Restorative Justice in the Workplace: Strategies and Programs


Restorative Justice in the Workplace (RJW) is an emerging approach that focuses on resolving conflicts, healing relationships, and fostering an environment of collective accountability. Far from the traditional punitive models of conflict resolution, RJW promotes a culture of dialogue, understanding, and shared growth. This article explores the historical backdrop, thought leaders, best practices, and a case study that illuminates the potential of RJW.

Historical Context

The Birth of RJW

Restorative Justice itself has roots in indigenous practices and has been more widely known within criminal justice systems. Its application in the workplace began to gain traction in the early 21st century as organizations sought more human-centric management practices (Lederach, 2003).

Regulatory Changes

Certain jurisdictions are now recognizing the role of restorative justice in workplace harassment and bullying cases, influencing legal frameworks (Maxwell, 2007).

Key Concepts and Thought Leaders

Transformational Justice

This extends restorative justice to include systemic changes within the organization (Bush & Folger, 2005).

Margaret Thorsborne

A pioneering advocate for RJW, particularly in addressing workplace bullying and harassment (Thorsborne & Vinegrad, 2019).

Jennifer Llewellyn

A legal scholar focused on the applications of restorative justice in various social systems, including workplaces (Llewellyn, 2012).

Strategies and Programs

Restorative Conversations

This is often the first step in addressing conflicts and involves guided conversations aimed at mutual understanding (Bradshaw & Roseborough, 2005).

Community Circles

Regular meetings where team members discuss concerns, successes, and challenges, facilitated by a trained restorative justice practitioner (Pranis, 2005).

Case Study: Fraud

The case study involves a fraud committed by an individual against a vulnerable, elderly woman who considered the offender a close friend. The case was referred to Restorative Cleveland for a restorative justice (RJ) approach after initial referral to Victim Care & Advice Service (VCAS).

Referral Background
The offender was sentenced to 32 months in prison. The victim, deeply affected emotionally and psychologically by the crime, had several unanswered questions and lived in fear, especially because the offender lived nearby.

RJ Intervention Preparation
Restorative Cleveland representatives Paul and Nicola, along with a VCAS support worker, informed the victim about various RJ interventions. The victim had specific questions for the offender and agreed to a face-to-face meeting at HMP Low Newton to seek answers.

The Meeting
Facilitated by Paul and Nicola, the meeting allowed the victim to express the emotional and financial impact of the crime. The offender explained her actions and apologized. The victim’s confidence seemed to grow noticeably during this interaction, while the offender appeared increasingly uncomfortable.

Impact of the RJ Intervention
The process empowered the victim, evident through her changed body language and eye contact. Both parties agreed to move on separately upon the offender’s release, backed by legal restrictions like license conditions and exclusion zones. The victim’s confidence grew to such an extent that she was able to publicly share her story at a Restorative Cleveland event, highlighting the positive impact of RJ intervention.

This case demonstrates the potential benefits of RJ interventions in empowering victims and fostering mutual agreements that facilitate healing and closure.

Contemporary Insights

Technology’s Role

The proliferation of remote work has given rise to digital platforms that facilitate restorative justice practices online, although further research is needed to assess the effectiveness of these platforms (Latimer, 2017).

Organizational Complexity

Restorative justice is more challenging in hierarchical or bureaucratic systems, necessitating adaptations in its application (Thorsborne & Vinegrad, 2019).

Conclusion and Academic Insight

Restorative Justice in the Workplace represents not just an alternative approach but a transformative ideology that shifts the way organizations understand conflict and growth. However, as Thorsborne and Vinegrad (2019) and Llewellyn (2012) suggest, the complexities of organizational structures, power dynamics, and cultural mores require a nuanced understanding of how restorative justice can be operationalized in varying contexts. Therefore, scholarly focus must now shift towards designing frameworks that are both effective and adaptable across a range of organizational types and sizes. Such a multi-dimensional understanding of RJW would undoubtedly contribute to its deeper penetration into mainstream organizational culture, making the workplace a ground for justice, fairness, and collective well-being.

Case Studies: The Pioneering Applications of Restorative Justice in Military and Prison Environments

Restorative justice is not just a civilian concept; it has wide-ranging applications that extend to various institutional settings. Two particularly compelling case studies demonstrate this versatility: its deployment within the New Zealand military and a prison workplace in Minnesota. Both environments are known for their strict hierarchical structures and rigid disciplinary measures, making them unlikely yet fascinating avenues for restorative justice.

New Zealand Military: Balancing Discipline and Restoration

In 2003, the New Zealand military took a bold step by exploring the integration of restorative justice into their existing justice system. The motivation behind this was the unique challenge of maintaining a cohesive working environment. Unlike other contexts where victims and offenders might never see each other again, military personnel often have to continue working side-by-side. Traditional punitive measures could alienate individuals, disrupting not only personal relationships but also overall unit cohesion and effectiveness.

Within the military, the concept of a “safe working environment” is multi-faceted, involving not just physical safety but also psychological well-being. The introduction of restorative justice aimed to supplement the military’s disciplinary procedures by focusing on transformative justice. Key restorative principles, such as inclusive conferences that bring together victims, offenders, and the community, have been considered. These gatherings provide a platform for meaningful dialogue, enabling the victim to ask questions and the offender to take accountability. Both parties, along with their community, have the opportunity to collectively decide the best course of action for making amends.

This initiative is not merely a supplementary addition; it’s transformative. By prioritizing relational repair over punishment, the New Zealand military has found a way to encourage fairness, satisfaction, and ownership of solutions by all parties involved.

Minnesota Prisons: Creating Safer Spaces Within Bars

A similarly surprising application of restorative justice principles can be found in the prison system of Minnesota. Recognizing the detrimental effects of traditional authoritative methods on staff relations, a pilot project was introduced to integrate restorative practices. This initiative began with an acknowledgment of the internal conflicts among prison staff, bred from training protocols that encouraged distrust and emotional suppression.

Initially, the project aimed to improve relations with inmates, but it quickly became clear that staff themselves first needed to apply restorative practices among themselves. Over five years, various restorative methods like one-on-one facilitation, workplace conferencing, and circles became normalized. This shift in approach allowed staff members to express their emotions constructively, address conflicts, and prevent negative behaviors. It was transformative not only for the staff but for the whole prison culture.

The success of this pilot led to the Minnesota Department of Corrections expanding these practices across the state. The case serves as a robust example that even in the strictest of environments, restorative justice can bring about a more harmonious, fair, and respectful work culture.

These two case studies underline the versatility and adaptability of restorative justice. By focusing on repairing relationships rather than punishing individuals, these initiatives offer a glimpse into the transformative potential of restorative justice across varied institutional landscapes

Jülich, S. and Cox, N. (2013). Good workplaces: Alternative dispute resolution and restorative justice. In E. Rasmussen (Ed.), Employment Relationships: Workers Unions and Employers in New Zealand (pp. 246-264). Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press.

Other References

  • Lederach, J. P. (2003). The Little Book of Conflict Transformation. Good Books.
  • Maxwell, G. (2007). Restorative justice and practices in New Zealand: Towards a restorative society. Institute of Policy Studies.
  • Bush, R. A., & Folger, J. P. (2005). The promise of mediation: The transformative approach to conflict. Jossey-Bass.
  • Thorsborne, M., & Vinegrad, D. (2019). Restorative Practices and Bullying: Rethinking Behaviour Management. ACER Press.
  • Llewellyn, J. (2012). Bridging the Gap between Truth and Reconciliation: Restorative Justice and the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In, From Truth to Reconciliation (pp. 183-208). Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
  • Bradshaw, W., & Roseborough, D. (2005). Restorative Justice Dialogue: The Impact of Mediation and Conferencing on Juvenile Recidivism. Federal Probation, 69(2), 15-21.
  • Pranis, K. (2005). The Little Book of Circle Processes. Good Books.
  • Johnson, G., & Reiman, A. H. (2012). Restorative Justice: A Viable Alternative for Incarcerated Women at the End of Life. Health & Justice, 8(1), 19-32.
  • Latimer, J. (2017). Restorative Justice and Technology. In, Routledge Handbook of Restorative Justice (pp. 352-370). Routledge.