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Who can contact the Ombudsman?

    The Office of the Ombudsman is available to employees and staff at every level of the NIH to address workplace conflict.

What issues are commonly dealt with in the Ombudsman's Office?

    The most common concerns are staff/management interaction, performance appraisals, difficult management situations, discrimination, harassment, interpersonal misunderstandings, mentoring, authorship, and scientific collaboration. Some people are interested only in specific information about a rule, law, or policy that applies to their situation.

May I use work time to resolve a complaint?

    An employee can use a reasonable amount of official work time to resolve a workplace problem. However, to use official work time to visit the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Office, or the Office of the Ombudsman, you must first obtain approval from your supervisor. In situations where you do not want to notify your supervisor, you may use leave or arrange to have a meeting during lunch or after work hours.

What is different about the Office of the Ombudsman?

    The Office of the Ombudsman is firmly committed to maintaining the confidentiality of those who use our services. We operate independent of the usual administrative structure at NIH and are not part of any Institute or Center (IC). The Ombudsman provides an alternative to formal grievance and complaint processes, and is flexible enough to handle any workplace dispute. The office emphasizes non-adversarial problem-solving options that help avoid future disputes.

I'm thinking about filing an EEO complaint. May I still contact the Ombudsman?

    You may come directly to the Ombudsman with EEO concerns. You may contact the Ombudsman at any time without relinquishing your right to file a formal EEO complaint. However, if you wish to file an EEO complaint, you must contact your IC EEO officer within 45 days of the alleged discriminatory action. There are many instances of insensitivity, unfairness, or miscommunication that may not necessarily be discrimination. The Ombudsman's Office can help address these situations.

How is the Ombudsman different from the EAP?

    While some issues that the Ombudsman's office and EAP handle do overlap, the Ombudsman provides conflict resolution approaches to workplace issues and related policies and practices. The EAP generally provides assistance with personal issues such as stress, health concerns, substance abuse, or family concerns that may be affecting job performance.

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

    Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to a variety of informal, non-adversarial processes outside of formal complaint and grievance mechanisms. These processes include mediation, facilitation, conciliation, peer review panels, and shuttle diplomacy. ADR emphasizes collaborative problem solving, rather than win-lose approaches.

I have seen the Ombudsman in the Office of the Director, Human Resources, EEO, and other places. If his office is so confidential, what is he or she doing in those official places?

    To be effective at resolving problems the Ombudsman must have access to high-level decision-makers. The Ombudsman talks about issues brought to him only with permission. Sometimes the Ombudsman consults with others about systemic concerns in a general way. The Ombudsman only serves on committees at the NIH as a consultant or an ex-officio member.

To whom does the Ombudsman report, and what is reported?

    The Ombudsman reports through the Deputy Director to the Director of the NIH. The Ombudsman sends a yearly report to the Office of the Director and the NIH community. This report is designed to identify trends and patterns and is strictly demographic, with no information available that would identify individuals who have used the office.

What authority does the Ombudsman have?

    The Ombudsman has the authority to (1) mediate and/or negotiate settlements in disputes; (2) make recommendations for change in a policy or practice; (3) bring issues to the attention of those with the authority to address concerns, such as Division Directors, Scientific Directors, and Executive Officers; and (4) expedite administrative processes.

If the Ombudsman is employed by the NIH, how independent can he be?

    The Ombudsman is an inside "outsider" — not part of Institute management chains or their influence. Because the Ombudsman is not part of ICs, he is free from interference in addressing issues and resolving conflicts. NIH supports the independence of the Ombudsman, because it is to everyone's advantage to have all concerns, even the most sensitive, brought to the surface and resolved.