Arbitration and mediation: alternative dispute resolution basics

When disputes arise between federal employers and employees, they are often addressed through an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process rather than through the court system. Two of the most commonly used ADR methods are called arbitration and mediation, which have some similarities as well as some important differences.


Arbitration is similar in many ways to litigation, but it occurs outside of court and is a more streamlined process that does not follow the same rigid rules of evidence and procedure. Instead of a judge, arbitration takes place before one or more neutral third parties called arbitrators. Sometimes the arbitrator or panel of arbitrators is designated in advance by contract, while other times the selection depends on input from each party or on other factors such as subject area expertise.

During the arbitration process, each party presents their arguments and supporting evidence to the arbitrator(s), who will then issue a ruling based on what is presented. Sometimes the arbitrated decision is final, while in other cases it can be appealed if either party is unsatisfied with the outcome.

Arbitration is sometimes seen as being preferable to litigation because of its relative simplicity, which can allow disputes to be resolved more quickly and inexpensively than they can be in court. However, the same simplicity can be viewed in some situations as a drawback, since it eliminates many of the rules and procedures that are designed to promote fairness in the court system.


Mediation is another method of alternative dispute resolution. Like arbitration, mediation takes place outside of court and is less formal than traditional litigation. Unlike arbitration, however, the outcome of the mediation process is not determined by a third-party decision maker; instead, it is determined by the parties themselves.

This means that when an employee and employer seek to resolve a federal employment dispute through the mediation process, both parties have the ability to directly influence how the issue is resolved. Although the mediation process also involves a neutral third party, in this case a mediator, his or her job is to guide the parties through the dispute resolution process and help them reach an agreement on their own terms.

Mediation can be challenging, especially when tensions are running high and the parties have difficulty seeing eye to eye. However, it can also be a very positive experience that often helps people find common ground and minimize hostility. Since mediation is a collaborate process, rather than competitive, it can be especially beneficial in situations where the parties prefer to avoid unnecessary animosity due to ongoing professional relationships or other circumstances that require continued contact.

Legal representation for federal employees

In any dispute over matters of federal employment law, whether it takes place in or out of court, it is wise to seek legal advice and assistance from an attorney with in-depth knowledge of this complex legal topic. Contact The Devadoss Law Firm, P.L.L.C., for a personalized consultation if you or a member of your family is involved in a federal employment dispute.