Q. What is the role of an Ombuds?
A. An Ombuds function is to provide informal assistance in surfacing and resolving workplace issues. The Ombuds does not conduct formal investigations. However, they do assist in identifying or creating options for resolution, including referrals to formal channels with investigatory powers. Because they are not part of the management structure of the organization, an Ombuds does not accept notice for the organization and can extend confidentiality (except in the instance of imminent threat of serious harm, harassment or discrimination.) The Ombuds acts as a neutral party and does not advocate for the individual, groups or the organization. The only advocacy role is for fairness and equity. While they can recommend that an organization consider establishing or revising policy, the Ombuds plays no formal role in enforcing or deciding to implement policy.
Q. What are the duties of an Ombuds Representative?
A. The primary duties of an Ombuds are:
(1) to work with individuals and groups in an organization to explore and assist them in determining options to help resolve conflicts, problematic issues or concerns, and
(2) to bring systemic concerns to the attention of the organization for resolution.
Q. Why does the NRAO have Ombuds representatives when we have Human Resources?
A. The NRAO Ombuds program allows employees a third option for resolving problems. Employees may seek the assistance of their immediate supervisor, site management or their Ombuds representative. Employees may seek assistance to find an unbiased ear that will help solve workplace problems and work towards a successful outcome.
Q. Is the Ombuds representative going to tell Human Resources management what I say?
A. An Ombuds can extend confidentiality except in the instance of imminent threat of serious harm, harassment or discrimination as jointly defined by the organization and the Ombuds,.
Q. How is an Ombuds different than talking to someone in Human Resources?
A. The role of the Ombuds and the HR professional are not competing roles, they are complementary. When the two functions work together in an effective partnership, they can yield tremendous benefit to an organization by maintaining an environment that encourages the use of multiple options to surface and resolve issues and to improve systemic policies and procedures.
Q. Will my manager or supervisor know if I speak with an Ombuds?
A. An organizational Ombuds operates in a manner to preserve the confidentiality of those seeking services, maintains a neutral/impartial position with respect to the concerns raised, works at an informal level of the organizational system, and is independent of formal organizational structures. The Ombuds will not talk to you manager or supervisor unless you ask them to get involved. The Ombuds may mediate a conversation with your manager or supervisor or you may give them permission to voice a concern you may have.
Q. What if I am not comfortable talking to the particular Ombuds at my site? Can I contact an Ombuds at a different site?
A. In most cases there are at least two Ombuds representatives at or close to your work site, however, all of the Ombuds are listed on the internal website and you may contact any one of them to seek assistance.
Q. What are the activities and functions most frequently undertaken by an Ombuds?
A. The following is a list of common activities and functions that Ombuds may conduct:
• Listens to issues while remaining neutral with respect to the facts. The Ombuds doesn’t listen to judge or to decide who is right or wrong. The Ombuds listens to understand the issue from the perspective of the individual. This is a critical step in developing options for resolution.
• Assists in re-framing issues and developing and helping individuals evaluate options. This helps individuals identify the interests of various parties to the issues and helps focus efforts on potential options to meet those interests.
• Guides or coaches individuals to deal directly with other parties, including the use of formal resolution resources of the organization. An Ombuds often seeks to help individuals improve their skill and their confidence in giving voice to their concerns directly.
• Refers individuals to appropriate resolution resources. An Ombuds may refer individuals to one or more formal organizational resources, including the Employee Assistance Program, that can potentially resolve the issue.
• Assists in surfacing issues to formal resolution channels. When an individual is unable or unwilling to surface a concern directly, the Ombuds can assist by helping give voice to the concern and /or creating an awareness of the issue among appropriate decision-makers in the organization.
• Facilitates informal resolution processes. An Ombuds may help to resolve issues between parties through various types of informal mediation.
• Identifies new issues and opportunities for systemic change for the organization. The unique positioning of the Ombuds serves to provide unfiltered information that can produce insight to issues and resolutions. The Ombuds is a source of detection and early warning of new issues and a source of suggestions of systemic change to improve existing processes.
Q. What are activities and functions that an Ombuds is not expected to do?
A. Because of the informal, neutral, confidential and independent positioning of an Ombuds in an organization, they typically do not undertake the following roles or activities:
• Participate in formal investigations or play any role in a formal issue resolution process
• Serve in any other organizational role that would compromise the neutrality of the Ombuds role
• Receive notice for the organization
• Make binding decisions or mandate policies
• Create or maintain records or reports for the organization
Q. What is the term limit for the Ombuds Representative?
A. The Ombuds serve in a voluntary capacity for a term of two years.
Other NRAO Resources
The Human Resources Office
- Addresses discrimination and sexual harassment concerns of anyone affiliated with NRAO.
- Counsels employees and departments on policy, conflict resolution, grievance procedures, and performance evaluations.
- Coordinates the services for affiliated persons with disabilities.
- Provides answers or resources to questions regarding accomodations, benefits, service, etc.
The Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Your EAP program is a free resource for counseling and support services. It's provided by the NRAO to help you resolve issues and problems quickly - so you can stay healthy, happy and productive.
- Is available to all NRAO employees and resident family members.
- Is completely confidential
- You speak to a trained professional
- Provides you with information and referrals
- Toll free 1-877-622-4327
Please note that although the EAP is completely confidential, because it is sponsored by the employer, issues regarding legal actions directly affecting the employer/employee work relationship cannot be addressed.