Of all the measures of fairness in conflict management systems, I have found that applicability is the most difficult to achieve. Often I will hear managers or human resources people say, "You cannot submit this decision to the conflict management system - this is a management function. This is management decision-making and it cannot be second-guessed. To do otherwise would undermine the whole employer-employee relationship." Generally in response to this declaration I ask managers whether they ever make decisions that are unreasonable. When they invariably say no, then I ask, "well what do you have to worry about?" After a bit of grumbling I usually find that the manager in question will agree that it is a good idea to test the fairness of some management actions.
The Applicability Focus measures the extent to which all actions are subject to the fairness system. A fairness system that excludes certain actions leaves itself open to abuse. For example, a system that covers discipline but does not allow an employee to challenge their performance review provides an avenue for a manager to exact revenge upon an employee. This infringement would also be reflected in the Protection Focus (see as will be explained later) which emphasizes the need to consider this systemic weakness. A properly functioning fairness system need not submit all employer actions to review by a third party. But it should ensure that there is a forum to discuss those actions. Moreover this Focus should cover co-employee disputes. A high score on the Applicability Focus requires conflict management system that resolves conflict regardless of the issues or the positions of the parties involved.
And this also has a significant impact on how much engagement there will be in the conflict management system. If critical actions and decisions are exempted from the conflict management system, then the system will lack credibility in the eyes of workplace participants.
Therefore, a conflict management system can only be considered just and fair if it includes all critical decisions that can be made about workplace participants regardless of where those decisions come from.