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Domestic Inquiries and Show Cause Letters

A domestic Inquiry is an internal inquiry into some alleged misconduct by an employee. The main objectives of the domestic inquiry are to establish whether the alleged misconduct is proven or not and if the misconduct is proven, to recommend a punishment that is appropriate to the offence committed. The complainant is normally the management of the company but sometimes, can also be the victim of the alleged misconduct. At the domestic inquiry, the employer will present its case and the employee is given an equal opportunity to defend himself against the charges of misconduct.

How much notice should an employee get before a Domestic Inquiry is held?

A minimum of seven days and a maximum of 14 days is reasonable.

Who can represent the employee at a Domestic Inquiry?

If the employee belongs to a trade union, he can ask to be represented by his trade union. A non-unionised employee can request for a willing colleague to assist him.

Who can sit in the panel at a Domestic Inquiry?

The panel should comprise an odd number of persons who are employees of the company, usually three or five. The rank of the chairman should be equal or higher than his other panel members and almost always higher ranked than the employee. The panel is expected to be unbiased and exercise impartiality when hearing the evidence. There will also be a secretary, prosecuting officer and an investigation officer.

What happens during a Domestic Inquiry?

First, the employer will present the evidence it has collected and bring in witnesses to support his arguments. Next, the employer will defend himself and can also bring in his witnesses and other evidence.

What happens after a Domestic Inquiry?

The panel will adjourn to decide whether the employee is guilty or not. If the employee is found to be guilty, the panel will recommend to management an appropriate penalty.

After the Domestic Inquiry has been held the inquiry panel will decide whether the employee is guilty of all or any of the charges and if he is guilty, they may recommend a suitable penalty to management. It is for senior management, who appointed the panel, to actually decide upon the appropriate penalty.

What penalties are possible?

Any of the following are possible:

  • A written warning;
  • A no-pay suspension not exceeding two weeks;
  • Demotion to a lower grading or position;
  • Withholding of a contractual increment or bonus; or
  • Dismissal

Can the employee appeal?

An employee covered by the Employment Act 1955 can complain to the Labour Department. For dismissals, the dismissed employee can claim for reinstatement at the Department of Industrial Relations.

Show cause letter

A show cause letter is the start of a domestic inquiry to investigate into any gross misconduct committed by an employee. It is a very delicate issue that needs to be handled with due diligence and lots of sensitivity.

Before a show cause letter is issued, the most effective engagement method to begin with is to call the accused staff for a face-to-face preliminary discussion, professionally and without intimidation. The objectives are to give him an opportunity to give his side of the story, get at the truth of the situation and see whether at all there is a case to answer. What is important is to prevent any form of victimization at the onset.

“The main objectives of the domestic inquiry are to establish whether the alleged misconduct is proven or not.”

If the accused staff admits to the complaint, then the matter is simpler as the discussion will now focus on his fate. Advise him properly on the violation of company policies and the legal and moral implications. Probe further by throwing in questions such as “What have you to say?” and “How should we go about settling this matter?” From this discussion, you should be able to determine whether there is really a gross misconduct which requires disciplinary action. Of course, this can also be determined from the answer to the show cause letter.

On the other hand, if the staff keeps denying the matter without substantiating his rebuttal of the complaint or ignores the attempts to meet with him, then the appropriate cause of action must be initiated. The show cause letter detailing the misconduct should be issued and the staff given a specific time frame to answer it. By the deadline if no reply is received or the answer is insufficient, a domestic inquiry will then be initiated.

Before the charge sheet is issued to the accused staff, the management must be sure of the facts of the case. To do so, you need to liaise with the supervisor to understand further what had transpired. It is also important to be sure that once the domestic inquiry is called, the supervisor, being the key witness in the case, must be available to attend the inquiry as the company’s witness. If he refuses to attend, the domestic inquiry is on filmsier grounds as the accused staff must be given a chance to cross-examine the allegation made against him. If the supervisor is willing to cooperate, then with all the facts before you, the company may call for a domestic inquiry even if the accused staff fails to answer the show cause letter or gives an inadequate answer. In fact, the failure to answer the show cause letter can be in itself an additional charge against him.

By JobStreet.com

The article is contributed by JobStreet.com (www.jobstreet.com), which is Malaysia’s leading end-to-end online recruitment job site. Jobstreet provides a host of synergistic operations ranging from online job postings, provision of contract staff, online marketing services to career site management and search and selection services.

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