Updated Sexual Misconduct Policy at University of North Carolina Reaffirms Confidentiality of Organizational Ombuds Program

As ADR practitioners, Organizational Ombuds generally follow practices that would be familiar to other neutrals, especially mediators.  However, as employees of the organizations which they serve, Ombuds must be careful not to be seen as agents for notice.  As laws and regulations change, organizations must ensure that their Ombuds program remains relevant, but not a liability.  A recent example of this is seen at the University of North Carolina.

Timed to coincide with the start of classes, UNC announced an updated "Policy on Prohibited Harassment, Including Sexual Misconduct, and/or Discrimination" that aims to ensure compliance with guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Education. As a result of the revisions, the UNC policy now:

• Includes complaints of sexual misconduct as a form of sexual harassment as required by the U.S. Department of Education;
• Includes a mechanism for responding to student complaints of harassment, sexual misconduct and/or discrimination involving other students;
• Provides information about options available for informal and formal resolution of student complaints of harassment, including sexual misconduct, and discrimination involving other students;
• Provides for the investigation of student complaints of harassment, including sexual misconduct, and discrimination involving other students by the Equal Opportunity/ADA Office;
• Identifies a Student Complaint Coordinator/Deputy Title IX Officer for Students as the contact person for students with harassment and discrimination complaints involving other students;
• Provides examples of interim protective measures available to student complainants; and
• Includes a list of resources for students affected by harassment, including sexual misconduct, and discrimination.

The new policies reaffirm the university's commitment to the campus Ombuds Office as a confidential resource for students and employees.  In an email, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp, said:

Confidential consulting is available for students through Campus Health Services, Counseling and Wellness Services (966-3658), and for students and employees through the Ombuds Office (843-8204). The University can guarantee complete confidentiality only when a student shares a concern with Counseling and Wellness Services and when a student or an employee shares a concern with the Ombuds Office that does not involve an imminent risk of serious harm.

Other universities are generally following suit with their policies.  (UNC News.)

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