Initially, the Ombuds may appear to function similarly to other employee resources on campus. Its functions, however, differ distinctly.
In addressing workplace concerns, employees may consider multiple resources including those within the Office of Human Resources and the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action.
How does an Ombuds differ from an Employee Relations professional?
The most significant differences between these functions are based on their informal or formal role in the organization. Employee Relations professionals formally assist managers and employees of the organization in establishing, following and applying HR-related policies and procedures. They conduct formal investigations as a basis for management action and they can make or modify policy. They accept formal notice of a claim on behalf of the organization and may be called upon to testify in formal proceedings. As a result the ER professional cannot always extend complete confidentiality to individuals who come forward with issues. While they seek to ensure fair application of policy, an ER professional's role is not completely neutral because they are part of the management structure and they must directly represent and protect the interests of the organization.
An Ombudsman's function is to provide informal assistance in surfacing and resolving issues. While they can recommend that an organization consider establishing or revising policy, the Ombudsman plays no formal role in enforcing or deciding to implement policy. The Ombudsman 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 of the organization, an ombudsman does not accept notice for the organization and can extend near absolute confidentiality (except in the instance of imminent threat of serious harm at the discretion of the Ombudsman). The Ombudsman acts as a neutral party and does not advocate for the individual or the organization. The only advocacy role is for fair process.
The roles of the Ombudsman and the Employee Relations 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
This difference between the Ombuds’ and the Employee Relations professional’s functions can be similarly applied to other resources on campus.
Other distinct roles on campus:
The Equal Employment/Affirmative Action Officer is responsible for all discrimination complaints that are specific to protected classes (age, sex/gender, race, veteran’s status, national origin, sexual orientation, political belief, disability, or any category protected by the Commonwealth or federal law) and making sure that the College adheres to equal opportunity under the law for all searches that are conducted on campus. The regulatory and compliance nature of the EEO/AA professional requires formality and notice, which contradict the principles of the Ombuds.
There is also a Graduate (Arts & Sciences) Ombuds Office on campus. While the University Ombuds addresses staff workplace concerns, the Graduate Ombuds Office provides service to graduate students in Arts & Sciences.
The Dean of Students Office addresses all student concerns, even in their roles as employees.