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Employment Justice

Problems at work can occur at any time. Loss of job, discrimination on the workfloor and non-payment of wages are examples of employment problems that people experience regularly.

This page shows data on employment problems: their impact, examples of outcomes that people get, the kind of help people look for, and more. The page also presents recommendations, based on knowledge on what works, that can solve employment problems. Common bottlenecks that people encounter when dealing with employment disputes and promising innovations can also be found on this page.

Photo by Lan Yao from Pexels

Meet Fatimah

I have not been happy at work for a long time. Despite working hard, last month my employer refused to pay me. He did this without giving an explanation. I need to provide for my family. I feel discriminated. I am afraid that I will lose my job if I ever report the problem. I am very stressed because of which I am starting to experience health problems.


This is what Fatimah wants to achieve

My wages need to be paid. My family depends on it. I hope for financial stability and justice, reduced stress and better health. I imagine not being discriminated and having job security. The kind of outcomes that I need at work are:

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The outcomes that people get

People want to change their job when needed. They look for improvements in their relationship with their employer, or with their employees. Employees want their wages to be paid.

So far, people in Uganda and Ethiopia were asked about the kind of outcomes that they are getting, when dealing with an employment justice problem.

More countries will follow soon.

Most employment problems that people experience relate to loss of job, discrimination, and to unpaid wages. Not all of these problems are fully resolved.

Employment problems cause stress and loss of income

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How many new problems appear every year?

I am not the only person who did not get their wages paid. Millions of people deal with this and other problems every year.

This is the number of new employment problems that occur in a country annually as derived from HiiL’s country survey data.

A legal problem is a problem that takes place in daily life. It could be a dispute, disagreement or grievance for which there is a resolution in the (formal or informal) law.

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Loss of job 

In Ukraine only, around 194,500 people deal with loss of job every year. Businesses and organisations all over the world are forced to lay off people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impact on people is significant. When people lose their job, they lose their income. It affects how people perceive their own identity, and impacts their overall wellbeing.

As can be seen in the data, people take self-action when an employment problem emerges. They start to have conversations with their bosses. Employers might be able to help people in finding new sources of income, by offering recommendations or a different job position.

When people are dismissed, many questions arise. Asking the right questions and finding out the ‘why’ is important, as it will help people to grow and improve. After gathering information, people start negotiating the terms of their departure with their employer, such as severance pay and an extension of healthcare benefits. This can be a difficult, emotional and legalistic process.

If there is doubt around reasons for dismissal, people often seek help from a lawyer or other legal professional. There is a possibility that employers lay people off in an unjust and unreasonable way. Employees might have received wrong notice and/or are denied fair compensation to dismissal. They might have been discriminated against. A severe employment conflict arises.

Conflicts need to be resolved. A third party can help with this. There are apps that can inform people about their rights. A lawyer or mediator can support in finding solutions together, and a specialized judge can make decisions where needed.

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Every year, people face discrimination on the workfloor. In Tunisia for example, one fifth of the employment problems that occur every year are about discrimination. People are treated unfairly or are harrassed, because of their colour, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age or other reasons. Another form of discrimination at work is denial of infrastructural adjustments in the workplace that people need because of their disability. 

Many employees who are discriminated at work suffer from mental health problems, which in turn affects their personal lives. According to available international literature, discrimination appears to be most detrimental when it is interpersonal rather than formal.

Many people take self-action, or ask for help within their social network. Taking up the matter with their bosses can solve the problem, but it can also escalate the issue. Therefore, dealing with discrimination requires a special treatment.

It is important that people record any discriminatory actions that may have taken place against them. Secondly, they should try to avoid emotional reasoning. It is possible that offensive comments can be the result of poor communication or management practices. Reporting can help, however there remains a risk of retaliation against the discriminated person after doing so. Third party help from lawyers or other actors is available for these kind of complications.

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Unpaid wages

In the last four years, at least 1 out of every 100 people in Ukraine did not get their wages paid out. Employers withhold salary or fail to pay overtime wages. It is also possible that employers pay their employees below the local minimum wage requirements. Some disputes revolve around unpaid leave or benefits, or business expenses that are not being reimbursed.

Many people do not have enough savings that can help them survive when they do not receive their salaries. They deserve fair compensation for their services, as agreed upon with their employers. Not receiving wages results in stress, damage to relationships and other negative effects. Around 59% of the people dealing with employment issues such as unpaid wages indicate that the problem has had severe impact on their lives.

People can bring the issue of non-payment of wage to the attention of their employers. Further investigation may reveal that it was the result of an administrative mistake. If, however, the employer refuses or fails to correct the mistake, a third party can help in finding a solution. Special employment tribunals for example can help in making decisions.

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The impact and consequences of dealing with employment problems

I experienced loss of income and time, stress and even injuries. I can see the overall impact of the problem on my well-being.

The first graph shows that worldwide, loss of time, loss of income, stress and loss of job are common consequences of employment problems. 

The second graph points out that, for example in Kenya, many lives are severely affected by employment problems.

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To what extent are problems being resolved?

I need a solution that is fair and effective. Only then I can move away from the negative impacts.

This graph shows percentages of people whose problems were resolved, are ongoing or are partially resolved.

People were asked about high-impact problems that they experienced in the last four years.

The graph reveals that worldwide, many employment problems are not resolved. In Morocco, Jordan and Bangladesh, at least 30% of employment problems are still ongoing.

This is how the justice journeys of people look like.

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These are the justice providers people go to for help.

There are many ways to resolve employment problems. This is where people go to seek a solution.

The steps that people take to resolve a problem is a justice journey

This graph shows dispute resolution mechanisms they may use during a journey.

As the data shows, in Ethiopia most people take self-action whereas in Bangladesh many people rely on their social network for help.

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These are the most helpful justice providers

I want a fair resolution. Where do I go?

Data shows that in Indonesia, courts and lawyers were perceived as most helpful in resolving people’s employment problems. In Ethiopia and Fiji, other organized procedures were seen as most helpful. Other countries show that personal network and self-action were perceived most helpful.

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Evaluating experiences

Do people with employment problems get justice? The broad idea of justice can be broken down in a number of elements. Respect, voice and procedural clarity are things that people value in a procedure. In outcomes, they want wages being paid, harm should be undone, the outcome should be explained and it should work. Ideally, procedures are low cost, cost little time and not too stressful. We can see here that employment procedures are seen as rather stressful (bigger = better procedure). 

Data shows that on a national level, improvements in how people assess their justice journeys are possible. See data from Mali in 2015 and 2019 for example.

Bottlenecks in protecting employment rights

For people who experience conflict at work, it can be difficult to find a solution. The relationship between employer and employee usually is unequal. Employees are dependant on their employer. Most often, employees cannot afford to lose their job, as it is their main source of income. In many cases their families depend on it as well. Employers might take advantage of this unequal relationship, which could lead to exploitation of employees.

It is essential to create a good working climate, which is beneficial to the wellbeing of both the employer and employee. This can be challenging. Employers want to create maximum productivity, but this cannot be at the expense of employee’s physical and mental wellbeing. However, often productivity and wellbeing of employees are not mutually exclusive and go hand-in-hand.


Innovations in employment justice

As the data on this page show, many people do not succeed in resolving employment problems. The above recommendations showcase good practices that have the potential to deliver fair outcomes to people. Along with these recommendations, there also exist innovations that are actively providing solutions to employment problems.

Here are some examples of innovations that are successful in reimagining justice delivery in employment disputes: