Be Fair, Your Employees Are Watching: A Relational Response Model of External Third-Party Justice


  • We thank Jason Colquitt, Cindy Zapata, and Steve Green for their feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript. We also thank Fred Morgeson and anonymous reviewers for helping us to refine our work.


There is growing theoretical recognition in the organizational justice literature that an organization's treatment of external parties (such as patients, community members, customers, and the general public) shapes its own employees’ attitudes and behavior toward it. However, the emerging third-party justice literature has an inward focus, emphasizing perceptions of the treatment of other insiders (e.g., coworkers or team members). This inward focus overlooks meaningful “outward” employee concerns relating to how organizations treat external parties. We propose a relational response model to advance the third-party justice literature asserting that the organization's fair treatment of external parties sends important relational signals to employees that shape their social exchange perceptions toward their employer. Supporting this proposition, in two multisource studies in separate healthcare organizations we found that patient-directed justice had indirect effects on supervisory cooperative behavior ratings through organizational trust and organizational identification.