David Yamada is a law professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, founder of the New Workplace Institute and an expert in the legal and organizational implications of workplace bullying. When asked whether workplace bullying can be mediated, he says, no. "Just as we would not attempt to mediate child abuse or spousal abuse, we should not attempt to mediate work abuse." Yamada's answer rests on the observation that workplace bullies abuse their power with malicious intent. He believes that attempts to mediate such situations subject targets to even more abuse and that a fair resolution is impossible. On the other hand, lesser forms of incivility, where power imbalances are not as pronounced and intentions are not malicious, may well benefit by a mediation approach. The problem is distinguishing between bullying and incivility. (Minding the Workplace.)
For Organizational Ombuds, the answer to this conundrum lies with the visitor (aka client/consultee/complainant). The visitor must decide whether or not to attempt a facilitation or mediation with the Ombuds. The Ombuds' obligation is to disclose the risks of any option, which would include acknowledgment that a bully may retaliate after mediation. In addition, if an Ombuds personally witnesses bullying (during a mediation or elsewhere), it can be addressed separately.
Related post: Workplace Bullying More Harmful than Sexual Harassment.