Social workers have a responsibility to manage conflict in a productive manner. Daily, social workers are involved with conflict resolution, whether advocating for clients, delivering services to clients, resolving conflicts in employment settings, or dealing with conflict within organizations.
In courts, social workers serve as fact witnesses, expert witnesses, or parties to lawsuits. Litigation can be costly and time consuming, and the strained relations associated with litigation leave social workers and others seeking other ways to resolve disputes.
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a method of resolving disputes without litigation. The purpose of ADR is to allow parties to a dispute to settle their differences by discussion and agreement, permitting them to actively participate in and have control over the process and the solution.
This law note describes three methods of voluntary ADR—negotiation, arbitration, and mediation—and discusses the uses for these methods in the social work profession. It also provides answers to the following questions: In what areas do social workers practice as mediators? What are the ethical issues for social workers as mediators? How are ADR agreements enforced?
The NASW General Counsel Law Note series provides information to social workers about legal topics of concern to the social work profession. The Law Notes are developed with the support and financial assistance of the NASW Legal Defense Fund (LDF). Contents vary by title, but generally include legal information, civil procedure, contracts, legal methods, and glossaries. Checklists, timetables, case law, and other resources help social workers understand and exercise their legal rights and responsibilities as well as the rights and responsibilities of their clients.