RESOLVING DISPUTES INFORMALLY
Before bringing a grievance to the formal component of the system, staff members are strongly encouraged to make every effort to resolve the dispute informally. Attempts at informal resolution are often more effective when begun as early as possible.
As part of the informal process, staff should become familiar with the rules and procedures related to the matter that causes their concern. Staff members are also encouraged to speak to their colleagues, supervisor, executive officer, or a manager they trust to get their feedback and advice on how they might be able to resolve the issue within their office or department.
At any time, the staff member may also contact the Ombudsman to seek assistance, and possible intervention.
Taking an informal approach to resolving a dispute can be preferable for the staff member and any other party that is involved. Informal dialogue is often less stressful than formal legal action, offers more control of the outcome and often creates mutually beneficial solutions. The outcome is agreed to by both parties, as opposed to cases brought before the Tribunal whose judgment may be in favour of one party only.
It can also take much less time to discuss finding a solution to a grievance than it takes to work the case through the formal system.
Using informal means of resolving disputes does not in any way preclude a staff member from bringing a case to the formal component of the system. However, staff members should be mindful that using informal means of resolving disputes does not necessarily pause the deadlines applicable to the formal resolution of disputes.
RESOLVING DISPUTES INFORMALLY WITHIN YOUR OFFICE OR DEPARTMENT
Staff members should first try to resolve the dispute informally, within their own office or department.
Attempts at informal resolution are often more effective when begun as early as possible. As part of the informal process, staff should become familiar with the rules and procedures related to the matter that causes their concern. Staff members are also encouraged to speak to a colleague, supervisor, executive officer, or a manager they trust to get their feedback and advice on how they might be able to resolve the issue within their office or department. Taking an informal approach to resolving a dispute within your office or department, or through other informal means can lead to more mutually beneficial solutions for both the staff member and any other party involved.
So, as a first step in the informal process, the staff member should try to resolve the issue or dispute within the immediate area, office or department they work in. If this is not successful, there are other resources available to staff members to try to resolve disputes informally.
RESOLVING DISPUTES INFORMALLY WITH THE HELP OF THE UN OMBUDSMAN AND MEDIATION SERVICES
The Integrated Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (UNOMS) comprises:
- The UN Secretariat Ombudsman Office
- The Office of the Ombudsman for UN Funds and Programmes
- The Ombudsman Office for UNHCR
A UN Staff Member may contact UNOMS at any time during a dispute to seek assistance, and possible intervention, about a work-related situation or problem they are having.
Ombudsmen and mediators can be a key resource to assist staff members who are seeking guidance as to where to take their concerns and how to take their grievances forward, or are weighing the implications of raising their concerns. Informal resolution services are available before, during, or in place of a formal complaint, while providing an alternative to litigation with opportunities to transform potentially volatile situations into ones of mutual understanding.
WHAT THE OMBUDSMAN CAN DOAs a designated informal conflict resolution resource, the Ombudsman offers opportunities for an individual to: (1) discuss a problem off-the-record and in confidentiality outside formal United Nations channels; (2) explore alternatives for resolving a problem and learn what resources are in the system; (3) increase the individual’s ability and confidence to deal with conflict; (4) receive coaching and guidance on how to present an issue or concern through another internal mechanism.
GUIDING PRINCIPLESThe guiding principles of Ombudsmen are independence, neutrality, impartiality, confidentiality and informality: an ombudsman or mediator is a designated, independent neutral who will not take sides in a conflict; she or he cannot impose a solution nor make a managerial decision; the outcome of the process is entirely controlled by the parties in the dispute; all communications in the process are confidential and cannot be disclosed without permission. (confidentiality privilege).
Apart from dispute resolution services, Ombudsmen may also promote conflict competence and make recommendations for improvements to the work environment based on observations of systemic issues and trends.
An Ombudsman can handle a wide range of work-related issues, including disputes relating to contract renewal, fair treatment, staff selection, benefits and entitlements, interpersonal issues or situations in which staff members feel that they have been mistreated. Services provided by the Ombudsman may include facilitation, problem-solving, shuttle diplomacy, mediation and conflict coaching. They are provided on a case-by-case basis for individuals and/or groups, offering direct and in-person methods whenever possible and remote intervention when in-person intervention is not possible.
MEDIATIONStaff members can also make use of mediation. Mediation is a voluntary process and so gaining agreement by both parties to participate in the mediation process is vital, as mediation cannot take place if one party declines to take part. By bringing parties together in a strictly confidential setting, a mediator facilitates a meaningful dialogue, allowing each party to feel that they have been heard and helping to uncover their underlying needs and interests, thus heightening the potential for an amicable resolution. The process also helps to repair working relationships and, in doing so, develops a long-lasting harmonious work environment. The United Nations Dispute Tribunal may refer cases for mediation.
If the assistance of the Ombudsman does not lead to a solution, and other informal attempts to resolve the dispute have failed, the staff member may wish to move forward with bringing their grievance to the formal process.
FOR ASSISTANCE FROM THE OMBUDSMANUN Secretariat staff members should contact the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (UNOMS) in person or by email (UNOMS@un.org) or by telephone (+1 917 367 5731). In addition to Headquarters in New York, there are regional branches in Bangkok, Beirut, Entebbe, Geneva, Goma, Nairobi, Santiago, and Vienna. See UNOMS website
UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNOPS and UN Women staff members should contact the Office of the Ombudsman for UN Funds and Programmes which is based in New York and provides services to all contract holders including interns, UNV’s and non-staff personnel.
Tel: +1 646 781 4083
UNHCR staff should contact the Office of the Ombudsman which is based in Geneva and Budapest. They provide services to all contract holders.
Tel: +41 22 739 7770
RESOLVING DISPUTES INFORMALLY WITH THE HELP OF OSLA
At any stage of a dispute, or even in anticipation of a dispute, a staff member may seek advice and assistance from the Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA).
OSLA is staffed by professional full-time lawyers, who are experts in employment and administrative law and trained litigators. OSLA has lawyers, at Headquarters in New York, as well as in Geneva, Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Beirut.
OSLA can advise on the legal merits of a case and what options the staff member might have in pursuing a case.
If a staff member chooses to proceed with a case in the formal system, OSLA is available to assist throughout the process and may also provide representation.
UN system staff members will not incur any direct personal legal fees for the assistance provided by OSLA, whether for advice while seeking an informal resolution of a dispute, or later in the process for advice and representation if the staff member decides to go through the formal process.
The legal services provided by OSLA are financed by the United Nations and supplemented by staff members through a voluntary contribution mechanism. All staff are encouraged to contribute.
NOTE:A staff member may choose to retain outside counsel at his/her own expense, or may also represent himself/herself.
OTHER INFORMAL MEANS OF RESOLVING DISPUTES
In addition to trying to resolve disputes informally within your own Office or Department, through the Ombudsman’s Office or through the services of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA) there are other sources of support and guidance at the United Nations you can turn to if you are seeking resolution of a work-related dispute, or if you are having a problem at the office. Some of these are:
- Peer support
- Programme managers
- Human Resources
- The Ethics Offices (United Nations, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNOPS)
- UN Staff Unions and Staff Associations
- Staff Counsellor at your duty station
PROGRAMME MANAGERSProgramme managers are accountable to the Secretary-General or to the Executive Head of the United Nations fund, programme or entity for ensuring the proper management of the departments, offices and missions they lead. This includes maintaining a workplace free of any form of discrimination, harassment, including sexual harassment, and abuse of authority. When informal resolution of a problem is not possible or appropriate, alleged prohibited behaviour should be reported to the head of department, office or mission. In peace operations, it should be reported to the Conduct and Discipline Units.
ETHICS OFFICESThe Ethics Offices (United Nations Secretariat, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNOPS) provide confidential advice and guidance on United Nations standards of conduct and possible conflicts of interest, administer their respective financial disclosure programmes, conduct preliminary reviews and make determinations on requests for protection against retaliation for having reported misconduct or cooperated with audits and investigations, and can provide information on related procedures.
Staff can find further guidance in publications such as: