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Vicarious experience of justice: when unfair treatment of one’s colleague matters

Jason L. Huang (Department of Psychology, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA)
Ann Marie Ryan (Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA)
Bahaudin G. Mujtaba (H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 7 September 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent to which perceptions of one’s colleague’s fair treatment by an authority, termed vicarious justice, can affect an individual’s satisfaction with and cooperation toward the authority, after controlling one’s personal justice experience from the same authority figure.


In Study 1,172 employees filled out a survey about personal and vicarious justice experience at work. In Study 2,208 undergraduate students participated in an online scenario experiment that manipulated vicarious justice experience.


Across both studies, results indicated that, controlling for personal justice perceptions, vicarious justice perceptions positively influenced individuals’ satisfaction with the authority; the effect on satisfaction was stronger for individuals who saw themselves as more similar to the colleague. Results of the experiment also suggested that vicarious justice led to higher cooperation intentions, and such effect was moderated by similarity as well.

Research limitations/implications

The current studies demonstrate that vicarious justice perceptions can influence individuals beyond the effects of their own treatment, and such influence depends on perceived similarity between the focal individual and the colleague.

Practical implications

The paper highlights the importance of managers’ treatment of other employees, especially when managing employees that are homogeneous in various characteristics.


The studies extend the current understanding on vicarious justice effects and underscore the role of similarity in moderating such effects. The combination of field survey and online experiment provides evidence for causal inference for the findings.



The authors thank Brent Scott for comments on an earlier draft of this paper. The authors also thank Kimberly Richardson for assistance with formatting.


Huang, J.L., Ryan, A.M. and Mujtaba, B.G. (2015), "Vicarious experience of justice: when unfair treatment of one’s colleague matters", Personnel Review, Vol. 44 No. 6, pp. 826-846.



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