University of Connecticut (UConn) Ombuds Office: Office Charter: 1
The UConn Ombuds Office provides resources and assistance to individuals seeking the informal resolution of workplace problems in a confidential, informal, and independent manner. The Ombuds Office is designed to be a confidential, neutral resource where staff, faculty, administrators, and graduate students can go for assistance in identifying available options, facilitating productive communication, and surfacing responsible concerns regarding university policies and practices. The role and authority of the Ombuds2 are established by the Office of the President, but the services of the Ombuds Office are neither directed nor controlled by the President. Further, other than as explained below, communications made to the Ombudsman are not shared with UConn or any of its officials. This Charter defines the role, privileges, and responsibilities of the UConn Ombuds Office.
II. Purpose and Scope of Services
The Ombuds provides informal dispute resolution services to UConn faculty, administrators, graduate students, and professional and staff employees1. The Ombuds Office is a place where these constituents can seek guidance regarding workplace problems or concerns at no cost and without fear of retaliation. Consultation with the Ombuds is entirely voluntary and may not be compelled by the University or an employee.
To the extent permitted by law, the Ombuds Office receives questions and concerns about individual situations or broader systemic issues and keeps them confidential. The response of the Ombudsman is tailored to the dynamics of the situation and the nature of the concerns. The Ombudsman will listen, make informal inquiries or otherwise review matters received, offer resolution options, make referrals, and informally mediate disputes independently and impartially. The Ombudsman will assist individuals in reaching resolutions that are consistent with the stated ideals, objectives and policies of UConn.
Services offered by the Ombuds Office supplement, but do not replace, other more formal processes available to university employees and graduate students. The Ombudsman serves as an information and communication resource. The Ombuds also is a catalyst for institutional change for the University through reporting of trends and identifying opportunities to enhance policies and procedures. The Ombudsman has no authority to impose remedies or sanctions. Nor does the Ombuds have the authority to enforce, make exceptions to, or change any UConn policy, rule, or procedure.
Services of the Ombuds Office include but are not limited to:
Providing individual problem assistance services
- Listening impartially to concerns and providing a confidential place to collaboratively explore problems
- Developing options for informal approaches to resolving concerns
- Pointing employees and graduate students toward available services and resources and obtaining applicable information, including university policies, procedures, and materials
- Exploring early problem solving approaches as a means of avoiding escalation of conflicts and empowering individuals to find their own solutions to problems when appropriate
- Coaching and training and/or referral to resources on communication and interpersonal relationship skills in the workplace
Providing conflict resolution services
- Facilitating communication between parties during conflict
- Serving as facilitator for group problem solving and consensus development
- Assisting groups in the design and implementation of collaborative decision making processes
- Mediating and advising mediation as an informal conflict resolution process
- Alerting individuals or groups to available formal channels for conflict resolution
Serving the UConn campus community
- Identifying observed trends or problems areas
- Providing feedback relating to changes in policies or procedures
- Educating and informing the campus community about conflict resolution through presentations and office literature
- Modeling fairness, equity, inclusion, and civility in carrying out duties
The Ombuds Office will publish an annual report that will describe the activities of the office and aggregate data on the concerns raised at the office in a manner that protects the identity of visitors.
Receiving Notice for the University
The Ombuds Office does not receive or record complaints on behalf of the University of Connecticut and the Ombuds is not designated by the University as an individual authorized to receive reports of any violations of university policy or the law. THEREFORE, COMMUNICATIONS TO THE OMBUDS OFFICE REGARDING POSSIBLE VIOLATIONS OF UNIVERSITY POLICIES OR UNLAWFUL PRACTICES DO NOT CONSTITUTE NOTICE TO UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT. Any such information shared with the Ombuds Office is not shared with the University. This allows the Ombuds to preserve the confidential and impartial nature of the office. If an individual discloses information that might evidence a violation of University policy or unlawful activity, the Ombuds will provide information necessary to permit the individual to make an official report to the University and, if requested, will assist the individual in making such report.
III. Standards of Practice
The Ombuds aspires to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) as a neutral party to promote fair practices and foster integrity and timeliness in the administration of University policies and practices that may affect faculty, staff and graduate students. The IOA’s tenets require that ombuds function independently of their organization, be confidential and neutral, and limit the scope of their services to informal means of dispute resolution. The IOA Standards are minimum standards, and the Ombudsman will strive to operate to “best practices” and in a way that serves the interests of the University community in a manner consistent with the law.
The Ombuds Office is designed to be free from direct University oversight or control. This independence is achieved primarily through reporting structure, neutrality and organizational recognition. The Ombudsman reports to the Office of the President but the President neither directs nor controls the day-to-day activities of the Ombuds Office, and the Ombuds does not share with the President or any other University official communications made in confidence to the Ombuds Office. The University’s Ombuds provides programmatic leadership and direction for the office and is responsible for designing, implementing, operating and coordinating all aspects of the office. The Ombuds will exercise sole discretion over whether and how to act regarding individual matters or systemic concerns.
The Ombuds holds all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence to the extent permitted by law. Typically, the Ombuds will not confirm communicating with any individual who has sought the services of the Ombuds Office or disclose any confidential information shared with the Ombuds Office without that individual’s express permission. The Ombudsman may, however, disclose confidential information without consent when such disclosure is required by law or, in the judgment of the Ombudsman, there is an imminent risk of serious harm. The Ombudsman does not participate in any formal process, whether internal or external to the University, even if given permission by the individual who consulted with the Ombuds, unless otherwise required by law.
The Ombuds is neutral in his activities and does not act as an advocate for any participant to a dispute or visitor to the office. The Ombudsman impartially considers the interests and concerns of all persons involved in a situation with the aim of facilitating communication and assisting others in reaching mutually acceptable agreements that are fair and equitable, and consistent with the mission and policies of the University.
The Ombuds will not be assigned other roles, including assignment to university committees, that would compromise neutrality. The Ombuds will take all necessary steps to avoid involvement in matters where there may be a real or perceived conflict of interest. A conflict of interest occurs when the Ombuds’ personal or private interests, real or perceived, are at odds with his duties and obligations to the University, including his role as a neutral and independent ombudsman. The Ombuds may withdraw services or decline to look into a matter if he believes involvement would be inappropriate for any reason, including, but not limited to, requests for misuse of ombuds services, matters not brought in good faith, a conflict of interest, matters specified in existing union contracts, or when insufficient information is provided.
The Ombuds Office is a resource for informal dispute resolution only. The Ombuds does not formally investigate, arbitrate, adjudicate or in any other way participate in any formal adjudicative or administrative process or procedure, unless required to do so by law. Use of Ombuds Office services is completely voluntary; it is not a required step in any grievance process or any University or external complaint process.
To the extent permitted by law, the Ombuds does not create or maintain documents or records for the University about individual matters.
IV. Authority and Limits of the Ombuds
The Ombuds has the authority to discuss a range of options available to visitors, including both informal and formal procedures, and may make any recommendations he deems appropriate with regard to resolving problems or improving policies, rules, or procedures.
Further, while the Ombuds has no authority to direct or control the activities of any University official, employee, or graduate student, members of the University’s administration are encouraged to make themselves accessible to the Ombuds.
The Ombuds refrains from significant involvement in issues that are specifically covered by contract between the University of Connecticut and any bargaining unit. However, the Ombuds is available to serve as an informal resource for union leadership or union employees for issues that are not governed by current contracts.
The Ombuds has no authority to bargain or negotiate with the University of Connecticut on behalf of any employee or with any employee or bargaining unit on behalf of the University. No interaction between the Ombuds Office and any University employee or graduate student constitutes “negotiating” or “bargaining”. Rather, all communications with the Ombuds Office are for the sole purpose of discussing and working toward informal resolution of workplace concerns.
V. Retaliation for Using the Ombuds Office
UConn faculty, administrators, professional and staff employees, and graduate students have the right to consult the Ombuds Office without retaliation. Similarly, because consultation with the Ombuds is wholly voluntary and not a required step in any process, formal or informal, internal or external, individuals will not be retaliated against for choosing to not consult the Ombuds.
Employees may access the Ombuds Office during their normal working hours but may be required to notify the applicable supervisor and receive approval to leave their assigned work area. Employees wishing to access the Ombuds Office without notifying a supervisor may use approved leave time, scheduled break time, or visit outside normal work hours. The Ombuds Office will be available to arrange flexible hours to meet with employees.
1 Undergraduate students may use services provided by the Division of Student Affairs, such as the Office of Student Services and Advocacy.
2 The terms “ombudsman” and “ombuds” are considered synonymous and are used interchangeably throughout this document.