Concerns and Grievances
McKinsey observed that “[s]enior leadership needs to clarify the functions of Institutional Diversity and Equity and Human Resources with respect to . . . the handling of grievances” [see note #7] and recommended that the handling of concerns and grievances “should transition to HR.”
Currently, responsibility for handling employment-related grievances is divided between
two processes administered by two different College offices:
• Staff members who believe that they have been treated “in a manner inconsistent with written College policy” have recourse to the grievance procedure described in the Exempt and Non-Exempt Staff Handbooks. The Office of Human Resources administers that procedure. [see note #9]
• Staff members who feel that they have been discriminated against in violation of law or the College’s nondiscrimination policy[see note #10] have recourse to the Equal Opportunity Grievance Procedure described on the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity (IDE) web site.[see note #11] That process is administered by IDE.
This division of responsibility has presented a number of difficulties:
1. It is confusing; many members of the community do not have a clear understanding about where to take their concerns.
2. The distinction between discrimination grievances and grievances based on violation of other College policies is less clear in practice than in theory. Many grievances that identify potential discrimination are intertwined with issues about managerial policy or practice and could most satisfactorily be resolved as a general issue.
3. The often murky dividing line separating discrimination grievances from
grievances involving general management issues creates inducements for “forum
shopping” by staff members and results in jurisdictional conflicts between HR
4. Conceivably, the problems caused by the two offices’ divided/overlapping roles
could be overcome through effective coordination, but coordination has been
5. Each office is regarded by community members as having certain strengths and
weaknesses, which can lead to people choosing an office on bases other than the
nature of the grievance.
Our committee agreed on the need for a change in the way the College handles
grievances and considered several options. We compared the Dartmouth grievance
system with the systems in use at a number of peer colleges and universities, and our
findings confirmed the recommendation within the McKinsey report. While some had
separate processes for discrimination and other grievances, the majority had a unitary
system, usually located within HR and often with a specific officer dedicated to dealing
with discrimination cases. Some schools also have an Ombuds office. The Ombuds
office varies somewhat from campus to campus, but it is generally part of an effort to
encourage the informal resolution of most issues, to provide mediation in more serious
instances, and on occasion to refer cases to other offices.
While the model of dealing with formal grievances in one place, whether or not an
Ombuds office also exists, may be seen as the “best” (or at least the most common)
practice, we did not feel it was practical to move abruptly to such a system. At the same
time, we believe it is necessary to deal with some of the confusion that we have identified
in the current structure at Dartmouth and to offer employees a problem-solving resource
for employees and managers that stands outside regular organizational processes and
supplements the efforts of supervisors and human resources.
Therefore, we recommend the creation of an Ombuds office, which would be a neutral
source of advice for employees with concerns or questions and a first stop for employees
who are considering filing a formal grievance with either HR or EO/AA. The office by
definition needs to be impartial, independent, and completely confidential. It would
serve both managers and other staff members. It would operate outside the formal
grievance procedures, in some instances simply offering advice and information, in
others facilitating a resolution of the matter at hand and offering mediation when
necessary. In consultation with the employee, the office would forward formal
complaints of discrimination to IDE/EO-AA and formal complaints of violation of
College policy to the grievance process administered by HR. The director of the Ombuds
office would report to the President, and would have a close working relationship with
HR, EO-AA, and the General Counsel’s office.
Our belief is that by establishing and creating broad awareness of such an office it would
be possible to eliminate much of the confusion and would encourage greater use of
facilitation and mediation. We would hope to see the Ombuds office create a web site
that effectively describes this approach, perhaps in terms similar to the Columbia
University Ombuds Office, which states:
The Ombuds Office offers a safe place for any member of the Columbia community to discuss workplace issues, interpersonal conflict, academic concerns, bureaucratic runarounds, and many other problems. You can speak freely to us because we promise to keep our discussions confidential, and we are not part of any formal University process. We don't take sides in disputes and operate independently of the Columbia administration, reporting only to the president. Get in touch with us as a first step or a last resort--or at any point along the way. We will listen to your concerns, give you information about the University's policies, help you evaluate your situation, and assist you in making plans to resolve the conflict. You control the process and decide which course of action to take. And we respect your choices. [see note #12]
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(7) IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR ADMINISTRATIVE AND SUPPORT SERVICES: THE MCKINSEY REPORT – EXECUTIVE SUMMARY, p. 4
(9) This procedure is available to non-unionized staff members. Unionized staff members are governed by the grievance-arbitration mechanisms of their respective collective bargaining agreements.
(10) The College POLICY CONCERNING EQUAL OPPORTUNITY AND NONDISCRIMINATION prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, disability, or military or veteran status in the College’s programs, organizationand conditions of employment and admission.
(12) OMBUDS OFFICE WEB PAGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY