UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Promises and challenges of internal dispute resolution in the corporate workplace Charvat, Lori


This thesis examines the promises and challenges of internal dispute resolution (IDR) in the corporate workplace of Canada and the United States. The focus of inquiry is twofold: a theoretical and socio-historical study of the corporation followed by a practical analysis of dispute resolution of human or civil rights. The examination of the role of the corporation begins with a review of the statutory and jurisprudential underpinnings of the "corporate person," which have legitimized the corporation and its powerful place in society. Such power, sanctified by the law, impacts not only society at large but also employees of the corporation. Internalization of legal systems into the corporate workplace has shifted some dispute resolution responsibilities from the public to the private domain, relegating further power to the corporation. This public to private shift has deputized the corporation as an enforcer of its employees' civil rights. Two predominant theories of the corporation - the Contractarian and Communitarian - provide understanding about power relationships among the corporation and its constituents. U.S. and Canadian courts and legislatures have demonstrated a preference for the Contractarian theory, which holds that the corporation is a nexus of contracts, and that firm managers should prioritize its contract with its shareholders, governing the corporation so as to maximize shareholder wealth. A careful examination of corporate theory and governance illustrates the corporation's conflict of interest in holding shareholder interests primary while resolving employment disputes. The power differential between the corporation, as agents of its shareholder principals, and employees presents the greatest challenge in equitably resolving employment disputes. The practical aspects of internal dispute resolution in the corporate workplace focus on the potential benefits and risks to employees. In-house mediation, with certain procedural safeguards, has potential for benefits that outweigh risks to individual employees. Building on principles and structures of formal procedural fairness found in courts of law and administrative tribunals, five essential features can best guarantee fairness in IDR: voluntary participation, retention of employees' right to judicial review, prohibition against reprisal for raising the dispute, use of an external mediator, and oversight of the corporation's IDR program by a neutral, external body.

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