Individual climate perceptions (i.e., psychological climates) are often aggregated to form group-level climates without considering the equivalence of the meaning of climate within groups. Confirming perceptual equivalence across faultlines – within-group dividing lines that can create subgroups based on the alignment of group member attributes (Lau & Murnighan, 1998) – is a particularly important concern given that sense-making processes and subsequent psychological climates are likely to differ across faultlines. Using safety climate as an exemplar, we demonstrate the importance of assessing qualitative perceptual equivalence (i.e., perceptions of what a climate is) within groups instead of solely relying on traditional agreement indices (e.g., rwg, intraclass correlation [ICC]) to make aggregation decisions. Specifically, we tested for perceptual equivalence across context-specific faultlines (hierarchical level and organizational heritage) in a large, multinational organization using multi-group hierarchical confirmatory factor analyses and found that although traditional agreement indices universally supported aggregation decisions, tests of perceptual equivalence in 8 of 12 separate subgroup analyses failed to support aggregation. These findings confirm the importance of testing for perceptual equivalence within groups before aggregating psychological climates to the group level.

Practitioner points

• Our findings underscore the value for organizations to consider the potential existence of faultlines and to examine their possible influence on employee climate perceptions.

• These findings also point to the need for organizations to promote qualitative equivalence of climate perceptions among employees independent of the potential existence of faultlines.