to be expensive from a time perspective, but while the fees may only be a few hundred dollars the fines can be in the tens of thousands if not higher.

What to expect at the Human Rights Review Tribunal

In a similar manner to both the ERA and the Employment Court, the Human Rights Review Tribunal works on a claim based system with many employers becoming involved after an employee has made a claim. Typically, in this tribunal the claims will centre around a feeling of discrimination or bullying where a former employee feels they were treated unfairly based on their ethnic background or other personal attribute.

This Tribunal will also be expensive if employers are found to have acted improperly, and similarly again these proceedings will take a long time to be addressed. Employers should ensure policies and procedures are in place to manage employees properly so they don’t end up in this tribunal.

For advice on dispute resolution in your workplace, call Peninsula day or night on 0800 568 012.

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