In an interview on the Let’s Break Up – Toxic Workplace Stories podcast, Nance shared with Nicola Knobel and Gina Panella insights into her role as a neutral third party who works with employers and employees to resolve workplace disputes. She emphasizes the importance of:
- taking a holistic approach to conflict resolution
- recognizing the human interests involved
- finding common ground for all affected parties
In this blog post, we delve into the key points discussed during the interview.
The Role of an Employment Attorney and Mediator
Nance typically collaborates with employers and employees to address workplace conflicts before they escalate to litigation. Her goal is to facilitate open communication that helps them create mutually agreeable solutions out of court.
When one party is unwilling to mediate, she sometimes provides legal advice and counsel to an adverse party. But to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, she encourages mediation participants to consult separate legal counsel.
The focus in mediation is more on the parties’ personal interests in the matters. When mediating, Nance creates a balanced environment for productive discussions about topics such as:
- what the employer and employee each expected when they entered the employment partnership
- what they thought it would be like and what they believed would happen
- what they need and want now
Emotions play a significant role in conflict resolution. The nature of work can be very stressful, especially when wages are low and demands are high. Nance highlights how heightened emotions can hinder individuals’ ability to access their intelligence and problem-solving skills. Her role as a mediator is to help people feel whatever comes up, let the feelings pass, and focus on taking constructive action.
To provide concrete examples of her work, Nance discussed instances from both the employee and employer perspectives. From the employee side, she mentioned the challenges that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically regarding religious accommodations for mandatory vaccines. Employers often struggled with navigating exemptions while maintaining compliance. Nance guided them through these situations, ensuring they understood the exceptions and found middle-ground solutions that respected employees’ rights.
From the employer perspective, she highlighted the common tendency to overwhelm good employees with excessive workloads. These decisions may provide immediate relief to the employer, but they create long-term problems and potentially push employees to leave the organization. In such cases, Nance helps employers slow down, consider objective goals, and work toward fair and balanced resolutions.
Nance shared her own experience with a toxic workplace during the 90s while working in the sports industry. She emphasized that toxic workplace environments might have been more prevalent during that era, where subtle forms of sexual harassment and discrimination were culturally accepted. Boundaries were frequently crossed. Colleagues invaded personal space, made inappropriate comments, and displayed dominant behavior that she was too young, naive, and inexperienced to properly address.
Nance told Nicola and Gina how, after leaving the toxic sports industry workplace, she initially sought only to collect the wages and commissions owed to her. While speaking to the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor, she was asked several questions about the workplace culture and was referred to the Division of Human Rights. Vindictive actions from her former employer, such as blocking her unemployment benefits, later prompted her to file a sex discrimination claim that exposed sensitive details that she might not have shared otherwise.
Nance’s extensive experience as an employment attorney and mediator, as well as a plaintiff and human resources supervisor, enables her to provide valuable insights into resolving workplace disputes. Through her holistic approach, she recognizes the impact of emotions, aims to create a balanced environment, and encourages open communication between parties. Her personal experience with toxic workplaces further reinforces her understanding of the challenges individuals face as employees, managers, and business owners.