Skip to content

Poor organisational justice

Poor organisational justice refers to work where there is a lack of procedural fairness (fair processes to reach decisions), informational fairness (keeping relevant people informed) or interpersonal fairness (treating people with dignity and respect).

What is poor organisational justice?

Poor organisational justice can exist where there are inconsistent, unfair, discriminatory or inequitable decisions, or application of policies and procedures at work. It can include things such as:

  • failing to treat workers’ information sensitively or maintain their privacy (e.g. having performance discussions in front of others or using information for a purpose it was not disclosed for)
  • penalising workers for things outside their control (e.g. for not producing enough products when they did not have access to the required materials)
  • failing to appropriately address (actual or alleged) underperformance, inappropriate or harmful behaviour, or misconduct (e.g. not investigating allegations of sexual harassment or not providing procedural justice for workers accused of bullying)
  • allocating work, shifts and opportunities in a discriminatory or unfair way (e.g. giving ‘good’ shifts based on friendships with supervisor).

What are the risks?

Poor organisational justice can cause a stress response which when frequent, prolonged or severe may cause physical or psychological injury to a worker. Poor organisational justice may occur in isolation, however often will occur in combination with other psychosocial hazards at work (which combined may increase risk of harm).

Like all work health and safety risks, the risks associated with poor organisational justice must be managed.

How do I manage the risks?

Everyone at work has a responsibility for health and safety, both physical and psychological.

For workers

As a worker, you must take reasonable care of your own health and safety in your place of work, and the health and safety of others who may be affected by your actions. You must also follow any reasonable instructions given by the person who conducts a business or undertaking (PCBU).

For businesses

As a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of your workers and others in your place of work. You must provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a safe and healthy working environment. You must also talk with your workers (and with other PCBUs when required) about health and safety issues.

Following a four-step risk management process will help your business meet its responsibilities under work health and safety (WHS) laws.

The first step is to identify hazards in your place of work. This means looking at everything from the work environment to work tasks, how they’re carried out, and the way work is designed and managed.

Typical situations that may lead to workers experiencing poor organisational justice include:

  • inequitable or inconsistent application of procedures across workers or over time (e.g. reward and recognition, promotion or job rotations, opportunities for training or job assignments)
  • unfair or inequitable distribution of resources (e.g. pay inequities, access to benefits)
  • bias, impartiality, favouritism and nepotism
  • workers or managers believing that rules do not apply to them and failing to follow agreed policies, guidelines and procedures with no repercussions.

Sometimes, a worker may avoid reporting concerns because:

  • it’s thought to be ‘part of the job’ and nothing can be done about it
  • the worker believes that only ‘serious incidents or issues’ are to be reported
  • there’s a belief that nothing will happen if they report
  • the worker believes they will be blamed for not being able to handle the job
  • the reporting process is time-consuming and complex
  • the workplace culture encourages “just getting on with it”.

To determine if poor organisational justice is a potential hazard in your place of work:

  • talk with health and safety representatives, health and safety committees and workers
  • walk through and inspect your place of work, including how people interact
  • review workers’ compensation claims
  • refer to industry standards and guidelines
  • review the hazard and incident reports, exit reports and complaints.

A risk assessment involves thinking about what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard (the consequence of exposure) and the likelihood of it happening.

Psychosocial hazards may interact or combine to increase the overall psychosocial risk so need to be considered together.

A risk assessment can help you figure out:

  • the severity of a risk
  • whether any effective control measures are in place
  • what actions you can take to control this risk
  • how quickly you should act.

To determine the likelihood that someone will be harmed by poor organisational justice, ask yourself:

  • has it happened before, either in this place of work or somewhere else?
  • if it has happened, how often does it happen?

To determine the possible consequences, ask yourself:

  • will it cause minor or serious injury, or death?

After the risks have been identified and assessed, you'll need to control them. Risk control measures should be selected based on highest protection and most reliability.

Control measures

  • Eliminating the risk
    The most effective control measure is to eliminate the hazard and associated risk. If you are unable to eliminate the hazard, you must identify ways to ensure you are managing it in a way that minimises risks to health and safety.
  • Minimising the risk
  • If it’s not reasonably practicable to eliminate the hazard, the risk should be minimised by using a range of control measures, for example
    • Hire and promote workers based on merit using transparent and objective selection methods.
    • Provide systems to protect workers who raise safety concerns from discrimination.
    • Design fair procedures and implement procedures consistently over time and across all workers and work groups (e.g. a structured performance review and recruitment processes so all workers are reviewed and recruited using consistent processes).
    • Apply processes and procedures (e.g. recruitment, performance management) in a transparent and consistent manner. To do this, ensure managers and supervisors are provided information and training.
    • Ensure procedures are explained to workers in situations where the procedure will be applied to them (at the commencement of disciplinary procedures or complaint processes).
    • Provide workers with a mechanism to manage complaints or appeal the result of a procedure. Where a worker may perceive unfair work practices, encourage them to access the appeal process.
  • Using administrative controls
    You must also use administrative controls if there is still a risk after you’ve tried to reduce it with other control measures. Administrative controls protect your workers by working in ways that reduce their exposure to a hazard, for example
    • Design unbiased and transparent workplace processes, policies and procedures in consultation with workers (e.g. decision making, recruitment, promotion, performance management, task allocation, work health and safety or workplace entitlement policies).
    • Review decisions to ensure that they are fair and free of bias.
    • Train managers in how to have difficult conversations with their workers in a fair and just way.
    • Foster a culture of transparency, openness, respect, fairness and equity.
    • Provide support and communication mechanisms for all parties to complaints and those going through disciplinary or investigative procedures.

You may need to use a combination of these control measures to meet your responsibilities under WHS laws. Refer to the Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022 for more information.

Risk management should be an ongoing process in your business, and you should review your control measures regularly. Don’t wait until something goes wrong.

In some situations, WHS legislation requires you to review controls.

These are:

  • when the control measure is not effective in controlling the risk
  • before a change that might give rise to a new risk
  • when you identify a new hazard or risk
  • when consultation with workers indicates a review is needed
  • when the dynamic and complexity of your business changes, for a new supervisor or worker
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.

A review of risk control measures should be undertaken after incidents or complaints involving poor organisational justice.

A review of risk control measures can include an examination of:

  • the physical work environment
  • work systems and procedures
  • worker training and information
  • the consultation processes in your place of work.

Legislation and Codes of practice

You should read through the relevant legislation and codes of practice carefully to make sure your business is complying with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act.

Other legislation

A range of laws deal with mental health issues in Queensland workplaces.

Further support

You may wish to contact an organisation listed below for further information or support.

  • Mental Health Commission
  • Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
  • Mental Health access line – 1300 642 255 a confidential mental health telephone triage service that provides the first point of contact to public mental health services to Queenslanders. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and links callers to the nearest Queensland Public Mental Health service.
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 22 46 36
  • 13 YARN – 13 92 76 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Heads Up – information and resources on developing a healthy workplaces
  • Workers’ Psychological Support Service – assists Queensland workers who have experienced a work-related psychological injury.
  • Injury Prevention and Management Program – IPaM is a joint initiative delivered by WHSQ and WorkCover Queensland. It is a free program designed to help Queensland businesses develop and implement sustainable health, safety and injury management systems.