Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Jennifer Corso, Owner, The Law Office of Jennifer A. Corso, LLC and of counsel with Petronzio Schneier Co., LPA

When it comes to methods to solve employee disputes, many companies rely on informal “open door” policies. While informal methods can be effective in resolving workplace complaints, businesses are best served by having specific conflict resolution and complaint procedures in writing.

Why do I need written policies?

Many times, employers simply assume employees “just know” they can come talk to them about any issues. But often, this isn’t the case. Employees may not know who to go to in these situations, feel the employer is not approachable, or believe that complaints would be met with a deaf ear or, even worse, retaliation. Having a written policy communicates to all employees that not only is the business receptive to their concerns, but values the employees’ opinions. In addition, in certain situations such as sexual harassment complaints, having a specific harassment complaint procedure may aid a company’s legal defense if a complaint later turns into a lawsuit.  (Consult with your employment attorney to make sure your policy has all the necessary elements.)

What should a policy contain?

An effective complaint policy will assure employees that they may come to management with any problem or complaint, without fear of retaliation. The policy should state what the proper chain of command is for employees to follow (first go to your immediate supervisor, then HR, then the  President), but also provide alternatives if an employee is not comfortable in speaking to any of the designated persons. Do not promise confidentiality or any type of result. Management employees who are in the position to receive and/or investigate employee complaints should be trained in proper conflict resolution methods.

What if the boss is the subject of the complaint?

In some situations, it may be appropriate to bring in an outsider to help resolve workplace conflicts. A good example is where the complaint is about the company President or owner (or his/her spouse, sibling or close friend). An employee may feel that he/she will not be heard in this situation, and bringing in a neutral third party shows the workforce that the company is fair and cares about employee concerns. HR consultants or skilled mediators work well in these situations, and the cost of these services is most often regained in renewed employee productivity and loyalty.

Is a policy enough?  What else should I do?

Written policies are great, but training on the policies is even better.  Having someone from HR, or an outside HR consultant or employment attorney, train both management and employees on key policies drives home the importance of these policies.  Training also takes the words off the page, allows for employees to learn from examples, and ask questions to clarify their rights and responsibilities under the policies.  For sexual harassment policies, certain courts have held that training is a necessary step for employers who want to use the policy as a defense to a harassment claim.

Whether you employ hundreds or just a handful of employees, having written complaint and conflict resolution policies in place helps promote a peaceful and productive workplace. It is just one of many tools that every employer should keep in their toolbox.

Jennifer Corso is the owner of The Law Office of Jennifer A. Corso, LLC, and is of counsel with Petronzio Schneier Co., LPA, an east side law firm that works with small business owners.  Jennifer can assist any company with legal compliance and defense of employment claims and lawsuits.

Jennifer has almost 20 years experience representing management in labor & employment law.  She is certified by the Ohio State Bar Association as a Specialist in Labor and Employment Law, and has written several articles and spoken at numerous seminars and to community business groups on employment law topics. She is a former NAWBO Board member, and currently serves on the Board for the Heights Chamber of Commerce and also on the Board of Bad Girl Ventures.


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