Fact Sheet #20a) Prevention, Management and Resolution of Human Rights Disputes

Level 3

Element: Alignment of Policies and Processes

Outcome 20: Organization establishes proactive systems for managing human rights issues.

Indicator 20a): Organization has implemented a process for the prevention, management and early resolution of human rights disputes.

Possible Measures and Data Sources

  • Elements of dispute resolution system:
    • Number of human rights disputes addressed.
    • Percent of human rights disputes resolved.
    • Time to resolution.
    • Method of resolution;
    • Procedural justice measures.
    • Satisfaction surveys.
    • Number of prevention initiatives completed.
  • Cross-functional, joint union-management committee in place to address accommodation and return-to-work issues.
  • Committee’s terms of reference and minutes.

Indicator Description

It is inevitable that there will be disputes in the workplace. The key is managing how a dispute is addressed. With solid resolution policies and processes in place, conflict can be minimized or avoided. Management may bring the parties together, provide guidelines and identify the problems/issues, work towards understanding both sides, move forward to a resolution and review the situation at a later time to ensure the problems/issues have been resolved.

At Level 2 (See Fact Sheet #11a)), the organization provided options for the prevention and management of human rights issues. It designed and introduced a process for dispute resolution. At Level 3, the organization has implemented procedures for an anti-discrimination grievance system (where applicable), and a complaint process is available. This process is timely, transparent and provides appropriate remedies. At Level 3, the organization is actively using its process to prevent, manage and resolve human rights disputes as they arise.  The process provides all staff, management, and employee associations or unions, if applicable, the tools to identify disputes and to respond appropriately to resolve the matters. Management has been trained to deal with human rights disputes that have come to their attention and have tools to resolve disputes at an early stage.

As a result of implementing a process for the prevention and early resolution of these disputes, employees will feel more respected, and the organization can build a workplace of choice. Without proper management of human rights disputes, there can be cost to the organization such as, high turnover, loss of contracts, decreased productivity, and related losses. 

By putting sound prevention and resolution practices in place, disputes can be avoided or shortened, and relationships can be preserved. Internal dispute mechanism processes such as appropriate negotiation, organization referral, ombudsperson, mediation, arbitration, appreciative inquiry, etc. (See Fact Sheet #11a)), encourage all levels of the organization to have a hand in resolving disputes.

Suggested Approach

There are a number of benefits of a system for preventing disputes, when properly implemented. It is more cost effective than going through other avenues, the parties demonstrate a desire to work collaboratively and there is an on-going discussion and understanding to ensure consistent expectations between the parties are met:

  • Develop a system based on principles of dispute resolution: In previous levels, in developing and putting in place its internal dispute prevention and resolution policies and process, the organization will have kept certain principles in mind. At Level 3, the organization can ensure that those fundamentals remain part of the implementation of the process:
    • Accessibility: A dispute resolution process is accessible when employees and stakeholder can use it easily. Documentation explaining the process is in clear language, and includes expected timelines.
    • Knowledgeable decision-maker: The decision-maker should be trained in human rights principles and be familiar with the organization’s culture, context, and values.
    • Impartiality and independence: The decision-maker should be at a distance from the source of the dispute, and must be seen to be neutral in relation to the parties. The decision-maker should be able to make an independent decision.
    • Opportunity to be heard: All parties must be given the opportunity to be heard, and may bring a representative to the process if they wish. If a party is not allowed to tell his or her side of the dispute, no real resolution will be achieved. The parties can be encouraged to share relevant information, in order that each side can respond effectively in the process.
    • Confidentiality: The confidentiality of the resolution process is key to its being relied upon and trusted by the parties and by other stakeholders, especially as implementation of the process becomes more routine.
    • Reasons for decision: Either orally or in writing, the decision-maker should prepare and present reasons for the decision to the parties, in sufficient detail that the parties have a real knowledge of how their rights have been dealt with.
    • Balancing power: The process should also consider safeguards on how to balance the different powers of those involved, such as a manager and staff member, and on preventing retaliation or other negative results which might flow from the dispute. Stakeholders and users of the process may not have confidence in the process if it is not seen as achieving lasting and fair results.
  • Identify the needs of your workplace: Each organization has a unique culture with its own history, context and values, as well as the resources available to it; the more tied to the needs of employees and members of the workplace the process is, the more lasting its results will be. Be sure to consult with employee groups as you develop your process.
  • Make the process simple, informal and flexible: If the process is simple, it tends to be speedier and less costly. If it is more flexible and more informal, the greater the range of disputes it will be able to address, and the more the participants will be able to arrive at a solution that fits their needs.
  • Train the people who will be involved: Training should be provided to all persons involved in managing or advising about dispute resolution. This can include leadership, managers, directors, human resources and legal advisors, and supervisors. Training should include information about human rights and how the dispute resolution process will work.
  • Monitor and evaluate your process: Review your process to ensure that it is working and that it remains accessible, timely and productive.

Promising Practices

  • Implement an Informal Conflict Management System: Federal government departments have access to the Informal Conflict Management Systems (ICMS) under the Treasury Board of Canada, whose primary role is to provide assistance to other Departments and agencies in creating and implementing dispute resolution mechanisms.
  • Assign a contact person for employees and clients: If a human rights issue arises, having a point of contact, like an ombudsman, for possible complaints will help employees and clients feel more comfortable discussing their issues in a non-prejudicial manner.
  • Involve unions and employee associations: A joint union and management committee in the Public Service of Canada states: “Consultation is a useful, constructive exercise which promotes understanding of the objectives of both parties and results in improved measures, processes or communication products. Effective consultation contributes to increased support among employees of employment equity efforts of departments/agencies and of union.”[1]
  • Use different approaches when dealing with complaints: A federal agency in the transportation sector encourages the public to bring their complaints to the transportation operator directly. If a response is not satisfactory, members of the public are encouraged to file a complaint directly with the agency. The agency will first attempt to resolve the conflict informally through discussions between the parties. The agency believes that using the informal process is faster, simpler and cheaper for everyone. The informal route may also lead to formal agreements. If the informal process is not satisfactory, the person wishing to file a complaint may do so formally and may result in binding decisions. This agency utilizes four types of approaches to resolving disputes: Facilitation, Mediation, Final Offer Arbitration and Decision-Making Process.

Useful links and tools

Benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution - Insurance Dispute Resolution Services of British Columbia

Benefits of Conflict Management & Alternative Dispute Resolution - Institute of Arbitrators & Mediators of Australia

Human Rights Handbook for First Nations (2011) - Canadian Human Rights Commission

Informal Conflict Management Systems - Department of Justice

Informal Conflict Management System - Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

National Joint Council

Resolving Disputes - Canadian Human Rights Commission

Resources - Canadian Human Rights Commission

The Canadian Bankers' Association maintains the following webpage on ombudsman services available to bank customers: Ombudsman Services


Levine, Stewart, Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1998

Informal Conflict Management Systems - Department of Justice

Benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution - Insurance Dispute Resolution Services of British Columbia


Informal Conflict Management System - Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Managing Conflict in the Workplace - Taylor Coulter

[1] From National Joint Council of the Public Service of Canada

Date modified: