Some employers dread mediation because it is the first time they have to come face-to-face with a disgruntled employee. An employee may use this meeting as a chance to unload all of their complaints of how they were mistreated, rather than focus on the ultimate issue of a possible ERISA violation. However, mediation is still a faster and cheaper way to settle many ERISA claims without risking the unknown outcome of the court's decision.
Employers can get the most out of ERISA mediation when they understand what to expect from the process. This includes understanding that even if the employee's claim has no real legal merit, mediation may provide the fastest resolution.
Letting the employee express their complaints can be one of the most important parts of mediation. Some employees feel wronged and believe they have no other recourse but to file a lawsuit. Mediation allows employees to voice their frustrations directly to the employer, where they may have been ignored before. Simply acknowledging the employee's concerns without admitting wrongdoing can go a long way towards resolving the dispute.
Trusting the mediator is something that may take some getting used to. Litigation is an adversarial process and the parties are all set to go in with an adversarial mindset. However, ERISA mediation is an alternative to litigation. The mediator is there to facilitate a discussion between the parties in order to help them come up with a solution.
Similarly, mediation is not a mini-trial. Some attorneys even treat mediation as a chance to test out their legal strategies and arguments. The mediator is not a fact-finder and is not there to determine questions of law. The mediator is a third-party who is there to facilitate a settlement. Trusting your experienced ERISA mediator can make the process more productive.
Another problem employers sometimes have is letting the principle get in the way of the bottom line. Settling a weak ERISA claim is almost always less expensive than litigating. Some employers are concerned that settling an employee's ERISA claim will lead to a slippery slope or open the floodgates of employee lawsuits. However, the time, money, and energy put into aggressively opposing all claims may not justify the outcome.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of mediation is that it allows the parties to develop their own ultimate resolution. Court outcomes are most often measured in dollar amounts for damages and penalties. However, when an employee may want and what an employer may be willing to offer is something other than money. This may include being rehired, getting insurance coverage, or making contributions to a retirement plan.
If you have any questions about utilizing ERISA mediation in a claim against your company, Butterfield Schechter LLP is here to help. We are San Diego County largest law firm focusing its law practice on employee benefit services, ERISA, and tax law. Contact our office today with any questions on how we can help you and your business succeed.