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Domestic Inquiries And Show Cause/Query Letters – What To Know And How To React

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The days before you get a query for misconduct ….

According to my friend who has worked in HR for over 12 years, one of the most anxious moments in a person’s career is when they are just beginning – that waiting period between when they applied for a job and when they get called for an interview.

Subsequently, preparing for the interview and sitting before an interviewer can generate some tension for the job seeker who makes careful moves to impress the employer, and afterwards has to deal with a lot of suspense regarding the outcome of the interview. Regarding whether he will get the job or not.

Perhaps, this description by my friend also captures the experiences you had when you first began on your career path.

So, let’s say you finally got through the interview stage and landed the job. Then your mentor in the workplace begins to coach you on what constitutes misconduct, what to do in cases of conflict with other team members, and how to avoid sensitive mistakes so you don’t earn a bad employee review.

Initially, you find yourself blending in effortlessly with the entire team, until for some reasons you are involved in an incident or conflict that prompts the management to initiate a domestic inquiry, and consequently issue a show cause letter.

What is a domestic inquiry?

A domestic inquiry is a set of investigative activities carried out by an employer to establish truth about a complaint before it that allegedly implicates an employee in misconduct. During a domestic inquiry, an employee charged with misconduct is given the opportunity to defend himself against those charges.

The rationale for these measures is to establish the circumstances behind each incident and ascertain the validity of all complains presented.

Requesting an employee to respond to a show cause letter during a domestic inquiry, is an acknowledgement of that employee’s right to tell his own side of the story, and letting the explanations guide management’s next course of action (which depends on whether those explanations were found to be satisfactory or not).

In fact, issuing a show cause letter is a primary step in conducting a domestic inquiry.

What is a show cause letter?

A show cause letter is a letter issued by the employer through the HR Department, to an employee (as part of a domestic inquiry procedure), demanding them to show cause, or provide a written explanation for misconduct they have allegedly committed against the company, and why disciplinary action should not be taken against them.

Moreover, a show cause letter is what most people refer to as a query letter for employee misconduct.

Why most employees are afraid of a query

A lot of employees dread the day they will be called upon by the administrator or human resource person in their work place, to answer a query for employee misconduct. This is understandable, because nobody wants to have a dented record with their employer or lose their current job due to a bad incident that portrays them as unprofessional, unethical, negligent and corrupt.

When that dreaded day eventually comes, many employees have no idea how to handle it. As such, they run the risk of setting themselves up for more penalty or disciplinary action than their mistakes should have earned them in the first place.

For instance, these ones may have to deal with a termination of their appointment, a demotion from a higher position or a pay cut (which could have been averted only if they knew how to respond to a show cause letter, and went ahead to do it right).

It does not matter if you were right or wrong, the way you respond to a show cause letter says a lot about you. For this reason, it is important that you know how to give your account of an incident in the most professional and less implicating manner.

Why do HR managers issue show cause/query letters?

When something happens in the field, or in the line of operation that has led to loss or damage of company funds and properties, someone has to be held responsible. In the same vein, if the incident has impacted negatively on productivity or reputation of the organization, then someone has to answer for it.

If a team supervisor cannot provide the source of the leak, he automatically becomes the person to blame for such incidents, and may get punished for it.

Meanwhile, for certain offences, it’s not always just about holding someone responsible, it’s way more than that. In cases where the implications of these actions have cost the employer so much in terms of money or reputation, someone may have to be used as an example for other members of staff who have a habit of breaking company protocols. Naturally, whenever consequences are meted out to offenders, other potential offenders will likely refrain from repeating similar offences.

In other words, HR managers issue a show cause letter as a formal inquiry into work place incidents including assault, fraud, insubordination, conflict of interest, disorderly conduct, abuse of powers etc.

Should team supervisors cover up members of their team who have done something wrong in the work place?

Even though this could happen a few times, there is always a limit. At least, not a lot of people are willing to pay the price of another person’s misdeed.

But, depending on the gravity of offence, it is understandable if your supervisor first chooses to call you aside and reprimand you regarding your bad work habit or a bad conduct that has jeopardized the credibility of the entire team. However, nobody will give your team supervisor a thumb up for covering up deeds that prove to be very detrimental situations that HR should be aware of.

Therefore, when a team member’s misconduct continues to influence work culture negatively, professionalism demands that supervisors make a complaint about this to HR for further necessary actions.

Should you respond to a show cause letter or reply a query letter for employee misconduct?

It is only professional and responsible for the employee to provide their own account of an incident they were involved in or witnessed, when this is requested by HR.

So, deciding to not answer to a show cause letter, isn’t just wrong, but can be easily misconstrued as a deliberate action to withhold available facts to aid the resolution of a complaint.

Furthermore, a clause in most show cause letters may indicate that your refusal to reply within the stipulated time shall be interpreted as your acceptance that the claims against you are true. This implies also that you accept whatever disciplinary action that management will chose to taken against you.

How do you reply a show cause letter or query letter for employee misconduct?

By now, it is pretty obvious that a query letter for misconduct isn’t like any other kind of letter. How you answer to a show cause letter will determine if you will be penalized by your employer or not, and what punishment will be considered appropriate for your offence.

Of course, knowing how to respond to a show cause letter, and doing it right can exempt you from any disciplinary actions or lessen your sentence.

There are no guarantees to this, but then, you have to know how to give it your best shot even if everything complained about you was your fault.

Guidelines for answering a show cause letter/query letter for employee misconduct

Issuing a show cause letter is the duty of the HR department in your employer organization. But, most employers will first set up a panel and hold a preliminary hearing with every party involved in the incident. Different times are scheduled for different parties so that they do not appear at once before the panel. During the preliminary hearing, the panelists will make sure to jot important points out of the things you say.

So, when consequently you are requested to write and respond in writing, the content of your show cause response letter must not differ from your verbal report at the preliminary hearing.

If this happens, and inconsistencies are traced to your verbal and written report, nobody will trust your report.

A few tips to replying a show cause letter include:

  1. Take note of the exact charges against you in the show cause letter
  2. Acknowledge the tone of the letter, and use this to determine how best to set your tone in the reply.
  3. Keep in mind that the way you answer a query for misconduct could determine how your guilt or innocence will be decided or established.
  4. Take a deep breath, and go through memory lane: try to remember all the details of the incident that have warranted the query.
  5. Decide the best choice of words to use in your letter to make your reasons as satisfactory as possible
  6. Start putting down your reply the best way you can
  7. In your reply, make sure to stick to the issue being addressed
  8. Where necessary, accept responsibility for your misconduct
  9. Provide valid reasons for your action if any
  10. Undertake to not repeat the same misconduct again

Depending on the incident and the explanations available to defend yourself, your reply may turn out as a single or multiple-page document. Except you have a good handwriting, make sure to have your reply typed using a simple font style as Calibri or Times New Roman (for Microsoft Word Office users).

If you do not trust that you have come up with the best response letter, and don’t want to gamble with your chances of getting a fair consideration from the management, feel free to reach out to a query letters expert writer for help.

  Next Article

How To Fire A Loyal But Incompetent Employee: A Guide For Professional Managers

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