What does the Office of Ombuds do?

The Office of Ombuds exists to assist faculty members and medical students, informally and confidentially, in understanding and resolving a variety of workplace issues. Such issues may range from perceptions of unfair or discriminatory treatment to a desire to better understand formal complaint procedures to a concern about apparently unethical or unprofessional practices. In addition, the Office of Ombuds reports, without identifying information, statistical data or trends showing particular problems, so that University officials can take corrective action or otherwise improve the situation.

Ombuds? Why such an unusual name?

The Office name “Ombuds” is derived from the Swedish “Ombudsman,” originally a government official who investigated citizen complaints against government officials. In this country the function has been modified and used in a variety of organizational settings including government agencies, corporations, and colleges and universities. Generally, as the workforce became more diverse, such organizations and those employed there found the Office of Ombuds useful in promoting communication, resolving disputes, and making the climate more inclusive. We use the term Ombuds as simply a shortened, gender-free form of both ombudsman and ombudswoman.

What is distinctive about the Office of the Ombuds?

Four principles—Confidentiality, Independence, Neutrality, and Informality—are of crucial importance in the effective functioning of the Office of the Ombuds. Taken together, these four principles set the Office of the Ombuds apart from any other University service or unit. The four principles together make the Office a special part of Washington University.

  1. Confidentiality is vital. Neither the names of visitors nor their concerns will be divulged outside the Office without express permission. Visitors can rest assured that the questions and issues they bring to the Ombuds will go no further without their explicit approval. The only exceptions would occur in the rare situation when there is an imminent risk of serious physical harm occurring without prompt direct intervention by appropriate personnel or when a court orders disclosure of information, despite the University’s effort to maintain the confidentiality of communications with the Office of the Ombuds.
  2. The Office of the Ombuds is independent, free standing. It is not a part of and does not report to Human Resources, General Counsel, or the Executive Faculty. Personnel in the Office of the Ombuds are appointed by the Dean of the School of Medicine but function independently of that office. Of course, the Office of the Ombuds cannot make decisions for these administrators nor can it override their decisions and policies. But where and when appropriate the Ombuds can assist in explaining, negotiating, and mediating. Personnel in the Office if the Ombuds have direct access to the senior administrators of the University. Because of its independence, the Office of the Ombuds is not authorized to receive official notice for the University.
  3. The Office of the Ombuds is neutral and impartial. It does not take sides. The mission of the Ombuds is to listen, to understand, to explain, to discuss options, to weigh alternatives, and to point out possibilities and consequences.
  4. The Office of the Ombuds is informal and conversational. It keeps few records and makes only statistical reports that may illuminate trends or continuing concerns. Its primary mission is to help individuals, confidentially, one at a time.
Who is the Office of the Ombuds intended to serve?

The Office of the Ombuds is intended to serve all faculty members with appointments on the investigator, clinical and research tracks at the School of Medicine as well as medical students.

When should I contact the Office of the Ombuds?

If you want or need to discuss a sensitive issue or question regarding your assignment or employment. If you need a question answered, but don’t know whom to ask. If you think you may have been treated unfairly or arbitrarily. If you become aware of practices that you think are questionable, but don’t know whom to tell or don’t want to be involved. If you need help communicating productively with a co-worker or supervisor.

What concerns are likely to be brought to the Office of the Ombuds?

Perceived or apparent inequities in assignments, perquisites, or pay. Concerns about inappropriate behavior or speech, particularly as they affect workplace conditions. Questions about performance evaluation, promotion, and retention. Concerns about practices risking or adversely affecting health and safety. Concerns about authorship or intellectual property. Concerns about compliance with relevant public laws and regulations or University policies.

What can the Office of the Ombuds not do?

The Office of the Ombuds cannot:

  • give you legal advice nor can it testify on your behalf in legal proceedings.
  • receive notice on behalf of the University.
  • require any person at the University to take action to resolve issues brought to the Ombuds.
  • take part in formal appeal or grievance procedures nor undertake formal investigations.

It will try to find answers to questions to assist in the informal resolution of difficulties and in doing so may engage in informal inquiries to the extent it has the visitor’s permission.