Alternative Dispute Resolution:
Employers' Experiences With ADR in the Workplace
GGD-97-157, Aug 12, 1997
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on alternative dispute resolution (ADR), focusing on: (1) private sector companies' and federal agencies' reasons for using ADR; (2) the types of ADR these organizations have made available to their employees through procedures other than those under collective bargaining agreements and the extent to which they have put these ADR processes in place; and (3) the results, if any, they have achieved by using ADR.
GAO noted that: (1) many private companies and federal agencies have used ADR to avoid more formal dispute resolution processes; (2) one reason for the use of ADR was that traditional dispute resolution processes have been costly, both in time and money, and became especially so as the number of discrimination complaints rose sharply in the early 1990s; (3) through a broad examination of ADR use involving interview with experts and practitioners, a review of the literature, and GAO's earlier survey of the private sector, GAO identified five main ADR methods available to private sector employees and, in some instances, to federal employees: ombudsmen, mediation, peer panels, management review and dispute resolution boards, and arbitration; (4) according to GAO's survey, in 1994, about 52 percent of private companies reported having some type of ADR process in place of discrimination complaints; these companies reported that they generally instituted ADR organizationwide; (5) private companies responding to GAO's survey generally reported employing a wider variety of ADR methods than did federal agencies; (6) experts and officials at organizations using ADR generally considered it to be successful in resolving workplace disputes; (7) the five companies and five federal agencies that GAO studied as case illustrations reported having varied but generally positive experiences with ADR; (8) most of the organizations GAO studied gave only limited attention to evaluating the results of their ADR programs and the time or cost savings these programs may have generated; (9) data were limited regarding time and cost savings; (10) the lessons that the organizations reported learning in planning, implementing, and evaluating their ADR programs varied, but many of them centered on ensuring that the appropriate ADR methods were adopted and that they fulfilled their potential; and (11) some of the lessons organizations reported learning were: (a) the importance of top management commitment in establishing and maintaining a program; (b) the importance of involving employees in the development of their ADR programs; (c) the advantage of intervening in the early stages of disputes so as to focus more on underlying interests than on hardened positions; (d) the necessity to balance the desire to settle and close cases against the need for fairness to all concerned; and (e) that ADR programs could help improve managers' understanding of the roots of conflict in their organizations.