The Complicated Matter of Workplace Justice

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Justice in an organization goes beyond formal rules and regulations that govern workplace behaviour. Having a rulebook that defines how employees should act in relation to one another will not ensure that justice is prevailed in a company. It is those three key factors that make justice a subjective phenomenon that is administered by an individual’s perceptions, values and beliefs. Therefore, the concept of justice will wary from workplace to workplace.

The Methods of Justice

There are two ways in which an organization would look to maintain justice. The first would be creating a generally accepted picture of what the organization should be like based on collective norms and values and then abiding by it. However, a second counter belief is presented by Dr. Amartya Sen who argues that justice should be concerned not with conforming to an ideal picture of a lawful organization, but by removing injustices. Therefore, while one may simply define justice and fairness as the act of giving someone what he/she deserves, it cannot completely be determined what deserved means in tangible terms.

Let’s Think Equality

A basic principle of justice is that all individuals within an organization should be treated equally unless a particular situation requires otherwise. If two employees are doing the same work, they should be treated equally. This should be regardless of gender, religion or race. At the same time, the organization decides what factors should include equality. For example, will it be injustice if the boss works from a separate office on a separate floor while all other employees are given open cabins? Or is it injustice that an employee receives more salary for working overtime?

Distributive Justice

Another kind of justice that organizations practice is distributive justice. This is the extent to which a company is willing to go to ensure that benefits and burdens are distributed in a fair way. A goal-oriented company would perhaps be more concerned with getting the work done on time rather than not overworking their employees.

For example, consider a company that works on drills and construction. Here, time is money. Each extra day of work would mean added cost of machinery, labour and such expenses. In this case, it is likely that the company simply wants to “get the work done” rather than being considerate of acceptable working hours and ethics.

Retributive Justice

The next kind of justice is retributive justice which determines the extent to which punishments are fair and just. For example, how likely is it for a manager to fire a female employee who makes a blunder over a male one, who is generally considered more “professional”? Another common bias occurs again in race where workplace crimes become more closely associated with black employees than white ones.

Companies determine what within the context of their organizations is considered just and fair. Does the boss enter the office at the same time as the employees? Or is it acceptable that he/she has a later time than the others? If a culture expects men to treat women with respect, does that mean they get different rights in a workplace, or should they be treated exactly the same way as men? Should employees who have greater credentials be treated differently? Once a consensus on an environment suitable to the organization is reached, the company should work on removing voids and injustice.

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