Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) consists of a variety of approaches to early intervention and dispute resolution. Many of these approaches include the use of a neutral individual such as a mediator who can assist disputing parties in resolving their disagreements.

ADR increases the parties’ opportunities to resolve disputes prior to or during the use of formal administrative procedures and litigation (which can be very costly and time-consuming). It typically is not intended to replace the more traditional approaches and it can provide long-term solutions to employee-employer conflicts through stakeholders’ participation and buy-in. In contrast, traditional dispute resolution procedures often impose a solution handed down by a third party, where neither party walks away satisfied, and the disputing parties’ conflict continues or increases.

In employee and labor relations and equal employment opportunity disputes, ADR has most commonly taken the form of mediation. However, there are many other options available including conciliation, cooperative problem solving, dispute panels, facilitation, fact-finding, interest-based problem solving and bargaining, settlement conferences, ombudsing, peer review, and alternative discipline. Alternative discipline as an ADR technique involves taking some type of action in lieu of traditional discipline to correct misconduct without resorting to more costly formal procedures and litigation.

Parties can use any of these ADR techniques, combinations of them, or others.

A number of recent initiatives by Congress and the agencies engaged in resolving disputes in the federal workplace have encouraged the use of ADR methods.