Prior to March 2020, 99 per cent of employment mediations and arbitrations were done in person. Mediators were chosen in part based on their physical proximity to the parties. Unless the mediation was held at one of the lawyers’ offices, the parties would incur hotel or conference room charges between $500 and $1,000. In addition, it was common for one or more of the parties to incur significant travel costs to attend the mediation or, in the alternative, for the employer to send a delegate with little or no settlement authority as it was not worth the time and energy for the employer to send a decision-maker.
Once the pandemic hit, the ADR world changed overnight as in-person mediations were either illegal and/or unsafe. Initially, many mediations were simply adjourned, as we all believed that this pandemic would be over in a few weeks and after that we could all revert back to our in-person mediations. However, as time went on, it became clear that this was not to be. We all had to learn quickly how to adapt to ADR in a virtual world, a world that most of us had no prior knowledge of. At first there were several virtual platforms that were used: ZOOM, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Many of us went out and purchased second monitors, and upgraded our video cameras and microphones. We had to set up virtual studios in our homes and concern ourselves with what our background looked like.
Now here we are, almost three years later, and the ADR world has completely changed. Now 99 per cent of the employment mediations are virtual. I have only done two in-person mediations since the pandemic. In contrast, I have done over 600 mediations on ZOOM in the same period.