Ethical Leadership as a Substitute for Justice Enactment: An Information-Processing Perspective

March 2019 | Koopman, Joel

Why do employees perceive that they have been treated fairly by their supervisor? Theory and research on justice generally presumes a straightforward answer to this question: Because the supervisor adhered to justice rules. We propose the answer is not so straightforward and that employee justice perceptions are not merely “justice-laden.” Drawing from theory on information processing that distinguishes between automatic and systematic modes, we suggest that employee justice perceptions are also “ethics-laden.” Specifically, we posit that employees with more ethical supervisors form justice perceptions through automatic processing with little scrutiny of or attention paid to a supervisor’s justice acts. In contrast, employees with less ethical supervisors rely on systematic processing to evaluate their supervisor’s justice enactment and form justice perceptions. Thus, we propose that ethical leadership substitutes for the supervisor’s justice enactment. Our results demonstrate support for the interactive effect of supervisor justice enactment and ethical leadership on employee justice perceptions, and we further demonstrate its consequences for employees’ engagement in discretionary behaviors (citizenship and counterproductive behaviors). Our findings highlight an assumption in the justice literature in need of revision and opens the door to further inquiry about the role of information processing in justice perceptions. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).



  • Brent Scott
  • Fadel Matta
  • Donald Conlon
  • Tobias Dennerlein


Journal of Applied Psychology