There are various options for dealing with a workplace bully, including coaching and disciplinary action. Some employers are considering mediation that involves both the bully and the target. This suggests a basic misconception of the problem. Bullying is not a form of conflict – it is a form of victimization. The target did nothing to deserve bullying and can do nothing to stop it. It’s the employer’s responsibility to send a clear and firm message to the bully – STOP IT OR YOU’RE OUT OF HERE. Research shows there are many potential pitfalls and problems with using mediation in a bullying scenario. These include but are not limited to:
- In mediation, there is traditionally a basic assumption that both parties are equally capable of negotiating with each other. However, the parties in a bullying scenario are not in an equal position. The target is usually a subordinate. The target may fear escalation of the bullying or reprisals from the bully.
- Mediation usually does not acknowledge or punish past behavior; What about justice and recognition of the harm done to the target? It is well documented that workplace bullying can result in serious emotional and physical harm to the target. By ignoring the harms that result from bullying, the employer diminishes the problem.
- Mediation is often done behind closed doors. Confidentiality works against identifying systematic patterns of conflict in an organization associated with a particular party, a particular unit of the organization, or across the organization. Confidentiality in mediation may enable a bully to be a serial abuser.
- There is often no follow-up intervention. Things might get better for a while but the bullying behaviors may resume, resulting in more or greater harm to the target, who now feels a sense of futility and doom.
- The conflict may have reached a level of escalation that only arbitration or power intervention can address. Mediation may only exhaust and further debilitate the target and increase the employer’s potential liability.