On “process fairness”

March 17, 2008

I came across an article by Joel Brockner, “Why It’s So Hard to Be Fair” in the March 2006 Harvard Business Review:

“There is a moral imperative for companies to practice process fairness. It is, simply put, the right thing to do. As such, process fairness is the responsibility of all executives, at all levels, and in all functions; it cannot be delegated to HR.”

What is process fairness? It’s when a doctor who is guilty of malpractice apologizes admits his mistake and apologizes to the patient. It’s when managers tell employees they’re laying off why the decision was made and what alternatives were considered. It’s communicating things that general counsel would probably rather you didn’t. However, studies show the practice of process fairness can save companies money in the long run. Nice to see some data out there that shores up my own intuition.  Article goes on to say that process fairness has to be balanced with outcome fairness — outcomes are what lawyers are usually focused on. Outcome fairness would be using the same severance formula to calculate severance payments to a group of employees.