HR Alert: What’s An EEOC Mediation?

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When it comes to legal problems facing small-business owners, nobody wants to go to court. It can be costly, time-consuming, and damaging to the reputation of your business.

This is especially the case with employment discrimination lawsuits, for which a settlement and defense costs can run into six figures. Thankfully, there’s a possibility of short-circuiting the court system when an employee or former employee chooses to complain to an administrative agency.  The federal agency that oversees claims of discrimination and harassment is called the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Often – but not always – the EEOC may first attempt to resolve the issue or dispute through mediation.

Mediation, which also is known as an alternative dispute resolution, is a way of resolving legal disputes outside of a courtroom that has grown in popularity. It is an informal and usually confidential process where a neutral mediator, who’s trained in both mediation techniques and equal opportunity employment law, helps the parties to resolve their differences. In the world of the EEOC, the mediator either works directly for the EEOC or is hired externally by the EEOC.

How does the EEOC mediation process work?

Sometimes, before the EEOC begins to investigate the employee’s charge, it may reach out to both the employer and employee to see if they’re interested in participating in mediation, which is entirely voluntary. If you decide you want to engage in mediation, but the employee or other party doesn’t want to, then the EEOC can’t mediate; instead, it’ll forward the charge to an investigator.

If both parties agree to mediate, however, the EEOC will schedule a mediation session. The session can last several hours, and there’s no cost for either party to attend. Neither party is required to bring an attorney, but they’re free to do so if they wish.

During the session, the mediator listens to both sides. Unlike a judge, it’s not the mediator’s job to determine who’s right and wrong; that’s simply not the point of mediation. Instead, the mediator will help the parties come to a mutually beneficial solution to their problems, such as the employee’s working with the employer to rectify any issues. At the end of the day, the parties are the ones who create their solution, not the mediator.

The ultimate solution is as enforceable as a court order, meaning that it is binding on both the employer and the employee. This creates more incentive to craft a solution that’s mutually beneficial as it’s a solution that both parties will have to live with.

Is mediation a better option?

Ultimately, mediation can be a better option for small business owners because it can be a faster and less costly process. According to the EEOC, the resolution rate for mediation is 70%, meaning many claims that are mediated get resolved. As a result, they’re not investigated any further.

For sure, mediating to a resolution can be much faster than the time it takes for the EEOC to investigate a charge. For example, in 2008, mediated cases took an average 97 days to resolve compared to the 200 days it took on average to go through an investigation. Thus, the decision use mediation can help a business return to its focus – operating the company – sooner.

Furthermore, mediation is meant to foster communication and cooperation between parties. The solution is not meant to punish anyone or make anyone a winner. Instead, mediation is intended to help both parties discuss their issues in an open way that can help companies learn about best practices and create a more appealing workplace. In fact, some business owners have reported that the number of charges filed by employees with the EEOC has decreased following a successful mediation session.

What happens at the end of mediation?

It’s true that mediation still can result in an investigation if the parties don’t come to a solution. But that means there’s nothing to lose by mediating. Even if you truly don’t think you can come to a solution with the other party, engaging in mediation can provide an opportunity to avoid the high costs and time-consuming nature of a discrimination lawsuit.

If you have questions about claims and how they get resolved, we’re here to help. Contact us at 716.839.9700 or


Lisa Coppola

Written by Lisa Coppola

Founder of The Coppola Firm

Lisa A. Coppola, Esq. understands the challenges her clients face, whether they’re starting a new business, taking their existing operations in a new direction, or facing a claim or threat.

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