The Efficacy of Alternative Dispute Resolution

The efficacy of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) when compared with more formal processes has been a question much discussed in the literature of conflict resolution. A recent study, published in Public Administration Review suggests that ADR can be fairly effective.

The authors studied ADR and formal dispute resolution cases in the context of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint process for federal agencies. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal for businesses or government agencies to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information.

Beginning in January 2000, the EEOC required all federal agencies to make ADR available to employees. Employees could choose to use traditional procedures for their complaints. This established something of a natural experiment in which the efficacy of the two procedures could be compared.

The results are suggestive: During the informal stage of the process ADR “appears to be highly effective in terms of processing time, resolving cases well under the 90 day time limit and likely contributing to the overall drop in processing time…” (pg. 56). By the end of the test period ADR cases and traditional EEOC cases were nearing the same range in terms of monetary awards, but ADR cases still typically received less monetary relief. However, the resolution rate for ADR cases was about 10% higher than for the traditional process cases.

During the formal stage of the EEOC process, the number of complaints declined, the ADR cases had faster resolution times, the resolution rate was higher, and monetary compensation was generally higher for ADR cases. A caveat is that in the formal stage there were very few ADR cases.

Overall, the authors conclude that both agencies and employees seem to have accepted ADR as an effective alternative for resolving complaints.

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