Office of the Ombudsperson

OFFICE OF THE

University Ombudsman

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How does an Ombudsman differ from an Employee Relations/Human Resource professional? [1]

Employee Relations and Human Resource (ER/HR) professionals assist managers and employees of the organization in establishing, following and applying Human Resource-related policies and procedures. They may conduct formal investigations, make or modify policies, and accept formal notice of a claim on behalf of the organization. As a result, the ER/HR professional cannot always extend complete confidentiality to individuals who come forward with issues. The ER/HR 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 structure 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, as jointly defined by the organization and the Ombudsman, at the discretion of the Ombudsman). The Ombudsman 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.

The roles of the Ombudsman and the ER/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.


[1] www.ombudsassociation.org/resources/frequently-asked-questions, question 5.