In this article, I aim at problematizing the implied idea of causality in cognitive evaluations of horizontal justice events. I will draw on theories about retrospective sensemaking and its cognitive foundation in counterfactual belief formation. Issues related to horizontal or intraunit unfairness emerge in situations in which the actions of one employee influence the outcome of another due to relational interdependence. The authors of theories about horizontal unfairness have continued the traditional distinction between the three facets of justice, procedural, distributive, and interactional. However, might employee A blame employee B because she (B) obtained qualitative (e.g., non-monetary appraisal) or quantitative (e.g., monetary compensation) recognition even though the latter did not, directly at least, bring about the event. The problem here is one of causality which asks the question, Can A be blamed by B for bringing about the event of outcome difference? While blame in evaluations of vertical justice certainly presumes causal agency, it might be questioned whether the same goes for horizontal unfairness. Counterfactual belief formation enables a step into the cognitive and retrospective nature of evaluations of horizontal justice events centered on the counterfactual belief “had the unfavorable event X not occurred, another and more favorable event X1 would have occurred.” This is related to the distance between the actual X and the potential event state X), in the sense that the closer the two appear, the more convincing becomes A’s belief to himself. The underlying causality of rewarding processes, however, states that some third party introduces the recognition, for example, a manager, and, therefore, B did not bring about the reward event, the third party did. It seems, then, that to understand this, we should take into consideration: 1) the formation of counterfactual beliefs and 2) the causality of blame. The article concludes that, due to the underlying causality of rewarding processes, one might solely consider one facet of horizontal justice, interactional horizontal justice. However, tapping into the phenomenological dimension of morality might allow one also to address the moral nature of distributive and procedural facets of horizontal justice as the experience of the psychosocial fabric of social reality related with feeling either “as if” one is being treated unfairly or “as if” one is treating others unfairly.
- Horizontal fairness
- Retrospective sense-making
- counterfactual belief formation
- reward policies