Conflicts in the workplace can be stressful on small business owners and unpleasant for all involved but can also lead to positive change for your entire business. Being able to manage clashes at your work successfully is important for you and your co-workers.

Managing disputes in the workplace can detract from your day-to-day business, but they don’t have to. Following on from our advice on dispute resolutions for small business, dealing with disputes in the workplace involving staff, contractors and employees can be made simple with the following guidelines.

You may find your business faced with a number of issues relating to your staff, identifying these is the first step to a smooth resolution. Issues may range from:

  • Different communication styles
  • Unclear or different expectations about job roles
  • Workplace culture
  • Poor management or leadership practices
  • Disputes over hours, pay and conditions
  • Bad behavior, bullying or biases

As a small business owner you have a number of options to deal with your employee disputes:

Option 1

If the dispute involves an employee you may have to consider the standard model within your enterprise agreement clause or an employee contract

Option 2

If there is not an enterprise agreement in place or it does not cover the employees involved, the procedure outlined in the modern awards should be followed.

Option 3

If neither an enterprise agreement or an employee contract apply to you in your current business a typical employee dispute resolution process is defined below.

Dispute Process

An employee and/or a representative meet with the employee's direct supervisor to discuss a problem.

The supervisor listens carefully and respectfully to the employee/representative and together they try to resolve the dispute. If the supervisor and employee are unable to resolve the dispute or it’s not appropriate that the supervisor deal with the matter, it can be referred up the line to senior management.

Senior Management now listens to the employee/representative and attempts to resolve the dispute. It’s either resolved or referred to an independent body.

An independent conciliator or mediator (for example the Fair Work Commission) can then assist to resolve the dispute.


The problems are fixed and a resolution has been reached. Healthy working relationships are back on track.

Employees and contractors are often signed to your business with either an employment contract, paid under modern awards or an enterprise agreement. All enterprise agreements and employment contracts should, by law, include a dispute resolution clause. If you do not have a standard model for dispute resolution clauses, one is available in the Fair Work Regulations 2009 and can be used to develop a dispute resolution term in your own contracts

Who can assist you to achieve a full resolution?