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What is a show cause letter?

A show cause letter or notice is a formal document sent by an employer to an employee to start the disciplinary process. It should detail alleged offences and will ask the recipient to respond (show cause) to avoid disciplinary action.

The letter should put an employee on notice about a workplace issue and provide enough information about the alleged offence to allow the employee to reply.

When is a show cause letter used?

A show cause letter is used when an employer intends to take disciplinary action and provides the employee with an opportunity to respond to allegations. It often relates to serious misconduct, workplace bullying, health and safety breaches and performance.

Why is a show cause letter used?

A show cause letter is used primarily by an employer to follow due process and to treat their employees fairly. It helps to reduce the risk of legal action and protects the employer from unfair dismissal laws. The letter provides allegations in writing and allows the employee an opportunity to respond in the name of fairness.

What is in a show cause letter?

The letter should:

  • Be clear and concise;
  • Be issued as soon as practically possible;
  • Identify the issue;
  • Detail allegations that need a response;
  • Provide evidence of the alleged misconduct;
  • State what action will be taken;
  • State how to respond; and
  • Have a respond-by date

What happens if an employer doesn’t get their show cause letter right?

A show cause letter should be tailored to the alleged offence and to the employee. There is no single template that can be used. Does the letter identify the law, code of conduct, regulation or condition that has been breached? Due to the complexities of employment law, employers should use a solicitor experienced in employment law who can navigate the best way forward. Getting it wrong could spell disaster.

How do I respond to a show cause letter?

An employee will need to identify key components of the letter and respond by the date given. Are the allegations clear and do they have substance? What evidence and information can you garner to counter the allegations?

What happens if I don’t respond to a show cause letter?

If you don’t respond to a show cause letter you can face disciplinary action or dismissal.

What happens if I am dismissed or disciplined and have not received a show cause letter?

If an employer does not follow due process they could face a claim for unfair dismissal, adverse action or breach of contract.

Under section 387 of the Fair Work Act, an employee can take legal action if the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

Should I get legal advice if I am issued with a show cause letter?

If you get a show cause letter from your employer, it is important to get legal advice when responding to allegations made against you regardless of whether you are innocent or guilty. Your livelihood is on the line. Many people are tempted to respond to show cause letters themselves to save on legal costs. Often this strategy is unsuccessful and results in more costs if an appeal is necessary or it could result in the loss of your job.

We are here to help

Our solicitors specialise in all aspects of employment law and represent clients throughout the Hunter, Newcastle, Sydney and the Central Coast. We have the experience to guide you through complex workplace issues from beginning to end to ensure you get the best possible outcome.

If you have a workplace issue or dispute, call one of our employment law specialists on 1300 529 444 or submit a contact form to arrange a case assessment with one of our solicitors today.



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