Balancing the Employee and Employer Relationship - Zupnick Associates

(by Jordan Johnson)

Employee and employer relationships are vital and there are moments when HR may find themselves caught in disputes between employers and their employees. This can impact small businesses and large organizations alike.

These situations can be challenging to manage, but HR responsibilities often include the unbiased and effective mediation of disputes ranging from a single employee to the whole organization. 

Strong employee-employer relationships are critical. If tensions are left unresolved, it could lead to a loss of productivity, reputation and employees.

This article will explore some thoughts on effective conflict resolution techniques HR managers can use to resolve workplace conflict.

When dealing with a single employee

A single dispute concerning a single employee is often much easier to deal with than a group of employees, but complaints should still be taken seriously. 

  1. A talk should be had with the agitated party to determine why the dispute has been raised. Then a conversation can be had with the party who is allegedly causing problems.
  2. HR should take feedback from both sides and compare the information to relevant company policies and labor laws to establish if either party is in a breach of law or policy.
  3. All relevant details should continue to be documented. HR should use mediation skills to prepare a plan that both parties agree on while taking any necessary disciplinary steps.

When acting as a mediator, you must take points for both sides and compare company policy versus labor laws. Be careful not to favor one party.

Legal matters

Legal matters can muddy the water for resolution, and occasionally a professional mediator, legal representative, or union rep may have to be involved.

Effective human resource managers should have a strong understanding of all compliance issues to avoid legal issues. This may include:

  • Health and safety
  • Discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Labor rights and labor laws
  • Confidentiality

To ensure company policy is in line with laws, HR should also have a firm grasp on any standard operating procedures set out in official organizational documents.

When dealing with multiple employees

When a dispute contains more than one employee or employer, things can get a little more complex and challenging to resolve.

In many cases, when multiple employees have a problem with upper management, the situation may have escalated before it reaches the ears of HR. In some instances, employees may have already contacted legal professionals.

There are two channels an organization can take at this point. They either try to let HR mediate the situation with employees and come to a resolution or use an outside source to work out some kind of settlement. These third parties could include:

  • Professional mediators
  • Legal professionals
  • Labor unions and representatives

Group conflicts handled in-house should be treated in the same manner as a single-employee conflict, find the cause of the problem and create an action plan or take disciplinary action. 

That said, when large groups of employees have a problem, management may be at fault.

As soon as HR learns of any group conflict, it should be a priority to address it; otherwise, the organization may face repercussions such as strikes or employees quitting. In addition, if there are grounds for legal recourse, prolonging the dispute can often make things worse for the employer.

Labor Unions

Although unions have traditionally been frowned upon by organizations, they are usually pretty good for workers. Among other advantages, they aim to ensure fair wages, strong medical insurance coverage, and better working conditions. 

Unions and human resource teams work together to achieve the best outcome for both the organization and the employee. 

While a union solely represents the employee’s best interests, human resources represents the organization and it’s employees because they generally want the best agreeable outcome as a whole.

Union responsibilities may include:

  • Representing individuals and groups in employee/employer disputes.
  • Providing legal advice and representation.
  • Organizing strikes to secure better wages and working conditions.
  • Using the collective bargaining power of the entire union to benefit every member.

The Society for Human Resource Management suggests that solid human resource teams backed by fair, concrete workplace policies and conflict resolution skills are slowly decreasing the need for unionization. Still, employees of large organizations that are often involved in disputes would likely benefit.

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