Acas mediation questions and answers

We've put together a list of questions and answers about our mediation services to let you know more about how it all works.

What kind of problems can mediation help with?

Most kinds of dispute can be mediated if those involved want to find a way forward. Mediation is especially suitable when the aim is to maintain the employment relationship. It can be used at any stage in a dispute but is often most effective if used early on. It may not be suitable if you want to enforce a legal right or to decide the 'rights and wrongs' of an issue.

What does the mediator do?

The mediator guides you through the process and helps you identify the real issues and come up with ideas to improve things. They do this mainly by asking questions but if you find it helpful they can use their experience to make suggestions. You will decide if you want to take up these ideas.

What can I expect to happen in mediation?

The mediator will decide the best way to carry out the mediation. They start by talking to those involved separately, to find out about the situation, how you feel about it and the effects it is having. Then they will help you start thinking about what you want, what the other person might want, and how things might be improved.

The mediator won't take sides or judge who is right or wrong. Because the aim is to repair working relationships, they will help you focus on the future, not the past. Both sides can talk to the mediator openly because they will not pass on anything you say without your agreement.

When the time is right the mediator will bring you together. You will have a chance to say exactly how you feel without being interrupted and to listen to the other person without interrupting. The mediator will ask questions, help you look at the situation realistically and come up with ways to improve things.

Those involved will be given a written copy of anything that is agreed.

Where will the mediation be held?

Mediation meetings are usually held on the employer's premises. There will need to be at least two private rooms for the mediation - one for each side in the dispute. If rooms have to be hired or refreshments arranged, Acas cannot pay for this.

We want the mediator to make formal recommendations. How does this work?

You need to tell us when arranging the mediation. A mediator from our independent panel will decide how best to carry out the mediation, usually in the way outlined above. If you are unable to reach agreement, the mediator will write with their formal recommendations within six working days. They will not give you their recommendations on the day of the mediation.

What does it cost and who pays?

If there is a complaint about employment rights that could go to an employment tribunal, we offer our help free of charge. If the dispute is not about a statutory employment right, a charge is made for mediation. This is often paid by the employer, but the employees may pay the cost or it can be shared.

The mediator will be neutral regardless of who makes the payment to Acas.

What if I don't want to be in the same room as the person I am in dispute with?

The mediator will take this into account and will not make you meet with the person. However, an open and frank discussion of the issues, controlled by the mediator to ensure fairness and appropriate behaviour, can be key to sorting out conflict. They will agree some rules with both sides about how everyone will behave in any joint meeting and help everyone to stick to them. Anyone can ask for the joint meeting to be stopped for 'time out' or to speak to the mediator privately.

I don't want to come to the mediation on my own. Can I bring a representative or friend?

You can choose to bring someone with you if you want (e.g. your local trade union representative or a work colleague), but you must let the mediator know beforehand as all those involved must know and agree who will attend.  Even if you don't want to bring someone with you to the mediation, you can still take advice about mediation from your trade union representative or the Citizens Advice Bureau. 

Whether or not you bring someone with you, the mediator will look to you rather than anyone you have brought with you to talk about the issues in dispute - you're the best person to explain how you feel.

My employer has asked me to take part in mediation. Do I have to agree?

Mediation is entirely voluntary. The mediator will explain all about mediation to you so you can decide if it is for you. If you decide you do not want to mediate they will tell your employer that mediation is not possible.

I'm a supervisor and one of my team has complained about me. My boss wants us to go to mediation. I don't want to. Do I have any choice?

Employers will often think that a supervisor or manager should be prepared to try mediation to resolve a problem but it's entirely voluntary. The mediator will explain all about it so you can decide if it is for you. If you decide you do not want to mediate, they will tell your employer that mediation is not possible.

Why should I go to mediation? It's all the other person's fault and they should be sacked.

If you really think this, mediation may not be for you, because it's not about deciding who's right or wrong. But nearly everyone who uses it says it helps, even they don't reach total agreement. If mediation doesn't work you can still use your organisation's grievance procedure, so there's nothing to lose.

Can I be made to keep to an agreement made in mediation?

You won't be forced into making an agreement against your wishes. Those in dispute will be asked to stick to what is finally agreed, otherwise there's no point going ahead, but agreements are not normally legally binding unless both sides specifically ask for this. You'll be given the opportunity to take legal advice before a legally binding agreement is made.

What happens if we don't reach agreement?

You can still use any relevant workplace or legal procedures. However, we make a condition that the parties to the process maintain strict confidentiality and, in particular, undertake not to ask the Acas mediator to give evidence on the content of the meditation at a later date.

I am going to mediation. What should I do to prepare?

You'll get more information when the mediation is arranged. Sometimes you and the person you're in dispute with will be asked to write down:

  • the problem you want the mediator to help with
  • a short list of the main things that have happened.

This is to help the mediator understand the issue and save time on the day.