Resolving disputes in the workplace – Folger & Greenberg’s procedural justice

Dr. Donna L. Roberts
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The research of Folger & Greenberg (1985) with regard to justice indicated the importance of fairness in the procedures by which disputes are resolved. Their work showed that even when the outcome was not pleasant or desired, individuals expressed a degree of satisfaction as long as the steps to reach the results were just. Thus, following their research, it becomes obvious that maintaining fair procedural justice is paramount in developing organizational policy. In short, how people behave will be very much a function of the justice they perceive to exist, and a manager has a major part in setting up the system of justice.

The fundamental characteristics of such a just system should include: the choice of fair, unbiased and impartial judge; the opportunity for all sides to present their arguments, positions and desired outcomes; the equal access to relevant resources; the assignment of an appropriate venue (i.e., appropriate level of organization); the opportunity to appeal for the review of an unsatisfactory decision; the implementation of standards for ensuring the ethical use of power; and the provision for alterations in the system when deemed appropriate. Furthermore, fair and effective systems of procedural justice must adhere to the standards of several basic rules, including, the Consistency Rule (across rank and time), the Bias Suppression Rule, the Accuracy Rule, the Correctability Rule (for unjust decisions), the Representation Rule and the Ethics Rule. Additionally, a system employing the methods of arbitration is generally considered superior to other means (i.e., mediation, autocratic decision-making) because of its ability to more readily “level the playing field” and fully engage the weaker party.

Although in the majority of the justice systems in place in current organizations, the autocratic system, whereby the boss gathers evidence and delivers final decision, is prevalent, based on the research findings, a system based on arbitration, so that all members feel that they have an active voice in the process and a real opportunity to have their perspective understood, may instead be more effective. Human beings have a need, and a right, to present their beliefs in a thorough manner and in an unthreatening environment. They need to feel that their voice will be heard, and their point-of-view considered, especially in situations which will have impact on their lives. Furthermore, the process of arbitration allows for mechanisms that ensure the less powerful entities in the dispute enjoy the same opportunities of representation (i.e., rights of disclosure, expert testimony, access to information, etc.). In this way, the process of arbitration can better provide for the engagement and participation of all the involved parties in a dispute. The process, however, is not solely for the benefit of the parties. It also naturally provides the decision-maker with a broader and more comprehensive picture of the problem.

Policies should ensure the adherence to the above-mentioned characteristics and basic rules. Firstly, this can be accomplished by drafting clear written standards that are made available to all members of the organization. Having formal written and understood statements about issues helps to dispel misunderstanding, clarify interpretation and solidify management’s commitment to principles (i.e., it may be easy to give lip service to a commitment to the broad concept of fairness, but having operational definitions of fairness to guide behavior helps to ensure its implementation). Secondly, a system of checks and balances, whereby members of management work as a team to maintain the organizational standards, helps to keep bias and tunnel vision from overriding principles of impartial fairness and also serves to strengthen the mentoring and cohesiveness of the management team. Finally, a feedback system whereby subordinates provide insight and evaluation of the actual functioning of the organizational justice system helps to keep management in touch with the realities of their policy and its real effect on the people involved. Additionally, while it is necessary to maintain the just system throughout all aspects of the organization, knowing that certain areas are especially sensitive and important to workers, it may prove effective to pay particular attention to justice in the realms of performance evaluations, promotions, pay and reward, and dispute resolution.

Justice is a concept intimately related to our feelings of security and self-efficacy. Maintaining a fair and just system in an organization will ensure a more cooperative and focused workforce.
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash


Folger, R., & Greenberg, J. (1985). Procedural justice: An interpretive analysis of personnel systems. In Rowland, K., and Ferris, G. (Eds.), Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, Vol. 3, JAI Press, Greenwich, CT, pp. 141–183.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.


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