October 20, 2010

Audit by University of Virginia Finds No Record of Bullying, Upholds Role of Ombuds

An internal audit by UVA has found that the University took "appropriate actions" in handling a situation earlier this year at the Virginia Quarterly Review in which an employee committed suicide. The case drew national attention when the decedent's relatives and friends alleged that the suicide had resulted from bullying by the managing editor of the award-winning journal. Now the University is defending its actions and is reiterating that it would have had no notice of complaints heard by the Ombuds.

The audit seems designed to mitigate the University's potential liability, but the report did not absolve the alleged bully entirely, recommending "appropriate corrective action" be taken for his management style. UVA's report also recommended clarification for the handling of personnel complaints, including the role of the Ombuds.
[Audit Suggestion:] Clarity needs to be established for institutional employees regarding the differing roles of Employee Relations, the Ombudsman, the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and the Faculty & Employee Assistance Program (FEAP). Notifications to at least two of these offices (FEAP and the Ombudsman) are held in strict confidence for the employee and are not considered to be institutional notification. Offices of the President, Vice Presidents, and Deans need to be aware that employee complaints made to their personnel may be perceived to be “institutional notification” more so than if the complaints are made to employees in other offices.
Management response: Clear charters need to be developed and prominently posted in the offices mentioned in this recommendation. The charter should specify whether the office’s employees may or may not hold the complaint in confidence and whether a complaint to the office’s employees constitutes notification to the institution. In each contact with a complainant, the Human Resources personnel should make clear the confidentiality status of the conversation and should refer to the charters explicitly when they are meeting with complainants. In cases such as the University Ombudsman, the charter should be explicit that the employee complainant can expect complete confidentiality and that talking with the Ombudsman does not constitute official notice to the University. In other offices, the default position should be that the Human Resources officer has the duty to report possible abuses and may not offer confidentiality to the complainant. Vice President Carkeek will have responsibility for carrying out these changes.
This would suggest that UVA will be considering a charter and/or revised materials for its Ombuds office. (UVA Internal Audit Department Report; Los Angeles Times.)

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