Show Cause Letters and How to Reply Them

Show Cause Letters and How to Reply Them

Much has been said about how to WRITE show cause letters. From HR consultants to lawyers, many experts have authored well-researched articles and blog posts on the subject on the Internet and in print.

Very little literature, however, has been published on how to REPLY a show cause letter. Samples of replies are available online, but remember that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all reply.

Let's recap the "What When Why Where and How" of a show cause letter.

What: A show cause letter is issued by an employer to an employee requiring the employee to provide an explanation (to show cause) why they should not face disciplinary action for an allegation/allegations of misconduct.

When: When the employee is involved in a workplace dispute, has committed a misconduct, or has shown slackness in performance.

Why: The idea of a show cause letter is to give an opportunity for the employee to explain himself prior to the Company deciding on the next course of action to resolve the matter.

Where: The show cause letter must be given to the employee concerned in the workplace and during his working hours.

How: The show cause letter must contain a precisely-worded allegation of the dispute/misconduct/performance issue including dates, times, places, and the legal provision/contractual obligation that the employee has breached.

As aforementioned, there is no one universal template for showing cause, because every issue is circumstantially unique. If you receive a show cause letter from your employer, do not get anxious or emotional. Before drafting your reply, sit down and calmly ask yourself these questions:

  1. Was the issuance of the show cause letter appropriate vis-a-vis the circumstances?
  2. Was it issued in good faith?
  3. Were the charges leveled against you in the letter clearly worded or vague?
  4. Do you understand the charges sufficiently to be able to produce a coherent reply?
  5. Were the principles of natural justice applied in the show cause letter?

A show-cause letter usually precedes a domestic inquiry. Sometimes it is used as a standalone mechanism of inquiry on its own. Either way suffices to fulfill the requirement of "due inquiry" in the Employment Act. If you receive a show cause letter you should reply to defend yourself professionally and tell the sender your side of the story. A show-cause letter is not a punishment for misconduct or poor performance.

The reason why you should ask yourself the five questions above (or other pertinent questions that you can think of) is because sometimes a show cause letter is not issued for genuine reasons. If:

  • the charges are vague, and/or
  • the charges are for misconduct that you did not do;
  • the charges are for performance issues that have already been discussed with your superior and you are already in the early stages of an improvement plan, and/or
  • the charges seem to have been deliberately created to get you into trouble, and/or
  • the time frame is too short for you to compose a proper reply, and/or
  • the contents were not adequately explained to you, and/or
  • you were not given the opportunity to ask questions for clarification,

and/or other things that make you feel that the show cause letter was unfairly given to you, then you should consult a lawyer, Labour/Industrial Relations officer, or your Union rep before you reply. You need to ensure that your reply does not contain any loophole that your employer may take advantage of to persecute you further. Malicious show cause letters are not issued for your answer but as an entrapment to find points to justify the next course of action of your employer against you, which is usually dismissal.

Do not abstain from replying, however, because you need to state your objection towards the contents of the letter or the manner in which is was given to you. If you do not reply, your employer will assume that you have nothing to say to defend yourself and proceed with whatever they want to do and you will be seen as acquiescing. Challenge the letter as a matter of right.

If, however, the show cause letter was fairly issued and you agree more or less to the allegations made against you, then you can follow these steps to reply:

  1. Keep it succinct, brief, and to-the-point. Check your spelling and your sentence construction.
  2. Admit your mistake. If there are reasons why you made those mistakes, you can state them briefly. Do not get defensive, just state them as a matter of fact.
  3. Do not apologize. It serves zero purpose. Instead, agree to fix the mistake and not to repeat them.
  4. Do not write things like "If I repeat this mistake in the future, the Company may terminate me." Saying things like that gives off the effect that you have no confidence in yourself to improve, or worse, not sincere about improving at all.
  5. If this is your first misconduct or the first time your performance has slipped, you can insert a plea of mitigation and ask the Management for leniency in punishment.
  6. Keep the show cause letter and your reply confidential. Do not blab about them to everyone in the office nor post them/about them on social media. You may be breaching some confidentiality policies of your Company by doing so.

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