The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides an alternative dispute resolution system for settling charges made against a U.S. employer by an employee. The EEOC mediation program is an informal meeting or series of meetings between employer, employee, and a neutral representative of the EEOC. During the mediation process, issues relative to the employee’s charge are discussed with the intention of reaching a settlement that is mutually agreeable to both parties. Since charges against an employer can be — and often are — emotionally charged, the assistance of a neutral third party helps facilitate more productive discussions and keep efforts focused on finding a resolution.
EEOC mediation is not required on the part of either party, but rather is a voluntary option offered as an alternative to litigation. Opting for mediation is a choice on which both parties must agree to before proceeding. Services provided under the EEOC mediation program are free to all involved. Legal representation is not required, but is permitted if either party so chooses. In an effort to encourage higher participation in the shorter, less expensive option of mediation, parties may request mediation any time before or during the investigative process EEOC typically undertakes after charges are laid against an employer. While the EEOC mediation program is informal and voluntary, any settlement arising from the mediation process does become a binding agreement.
By participating in EEOC mediation, both the employer and the employee are provided an opportunity to reach an amicable conclusion, if such a conclusion is possible. Should the parties remain at an impasse and the charge stand unresolved after mediation, the standard investigatory and litigious procedures of the EEOC resume. The charge is investigated and pursued as though mediation never took place. Information disclosed during unsuccessful mediation remains privileged; mediators do not share information with any members of the investigation team.
Mediators are either trained EEOC employees or third party mediators brought in to assist with special or particularly intricate cases. No matter the particular mediators’ credentials, imposing a settlement on the parties involved is not allowed. Instead, mediators help facilitate finding a mutually beneficial settlement between the parties and building an enforceable agreement around such a settlement.
Participation in EEOC mediation does not subject the employer or the employee to an admission of guilt or blame. Rather, both parties are encouraged to openly communicate and find the underlying issues in need of resolution. Communication and a spirit of cooperation are the focus of mediation proceedings, rather than establishing guilt or blame. The ultimate goal is to resolve a particular problem, charge, or complaint to the benefit of both parties, preserving the employer-employee relationship if possible.