How Should I Write a Justification Of an Error at Work?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a workplace problem:  I’ve been asked to write a justification related to some errors at work.  How should I write it?


Question: I have been employed by a big company for six years.  I received a notice from my boss that an internal audit showed errors and failures in some of my work. In the notice, my boss asked me to reply with a justification for why the errors happened.  My work is good quality, but there aren’t enough people to do the job right. How can I justify my actions when I don’t think it was my fault?

Reply:  If there are internal controls about a work situation, it may be that the request for justification is just a required action by the boss and he is not really accusing you of doing anything wrong. But, even if a boss is strongly concerned or upset and thinks there is no acceptable reason for an error, sometimes he or she can at least understand how the error could have happened, in spite of the best possible efforts and intentions.

The easiest way to write a reply about a sensitive, emotional or problem work issue, such as the one you describe, is to be truthful and write in a sincere and authentic way (using words and phrases that sounds like the real you). That approach is far better than trying to painstakingly craft a reply that ends up sounding defensive or argumentative and not at like you would usually talk or write.

One good way to do it is to talk about it aloud, to yourself or to someone else, then develop a list of key points based on what you said. Most of us structure out explanations into mini-lists. For example, we say, “First of all, the problem isn’t as bad as it sounds. Second, even if it is, there are other problems that caused it. Third, if you look at the examples I’ve attached, you’ll see that the work we are able to do is good quality, it’s just that there is more work than we can handle.”  Write in that same organized way, so it is easy for the boss to read.

Start with an opening paragraph that states why you are writing the letter. Maybe something like, “I’m very concerned about the results of the internal accounting control report (or whatever it is that concerns you).  I know that my work is high quality and I make every effort to avoid errors. The following is my explanation of the situation. I am also anxious to discuss this matter with you, if you have further questions.”

Then you follow with your list. At the end of the list, you can have a closing paragraph.  Something like, “For the last six years I have done high quantities of high quality work. However, the recent workload and staffing situation has created conditions where errors have happened. I am sincerely sorry that has occurred and will do even more checks than usual, to prevent errors in the future. ”

If there genuinely are problems with the work and you are responsible, you may only be able to say that you didn’t realize there were mistakes. Then, you could give a list of what you will do in the future to make sure the mistakes don’t happen again. If you cannot do better work, because of problems related to the work or to staffing, use statistics or obviously observable situations, to show how work has increased or staffing has decreased or both. Otherwise your boss will wonder why there were no errors before but now there are.

It is always unnerving to be asked to write a justification about work. We all get defensive and worried.  But, unless you purposely did something wrong, you had a reason for what you did and giving that reason honestly is the only thing you can do.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and want to do so, let us know how things turn out.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.