What is an Ombudsman?

The term ‘Ombudsman’ originated in Sweden, where the first Ombudsman, appointed in 1809, was a public official who received and investigated complaints from the citizenry against government agencies or officials.
An organizational Ombudsman offers services to resolve conflicts, problems or disputes and to listen to the concerns of employees of an organization. S/he has the mandate to find facts informally but cannot carry out formal investigations and cannot make administrative decisions.
The term is gender-neutral in origin.

What is the role of an Ombudsman?

An Ombudsman is an informal, impartial, independent neutral who assists parties to resolve disagreements through facilitation of dialogue, active listening, shuttle diplomacy and mediation. S/he helps to find solutions to a wide variety of workplace disputes. Individuals may contact an Ombudsman at any stage of a disagreement for help on any work-related problem where a perspective outside of formal channels would be helpful.

What is a Mediator?

A mediator seeks to help parties to develop a shared understanding of the conflict and to work towards building a practical and lasting resolution of a dispute.

Who can request the services of the Ombudsman?

Staff and non-staff on active duty from UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNOPS and UN-Women may request the services of the Office of the Ombudsman. Former staff, within a period of one year following separation from service or the end of their contract may contact the office. You may visit the office at its headquarters address (304 East 45th St, Room FF-671, New York, NY 10017, USA) or request Ombudsman or mediation services using Telephone (+1 646 781 4083), Fax (+1 212 906 6281) or Email (ombudsmediation@fpombudsman.org).

Who can refer a matter to the Office of the Ombudsman?

In addition to individual staff, the Administration, the United Nations Dispute and Appeals Tribunals as well as the Office of Staff Legal Assistance or other similar offices can refer a matter to the Office of the Ombudsman.

What types of issues does an Ombudsman help address?

Compensation and benefits
Salary, pension, leave, health insurance, various entitlements

Evaluative relationships
Issues between colleagues with supervisory relationships

Peer and colleague relationships
Issues between colleagues with NO supervisory relationships

Job and career progression
Issues impacting job conditions or the career progression of the visitor: recruitment, contract, job description/classification, training, promotion, transfer and rotation, separation, abolition of post and retirement processes.

Legal, regulatory, financial and compliance issues
Harassment, discrimination, retaliation, gender and geographic balance; investigative/disciplinary processes, waste, fraud and abuse of funds

Safety, health, wellbeing, stress and work/life policy
Working conditions; general wellbeing and stress; accommodation for disability or health conditions; issues with health, safety and security

Responsiveness, timeliness and nature of response/services from sections providing services to staff (HR, pension fund, tax unit, etc…)

Organizational, leadership and management
Organizational climate, morale, culture, communication; change management, issues with leadership in the organization and management styles

Values, ethics and standards
Issues pertaining to United Nations core values

→ Click here for the Issue definitions (PDF)

How quickly can I speak with an Ombudsman?

The Office makes a constant effort to respond to requests as soon as possible, which is normally within two working days.

How soon will the Ombudsman resolve my conflict?

Experience has shown that if the parties to a conflict demonstrate good will, a solution can be found for nearly every disagreement in the workplace. An Ombudsman can help to increase mutual understanding of the professional situation of each party to the conflict, which will empower them to make further decisions on their own. In some cases, it proves too difficult to bring about speedy action and a resolution can take a long time. The complexity of the issues in a conflict and the number of parties involved also influence the rapidity of resolution.

Does a visitor to the Office of the Ombudsman have an obligation to respect confidentiality?

An Ombudsman treats all matters brought to him or her with strict confidentiality. No action is taken on a complaint without the complainant’s permission. Information retained by an Ombudsman is kept secure. However, with the verbal or written permission of the complainant, an Ombudsman may share the information with other people involved in the dispute or with people who may be able to take action to resolve the dispute. To guarantee absolute confidentiality, an Ombudsman shall be immune from any demand from any level of the organization to disclose any information or document regarding a client; the only exception being, at the sole discretion of the Ombudsman, when there appears to be imminent threat of serious harm. The individuals seeking the services of an Ombudsman are also expected to observe the same degree of confidentiality as that guaranteed by the Ombudsman.

Should staff seek action to resolve my dispute informally through an Ombudsman before pursuing the formal channels?

An Ombudsman can be contacted at any time during a dispute, including when formal
proceedings are under way. UN Dispute Tribunal Statute states in Art. II, 18. “The informal resolution of conflict is a crucial element of the system of administration of justice, and emphasizes that all possible use should be made of the informal system in order to avoid unnecessary litigation”. At any time during the proceedings, including at the hearing, the Dispute Tribunal may propose to the parties that the case can be referred for mediation. This would suspend the formal proceedings.

What are the advantages of contacting the Office of the Ombudsman before filing a complaint?

The informal conflict resolution system offers the visitor the possibility of resolving a sensitive issue confidentially. The visitor will be enabled to find his or her own suitable solution and this approach can guarantee sustainability. In addition, it minimizes costs of litigation and it is a time efficient, forward-looking and highly flexible process.

Does the Ombudsman give feedback to the administration about the concerns s/he receives?

The services provided by the Office of the Ombudsman can be a major instrument for systemic changes in the organization, mainly through the identification of trends and anomalies causing disputes and unfair treatment. Therefore, the Office of the Ombudsman has the duty to promote greater harmony in the workplace. In the annual reports, major issues are analysed that have emerged during the previous year. Arising from the analysis, the Office recommends changes in regulations, procedures, management styles and work environments.

What can the Office of the Ombudsman NOT do?
  • Act as an Office of Notice and receive reports on behalf of the Organization;
  • Report suspected misconduct to the organization;
  • Investigate a case (please address to the Office of Audit and Investigations);
  • Institute disciplinary measures;
  • Take any side within a conflict;
  • Take decisions that are formal or binding for the administration and management;
  • Facilitate any further steps without the express permission of the visitor;
  • Disclose any kind of confidential information or records;
  • Participate as a witness in a formal judicial process, investigation or administrative hearing;
  • Work outside of its competencies and therefore impinge on the work of other United Nations Offices such as the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, the Ethics Office or the Office of Audit and Investigations.
What is the Respectful Workplace Facilitators Programme (RWF)?

The Respectful Workplace Facilitators (RWF) programme is an initiative dedicated to building capacity in conflict prevention and resolution at the local level in country offices.  It is currently in the pilot stage in over 70 offices globally, between UNDP, UNFPA, and UN Women.  RWFs are nominated by and voted into the volunteer collateral duty role by colleagues in the office and are rigorously trained and supervised by the Office’s RWF programme team.  RWFs are trained in listening, asking questions, and other aspects of conflict coaching.  The training is fully immersive and experiential, beginning and ending with an online learning community. Training also includes regular masterclasses, and peer to peer practice coaching sessions.  When RWFs see cases and meet with colleagues (Visitors) they are required to debrief with the Office of the Ombudsman team.  If you have any questions please reach out to the RWF Programme Coordinator, Tamar Gur, tamar.gur@undp.org.

How do the deadlines of the UN Administration of Justice affect the work with the Office of Ombudsman?

Staff rule 11.2 (c) states, “a request for management evaluation shall not be receivable by the Secretary-General unless it is sent within sixty calendar days from the date on which the staff member received notification of the administrative decision to be contested. This deadline may be extended by the Secretary-General pending efforts for informal resolution conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman, under conditions specified by the Secretary-General.

Merely contacting the Ombudsman’s Office does NOT automatically extend the deadline for contesting an administrative decision nor the filing of an application deadline with the United Nations Dispute Tribunal. The Ombudsman needs to find the dispute amenable to informal resolution before a recommendation for an extension of deadline can be made. More Information about important deadlines can be found at: http://www.un.org/en/oaj/unjs/timelines.shtml.

I am not sure which Ombudsman Office to contact - can you help me?

The Office of the Ombudsman for UN Funds and Programmes receives grievances from all contract holders of the following organizations: UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNOPS and UN-Women including those administered by UNDP but employed in other organizations. The Office of the Ombudsman for UN Funds and Programmes, the Secretariat Ombudsman Office and the Ombudsman Office for UNHCR are three pillars that form the Office of United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services Mediation Services (UNOMS). Depending on the issue and contract you have, our Office would be able to guide you to the appropriate Ombudsman Office.