An Ombudsperson is guided by cornerstone principles:
IMPARTIALITY (OR NEUTRALITY)
•An ombuds is not part of line management, does not
make management decisions, and cannot compel
anyone to take any particular course of action.
•In order to preserve independence, the ombuds cannot
be considered a place where “notice” of improper
activities can be given to the institution.
•In order to assure independence, the ombuds typically
reports to the head of the organization and does not take
on other roles that might compromise, or appear to
•Ombuds encourage people to resolve problems at
the lowest effective level, before they escalate.
•If informal resolution is unsuccessful, and the
problem moves into a formal arena, an ombuds’
•An ombuds does not participate in formal
processes, even if given permission to do so.
•The ombuds does not advocate for the employee or
student, or anyone else.
•As a designated neutral, the ombuds helps people to gain
perspective on situations so they can make better-
informed choices as to how to proceed.
•This often entails helping visitors gain access to relevant
information as well as opening avenues of
•The facilitation of constructive
communication, whether through informal
mediation, facilitation, or “shuttle
diplomacy,” is a key aspect of impartiality.
•Conversely, ombuds do not negotiate on
someone’s behalf, pressing for a particular
outcome or course of action, nor do they
•Confidentiality is essential to what makes the ombuds office a
safe place for people to bring their concerns, open their minds,
and explore potential courses of action.
•The only instance in which an ombuds would breach
confidentiality is if he or she believes that doing so is necessary
to address an imminent threat of serious harm.
•Because of the expectation of confidentiality, the ombuds
cannot serve as an “office of record” or an “office of notice” to
•Confidentiality belongs to the ombuds, not to those
providing information to the ombuds.
•Even if a visitor were to given an ombuds permission to
discuss a situation, the ombuds might not do so in the belief
that such a move might violate another ombuds principle
(i.e., not participating in formal arenas).
•Confidentiality is one of the ombuds’ most valuable tools.
For this reason, ombuds are working to develop explicit
federal “shield” legislation.
A DISTINCTIVE ROLE
•Unlike HR professionals, ombuds do not develop policies
or procedures, impart authoritative interpretations of, or
defend or enforce them; or participate in formal arenas.
•Ombuds do not interpret agreements or advocate on
behalf of individuals.
•While EAP professionals focus on psycho-social
assessment and referral or coping with problems outside
the workplace, ombuds concentrate on practical,
constructive methods for addressing workplace conflicts.
•Ombuds encourage people to report wrongdoing, help
them learn about and gain access to their rights, and
assist them in finding safe ways to come forward.
•Central to the role of ombuds is the function of coaching.
•Coaching helps people discern what they actually want
(their underlying “interests”) as opposed to their initial
•Coaching allows them to explore potential avenues for
addressing those interests.
•The coaching process includes “reality checks,” which
help people determine what is, or is not, reasonably
attainable, and the possible costs and advantages of
Such one-on-one counseling is the core of ombudsing.
Other services radiate from that core.
INTEREST-BASED APPROACHES TO
Move to settlement
move from past to present to future
Brainstorm options – intervention
Issues and interests – reflective listening
clarify issues and common interests
Establish trust – foundation
a positive tone
Intake – Scope of Services and
FUNCTIONS AND SKILLS
• LISTEN, while being • PROVIDE resources for
respectful information on procedures,
policies and regulations
• IDENTIFY alternatives and
generate options • PROVIDE feedback on
trends, issues, policies and
• OFFER neutral practices without breaching
• FACILITATE • PROVIDE problem solving
communication between skills to members of the
aggrieved members of the University community so
University community they can express their
• REFER people to those on concerns effectively to
campus who are able to others
help resolve their problems
AN OMBUDS CANNOT
• Advocate for a person • Act as an office of legal
notice to the university
• Arbitrate that a problem exists
• Promise confidentiality • Testify in formal
if there is an imminent proceedings, including
risk of serious harm legal proceedings
• Deter a person from
pursuing relief through
any formal process
• An informal process and • A formal, structured process
great way to prevent and great way to facilitate
disputes, where possible, or the resolution of a dispute
• Mediation is one of many • Mediator restricted in role
• Can work with one, both or • Both sides must be present
• Can help find the best • Process is defined
process or options
• Keeps no case records • May keep case records
Within the Organization:
Open Door Policy
Internal Support, HR and
OMBUDS: The one you go to when you need
help to work it out yourself – to refer you, link you
up, or coach for self-help.
Value = Worth
Recruitment and retention Someone to Listen
Reduced formal processes Educational
Reduced litigation Collegiality
Time = Money
number and time spent on phone calls,
number and time spent in meetings,
time spent in research, fact-finding
consulting, discussion, facilitation, ombuds’
mediation, “looking into,” shuttle
diplomacy, referral, training, information
Individual impacts (retention, envalument)
Case impact (formality averted, individual changes)
Collateral impacts (others involved, improved)
Environmental system impacts (institutional
changes, reputation enhancement/protection, etc.)
Additional Value Contributions
Ombuds handle issues no one else does.
Less likelihood of issues being “stranded.” Stranded issues
seem to mutate!
Ombuds Enhance Other Programs.
More “right” issues quickly navigated to the
best resource means those programs return more value.
Ombuds Add Educational Value.
Ombuds coaching and tools used – interest based
negotiation, active listening, etc. – teaches users better
communication, conflict management techniques, and
• A case filed with a federal or state agency has a
nuisance value of $25,000.
• The Ombuds Program is able to prevent at least
one meritorious case from going to a government
agency or court.
• Every meritorious case cost $50,000 in legal fees
(win or lose) excluding settlements and damages.
• Half of all issues resolved through Ombuds
without senior management involvement.
THE VALUE OF OMBUDS
• Early-warning system on the need for systemic change.
• By adhering to the principles of independence, impartiality, and
confidentiality, we have created a safe place where people feel
comfortable telling us what really is going on.
• Ear of the organization. People often leave our office saying that this
was the first time they truly felt heard.
• Our next task is to help people sort through what actually is going on
and what outcome they really want. This entails disentwining many
threads that the person may have tangled into one seemingly
• We help people identify the threads, sort them into categories, and
then explore options for satisfactory resolution of each concern.
• Once it is determined what is really wanted, priorities are identified and
possible courses of action are explored.
Wesley, Margo, California Public Employee Relations Journal,The
Compleat Ombuds: A Spectrum of Resolution Services, Issue 166,
Special thanks to Margo Wesley, Ombudsperson and Director of the
Staff Ombuds Office at the University of California, Berkeley, and the
University of California for permission to use The Compleat Ombuds
as the basis for this presentation.
This presentation is reprinted with permission from CPER No. 166
(June 2004). Copyright by the Regents, University of California. The
California Public Employee Relations Program provides nonpartisan
information to those involved in employer-employee relations in the