Organizational justice may be defined as the study of fairness at work (Byrne & Cropanzano, 2001). Organizational justice researchers have reached general agreement that fairness can be divided into two primary types with a third, less clearly defined type often proposed. The first commonly accepted type of justice is referred to as "distributive" justice. Distributive justice considers the fairness of the outcomes of a particular decision.
"Procedural" justice, the second type, is generally defined as the fairness of the processed that lead to the outcome. These two areas form the foundation for the majority of research conducted in the field in the last twenty years (Byrne & Cropanzano, 2001). Research indicates that people will accept a certain amount of unfairness in distribution if they perceive that the process by which the distribution decisions were made is fair. A third type of justice is often referred to as "interactional" justice.
Bies and Moag (1986) defined interactional justice as the fairness of the interpersonal treatment that one receives at the hands of an authority figure during enactment of organizational processes and distribution of outcomes. The interactional justice concept has been included as an interpersonal aspect of procedural justice and also as a distinct construct along with procedural and distributive justice (Skarlicki & Folger, 1997). Greenberg (1993b) emphasized the need to more fully consider the social
determinants of fairness that were not recognized by the prevailing emphasis on the structural aspects of outcome of distributions and procedures. He proposed a taxonomy of justice classes formed by cross-cutting the two commonly accepted categories of justice, procedural, and distributive, with two focal determinants, social and structural. The distinction between social and structural determinants is based on the immediate focus of the just action (Greenberg, 1993).
Structural determinants reflect the situation whereby justice is sought by focusing on the environmental context in which the event occurs and ensures fairness by structuring a decision-making context. The social determinants of justice focus on the treatment of individuals and help ensure fairness by focusing on the interpersonal treatment one receives. Greenberg's four proposed classes of justice include: systemic (structural- procedural); configural (structural-distributive); informational (social-procedural); and, interpersonal (social-distributive).
The concepts of procedural and distributive justice are relatively well accepted in the study of organizational justice. However, researchers have not agreed on the integration of the social, interactional, or interpersonal aspects of justice into a commonly accepted model of organizational justice. Researchers have proposed a variety of models ranging from the two-factor distributive and procedural factor model excluding interactional type justice to two and three factor models incorporating interactional justice as part of procedural justice or as a stand alone component.
Greenberg's four-factor model is an additional proposition which may help researchers and practitioners in sorting through the complex issues of performance appraisal. Organizational Justice Theory and Performance Appraisal Greenberg (1986a) was one of the first to apply organizational justice theory to performance evaluation. His basic research question focused on what makes a performance appraisal appear to be fair. He investigated if it was what one receives (rating or other outcome) or how it is decided that makes an appraisal seem fair.
Greenberg's (1986) work supported earlier research by Landy, Barnes, and Murphy (1978) which showed that employees were more likely to accept an appraisal system and believe that their performance was rated fairly under certain conditions. Landy and Farr (1980) generalized that a fair evaluation is one that contains certain procedural elements regardless of the outcomes of the evaluations themselves. Folger, Konovsky and Cropanzano (1992) used a "due process" metaphor to extend the application of justice to performance appraisal.
Three essential factors including adequate notice, fair hearing, and judgment based on evidence were used to describe a procedurally fair system. Subsequent work by Taylor, Tracy, Renard, Harrison, & Carroll (1995) showed that the due process model is consistent with the procedural justice theoretical model. Other justice research related to performance appraisal has found relationships between interactional justice and organizational citizenship (Moorman, 1991) and satisfaction and acceptance of performance appraisal (Roberts & Reed, 1996).
Recent research has attempted to clarify the organizational justice literature and integrate the various factors related to performance appraisal to more fully explain employees' perceptions of fairness concerning performance appraisal. Greenberg's (1993) proposed four-factor model as applied to performance appraisal may be a way to further evaluate the complex phenomena of performance appraisal. Each of the four categories of the taxonomy can be used to address a specific aspect of an organization's performance appraisal system.