OFCCP encourages stakeholder representatives, stakeholder employees and agency employees to take advantage of the Ombuds Service. The following FAQs are provided to give a sense for what the service entails and how working with the ombudsman can benefit contractors and employees alike.
- What is an ombudsman?
- How can the ombudsman be helpful?
- Who is eligible to work with the ombudsman?
- Are there situations in which the ombudsman can NOT be helpful?
- What types of referrals does the ombudsman encourage?
- Is the ombudsman a representative of OFCCP? Of contractors or employees? Of worker rights organizations or anyone else?
- To whom does the ombudsman report?
- Are there exceptions to confidentiality?
- Do I need to disclose my name if I want to discuss a concern with the ombudsman?
- If I complain to the ombudsman, who will find out about it?
- How does the ombudsman decide what is confidential and what is not?
- What is the difference between the Help Desk and the Ombuds Service?
- Does the ombudsman respond to all inquiries?
- Does the ombudsman ever decline a referral?
- How will the ombudsman communicate with me?
- How do I get in touch with the ombudsman today?
What is an ombudsman?
The origin of the word is Swedish and it literally translates to “representative”. Its modern meaning emerged in 1809 when the Swedish Parliament appointed an ombudsman to safeguard the rights of citizens through an agency independent of the executive branch. Today, ombuds exist in government, higher education, healthcare, and various other industries with the common purpose of impartially facilitating the informal resolution of concerns. While a public official employed by the Department of Labor and OFCCP, the ombudsman operates independent of other agency divisions and is the only employee within the Ombuds Service, which functions to preserve his neutrality. The ombudsman listens nonjudgmentally to all concerns while helping visitors evaluate their choices and explore options for resolution.
How can the ombudsman be helpful?
The ombudsman strives to enhance communication between OFCCP and external stakeholders and to improve transparency in the agency’s compliance evaluation and complaint investigation activities. The Ombuds Service brings an impartial perspective, maximizes opportunities for collaboration within OFCCP and stakeholder relations, while focusing on the advancement, efficiency and effectiveness of internal OFCCP operations. Think of the ombudsman as a resolution mechanism alternative to management, legal or Human Resources departments, one who can preserve the confidentiality of sensitive information, assist in the development of sustainable outcomes and refer you to helpful resources, when necessary.
Who is eligible to work with the ombudsman?
This is an external facing ombuds position, but one which assists both internally and externally. That means the ombudsman is available to facilitate resolution between OFCCP staff and stakeholders nationwide, including federal contractors and subcontractors, contractor representatives, industry groups, law firms, complainants, worker rights organizations, and current and potential employees of federal contractors and subcontractors.
Are there situations in which the ombudsman can NOT be helpful?
Yes, the Ombuds Service does not conduct formal investigations and will not make binding decisions or impose penalties against contractors or subcontractors, employees of contractors or subcontractors, OFCCP staff, or anyone else. The ombudsman is further prohibited from negotiating on behalf of OFCCP, contractors or subcontractors and employees of contractors or subcontractors during administrative or judicial proceedings, conciliations or mediations. Ombuds Service involvement during any of these or other settlement events would be, if anything, from the angle of a neutral third party. During ongoing compliance evaluation and complaint investigations, the ombudsman cannot substitute for regional or district OFCCP staff, nor can he overturn decisions made at the regional or district levels. A stakeholder’s key contacts at OFCCP remain those in the regional and district offices, while the Ombuds Service is an outlet available to provide conflict resolution services when all other resources have been exhausted.
What types of referrals does the ombudsman encourage?
Any type of question, concern or complaint, whether it be relevant to a singular event or a larger, more frequent issue faced by OFCCP and/or the stakeholder community. Referrals can be made by stakeholders, from within OFCCP, or initiated by the ombudsman himself. The one exception would be conflicts between individuals employed at the same stakeholder organization, or individuals who are both employed by OFCCP. There are other resources available for those types of disputes, which the ombudsman is happy to explore with you. The primary focus of the OFCCP Ombuds Service is the resolution of any and all issue(s) which prevent a trusting, productive relationship between stakeholders and OFCCP.
Is the ombudsman a representative of OFCCP? Of contractors or employees? Of worker rights organizations or anyone else?
The ombudsman is an employee of the Department of Labor and of OFCCP, but does not represent any one individual or entity. The ombudsman advocates for fair processes while impartially promoting the interests of all parties with whom he works. The ombudsman does not take sides, is nonjudgmental and is an unbiased neutral third party.
To whom does the ombudsman report?
To ensure independence, the OFCCP ombudsman operates outside of formal management channels, which allows him to maintain neutrality. He reports directly to the agency’s career Deputy Director, but the reporting structure is such that ombudsman conversations are private, particularly when consisting of sensitive information which people have requested to be held confidential. At the discretion of the ombudsman, there are situations which might require informal reports or recommendations to be written, but anything such as your name which could tie your concern to you will be kept confidential.
Are there exceptions to confidentiality?
Yes, and very important ones. The ombudsman reserves the right to report imminent risk of serious harm to self and/or others, and it remains the ombudsman’s own interpretation whether a risk actually exists. Additionally, the Ombuds Service has the discretion to report federal program fraud and abuse, or any issue that legally requires OFCCP to take action. These are strict exceptions to the ombudsman’s pledge of confidentiality.
Do I need to disclose my name if I want to discuss a concern with the ombudsman?
No. Confidentiality is critical to the ombudsman, something he takes very seriously. He requires no formal introductions and, in addition to the contents of the conversations themselves, your personal information may remain private. You have the option of submitting your concern(s) anonymously but, keep in mind that when doing so, the ombudsman’s ability to facilitate resolution is limited without receiving contact information for the complainant. Still, if you are more comfortable submitting a confidential concern, you may do so by filling out the Ombuds Service Referral Form. If you decide to include your contact information, the ombudsman will be in touch to find out how he can be helpful.
If I complain to the ombudsman, who will find out about it?
Communications between a referral source and the ombudsman are considered privileged. The privilege belongs to the Ombuds Service, and others cannot waive this privilege. Unless prompted by an exception to confidentiality, the ombudsman would not divulge information that could negatively impact you, your safety or your standing with the federal government.
How does the ombudsman decide what is confidential and what is not?
One of the powers granted to an ombudsman is the authority to decide which information is relayed outside of the Ombuds Service (versus kept confidential), who that information is shared with (if anyone) and when the information is shared. While it is crucial that the Ombuds Service allow for and respect confidentiality requests, it is sometimes the case that people overlook the potential value in having a question, concern, complaint and/or inquiry of theirs shared, in which case the ombudsman might help people explore their reasons for requesting confidentiality and the impacts those requests might have. It is also possible that certain information, if not disclosed to the applicable regional or district office, could adversely affect that region or district’s ability to institute necessary changes. In those situations, the ombudsman would discuss with the referral source what will or will not be shared and then use his own discretion to relay messages accordingly.
What is the difference between the Help Desk and the Ombuds Service?
The goal of the Help Desk is to provide technical support and/or information as requested by stakeholders. However, the Help Desk does not take complaints. When the Help Desk receives inquiries about how to express personnel, process or discrimination related complaints, they refer individuals to the Ombuds Service. Similarly, when the ombudsman receives questions or requests for technical support and/or information, he refers individuals to the Help Desk.
Does the ombudsman respond to all inquiries?
Yes, you can expect a response in a prompt and complete manner, but in rare circumstances the ombudsman may exercise discretion on whether or not to act upon a concern of an individual. If a decision is made that the ombudsman should not be involved with a particular concern that you raise, he will still contact you to discuss why he cannot be helpful and where you might refer your issue instead of the Ombuds Service. Inquiries can be placed and cases opened by contractors and subcontractors, stakeholder groups, OFCCP staff and the ombudsman himself.
Does the ombudsman ever decline a referral?
Yes, the Ombuds Service will not accept a request for service when a contractor or subcontractor’s sole objective is to overturn field decisions or gain access to privileged information without having first confronted and worked with the field regarding their concern or request. If a contractor or subcontractor is uncomfortable about working with the field directly, the ombudsman can contact the field staff and inquire about their willingness to participate in a facilitated discussion. Otherwise, the ombudsman cannot investigate and overturn a decision made by OFCCP field staff. The ombudsman would also decline a request for service when the referral source is an OFCCP staff member complaining about another OFCCP staff member, or when OFCCP requests representation and/or negotiation advice on a pending matter with a contractor. This particular Ombuds Service is external, meaning that it is not intended to be utilized for internal conflicts (employee and employee, employee and supervisor, etc.), and it would be at odds with the principle of neutrality were the ombudsman to provide advice or support to one party and not the other. While these are specific circumstances intended to serve as examples, the Ombuds Service at its own discretion may identify others which present the need to recuse itself. In those situations, the ombudsman would at the very least explain the recusal and could potentially be helpful in exploring other resources available for achieving stated goals.
How will the ombudsman communicate with me?
The ombudsman is located at the Frances Perkins Building, the headquarters for the United States Department of Labor in Washington, DC. One-on-one or group conversations may take place in person, by skype or by phone. You may also communicate with the ombudsman by email.
How do I get in touch with the ombudsman today?
His name is Marcus Stergio. Feel free to call him at (202) 693-1174 or send an email to email@example.com to schedule an appointment. You may also file an Ombuds Service Referral Form as a means of initiating contact. Whichever approach you are most comfortable with is supported by the ombudsman.