Here are answers to frequently asked questions about the JCPS ombudsman.

What is an ombudsman?

An individual who provides conflict resolution and problem-solving services.

An ombudsman provides confidential, informal, independent, and impartial assistance to individuals through dispute resolution and problem-solving methods such as conflict coaching, mediation, facilitation, and shuttle diplomacy. The JCPS ombudsman responds to concerns and disputes brought forward by visitors to the office and may report trends to the superintendent. The ombudsman does not advocate for individuals, groups, or entities, but rather for the principles of fairness and equity.

How does an ombudsman differ from an employee relations/human resource professional?

Employee relations and human resource (ER/HR) professionals help managers and employees of an organization establish, follow, and apply 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 he or she 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, he or she does help identify or create options for resolution, including referrals to formal channels with investigatory powers. Because an ombudsman is not part of the management structure of an organization, he or she 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 ombudsman and the ER/HR professional do not have 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.

How does an ombudsman differ from a lawyer?

The ombudsman’s role is quite different from that of a lawyer, who is associated with formal processes and the legal system. An ombudsman maintains neutrality and impartiality when working with visitors, while a lawyer must advocate for his or her client. Though an ombudsman may have legal training and experience with issues of the law, an ombudsman does not provide legal advice.

How does an ombudsman contribute to an organization?

He or she can:

"Humanize" an organization by providing constituents with safe and informal opportunities to be heard; assistance in identifying options for managing or resolving concerns; facilitation of communication between or among conflicting parties; conflict resolution skills training; and upward feedback to management about trends in conflicts, hot-button issues or other matters of import to organizational leaders.

Help organizations reduce costs related to conflict by resolving disputes informally and helping to avoid the waste of resources, time and energy of parties in formal grievance processes and litigation.

Help keep top management abreast of new and changing trends within the organizational community.

Help executives and managers avoid spending excessive time attempting to resolve conflicts.

Refer individuals toward appropriate formal processes and resources within the organization.