Organizational Justice Bill of Rights
A living document on the fundamental needs of employees from Critical Equity Consulting
Communities plagued by generations of harm understand the immense pressure of living under oppressive systems and simultaneously attempting to achieve some semblance of normalcy and comfort. As people of privilege are finally stepping into a long-overdue consciousness of labor and social relations, we must seize this opportunity to formalize organizational justice principles many have sought for lifetimes. Racial capitalism has created colossal problems for humanity and our planet, and to ignore that is nothing short of oppression. We created the following Organizational Justice Bill of Rights to contribute to the existing literature in the fields of organizational justice; labor rights; and diversity, equity, inclusion; with the goal of fostering a healthier collective relationship with our work and workplaces.
In this document, we define a right as a principle of human liberation and dignity that should be afforded to all. It is one that should transcend cultural norms, particularly those that were formed over time through systems and structures of power through colonization. That being said, the following rights should be enshrined in all areas of the talent lifecycle.
The following primer is a living list of items that can and will be amended with additional information and feedback. The ultimate goal is to co-create ways of being that allow for multiple values to co-exist in healthy organizations.
The right to be authentic and free from oppression.
Our identities are sacred and deserve to be respected. Under no circumstance is workplace toxicity a moral or productive good. We have a fundamental right to be part of an organization that is free of harmful behaviors. While many discriminatory practices are barred in multiple federal, state, and local laws and statutes, many of us are all too familiar with the less overt forms of oppression that plague our workplaces, contribute to fatigue, and even cause issues of mental health and trauma. Every one of us has a right to our humanity and intrinsic worth, and that requires that our organizations value and respect our identity categories in any way we choose to express ourselves. We have a right to be our authentic selves in the workplace without being culturally or professionally penalized through judgment, gaze, gossip, or ostracization.
The right to be valued and free from exploitation.
Our labor is sacred and because of this, we have the right to feel good about what we produce and how we produce it. Under no circumstances should we feel that our work is owned or controlled by any person or entity, outside of ourselves. We have the right to exchange our skills in ways that afford us greater agency in making choices about our contributions to our organizations, without feeling exploited in the process. This requires a work schedule that is fair that adjusts for both employee and organizational needs. This also includes fair compensation for any work that is beyond what is initially agreed upon or determined in the job description.
The right to have flexibility in your work schedule.
The pandemic shined a light onto how unhealthy our relationship with work has been. We’ve internalized capitalism’s definition of success–which is often rooted in centralizing wealth to organizational leadership instead of our own–to the detriment of our mental and physical well-being. It should have never been this way. We must provide each other the space to not only disconnect from the pain of it all, but also take time to rest, be creative, spend time with family, volunteer for change, and take part in communal activities. And to do this we cannot define intrinsic human worth based on what we produce, but something inherent in all of us. We all have a right to flexible work arrangements that allow us to effectively process and recover from both fatigue and harm, and find power in solidarity and action.
The right to participatory decision-making.
We have a long history of dehumanization in the workplace. This process of mechanization of labor has left no room for real human interactions, let alone any sense of community. The prevailing assumption is that our relationship to our labor is dictated by organizational leaders, so that our input is reduced to assigned tasks. However, true workplace fulfillment requires participation beyond the mere expectations listed on our position descriptions. Participation is more than just employee voice, or simply listening and valuing our input and contributions. True communal practice in the workplace rests on the ability to participate in decisions that affect not only how we perform, but our labor output, as well as workplace well-being; so that we become stakeholders in organizational outcomes. We should have a say in what we are producing, how we are producing it (especially with respect to sustainability), and how we determine organizational success. As active participants in an organizational system that is dependent on our labor, we have that right to participatory decision-making.
The right to share in the success of the organization.
As participants in the workplace community–where our labor input determines organizational success–it is only natural that we share in the rewards earned from our collective input. The value of the goods and services produced are determined primarily by labor input. Labor is the core of production value. Whether one is driven by morality or utilitarianism, it is easy to see that we deserve to each be rewarded for the product of our labor, which means proportionately distributing rewards for good work. In profit-maximizing organizations, this means sharing in the profit. In nonprofit organizations and government, this means being recognized and rewarded proportionate to our input and the value of our output.
The right to equitable professional growth.
If one is sharing their labor in a growing organization, then they have the right to grow with it. One of the most oppressive organizational behaviors one can experience is the extraction of labor without being provided opportunities to grow professionally and learn new skills. Stagnation is oppression.
We have the right to experience the fruits of our labor, and on our terms. This includes the right to determine what success looks like for us. In hierarchical organizations, this means fair opportunities for the type of advancement we’re seeking. In flatter organizations, growth can be determined through experience, deference, and tenure; and results more in influence (informal power) through experience, rather than job title or role (formal power).
Professionally growth can and must be achieved equitably. If organizational equity rests on two pillars–the breaking of barriers and the allocation of resources–then ensuring a distribution of growth opportunities for each individual in our organization must be intentionally designed and barriers strategically mitigated. Growth barriers include, but are not limited to: racialization, lack of focus on accessibility that harms individuals with disabilities, an absence of gender inclusive and culturally relevant values, biased decision-making, as well as life-long systemic barriers to accessing skills and competencies more readily available to privileged communities.
Organizations have a duty to allocate the right resources to mitigate the effects of systems of oppression that result in these local systemic barriers to growth.
The right to receive benefits relevant to our identities.
As unique individuals with unique individual and cultural needs, universal benefits packages are not enough. Not only do we deserve a thriving wage in whatever location we are in, but we also deserve culturally relevant benefits packages that cater to those unique needs. Are our employee benefits (e.g., healthcare) inclusive of our gender identity and sexual orientation? Are we given time to celebrate cultural events and holidays? Are we given the flexibility to slow down output during times of fasting or prayer? Are we given benefits that accommodate our unique needs with respect to disabilities, periodic cycles within our bodies, mental health, etc.?
The right to collective power.
One of the most fundamental institutional rights required to maintain a healthy democracy is the right to express collective power. Our workplaces, as a part of our societies, require this, too. Whether forming a union, an employee resource group/affinity group, or ad hoc organizing for collective bargaining, the right of employees to form connections and advocate for their own needs is a foundational pillar of a healthy work environment. This means that employees should have the ability to not only to organize for the universal collective good, but can organize and advocate for the needs and desires of specific communities represented in the workplace, including racial and ethnic equity, disability justice, and gender inclusive policies and practices.
The right to organizational transparency (informational justice).
Successful anti-oppressive organizations understand that employees should be knowledgeable about organizational processes and practices. Siloing and compartmentalization are oppressive measures that gatekeep knowledge, and can be used to proliferate discriminatory practices or hide problematic behaviors and organizational practices. To be able to address issues effectively, employees must be provided the opportunity to become aware of what is happening through the organization, both truthfully and without the propaganda of perfection (“everything is fine”). This is not only important for the health of employees themselves, but for the entire organization.
The right to healthy resolution of conflicts.
Disagreement, ideational frictions, and biased decision-making are natural facets of human relations. With the immeasurable range of human experiences and viewpoints, it is impossible to operate in an environment of complete agreement. Not only that, it is unhealthy for the working environment. Often organizations that lack healthy opportunities for dialogue are either burdened by groupthink or fear, both of which are detrimental to both employees and the goods and services they produce. Effective conflict resolution mechanisms are an absolute right of every employee, especially when those conflicts become harmful. Any healthy resolution of conflict must also take into consideration social power differentials and must center cultural differences and needs.