When one party makes an assertion about something, another party may make an argument against it. This is known as a rebuttal, which is a contradictory argument or evidence. Rebuttals are commonly seen in debates, and in legal actions, and are an opportunity for the opposing party to essentially say This is why you’re wrong. In a legal sense, a rebuttal is any evidence presented to refute the other party’s evidence. To explore this concept, consider the following rebuttal definition.

Definition of Rebuttal


  1. A disproof or denial of a fact, by evidence or argument.


1250-1300       Middle English

What is a Rebuttal

A rebuttal is an argument or evidence presented to contradict or disprove another’s reasoning or claim. Such an argument is intended to weaken an opposing party’s claim. This is a tool commonly used in politics and law, when parties are attempting to refute one another’s claims. For example, rebuttal in a public debate involves a moderator, who poses a question to one of the parties. After that party answers the question, the opposing party has a specific amount of time to rebut his or her claims. The rebuttal argument is generally limited to things said during the first party’s answer to the question.

Rebuttal Evidence

Rebuttal evidence is that which is presented to refute evidence presented by the opposing party. According to the American Bar Association, rebuttal evidence may include evidence not already presented in the case, or testimony of a new witness, which contradicts the opposing party’s witnesses.

Example of Rebuttal Evidence

Tim has been charged with burglarizing an apartment in his own apartment building. At trial, the prosecution calls a witness – an elderly woman who lives upstairs from Tim – who testifies that she heard someone walking on the stairs, and looked out to see Tim breaking into a neighbor’s apartment. The woman has a reputation for complaining about other tenants in a variety of situations.

In an attempt to disprove this testimony, or to discredit the witness, Tim’s attorney calls Tim’s work supervisor, who testifies that Tim had clocked in a couple of hours before the burglary, and that he personally interacts with Tim continually at work. He testified that Tim had not clocked out, or left the premises, until at least six hours after the crime was committed.

The attorney then provides the original time card showing that Tim was at work – eight miles away – all day. In this example, rebuttal evidence and testimony discredit the prosecution witness’ story. Because all the defense has to do is create a reasonable doubt as to whether Tim committed the crime, this may be enough for the jury to find him not guilty.

Stages of a Trial

A trial occurs in certain stages, and rebuttal may be presented in its proper time. The stages of trial are as follows:

  • Opening Statements – During this time, attorneys for both parties make a statement to the jury, describing what the defendant has been charged with, and what evidence they will be covering during the trial. This is a small preview of what is to come.
  • Plaintiff’s Case – During this time, the plaintiff in a civil case, or prosecutor in a criminal case, questions witnesses and presents evidence to prove the case.
    • Direct Examination – Questioning of one’s own witness
    • Cross Examination – Questioning of the other party’s witness regarding his previous answers.
  • Defendant’s Case – During this time, the defendant in the case, whether civil or criminal, questions witnesses and presents evidence to disprove the plaintiff’s (or prosecutor’s) case.
    • Direct Examination – Questioning of one’s own witness
    • Cross Examination – Questioning of the other party’s witness regarding his previous answers.
  • Plaintiff’s Rebuttal – Because the plaintiff goes first in any trial (because it has the burden of proving its case), the defendant follows up with evidence and witness testimony of his own. Once the defendant has finished, the plaintiff or prosecutor is allowed to present rebuttal testimony.
  • Jury Instructions – The jury is given specific instructions, by the judge, about how to consider the evidence presented at trial, the law regarding the specific charges, and deliberation.
  • Jury Deliberation – The jury goes into a private room to discuss the case, the evidence and testimony, and how it all applies to the specific charges or complaints.
  • Verdict or Decision – Once the jury has reached a verdict, it is read in open court, before the defendant.

What is a Rebuttal Letter

Keeping in mind the full meaning of the term rebuttal, it may be used to contradict an argument in just about any situation. In employment situations, a rebuttal letter may be used to contradict an employer’s negative assessment of an employee’s performance. If an employee receives a less-than-flattering, or downright negative, performance review, he may submit a written rebuttal letter for his employee file. Other situations in which a rebuttal letter may be a good idea include accusations of policy violations, or wrongful discharge.

Although most people are not happy when they receive a disciplinary or warning letter, many employment professionals agree that writing a rebuttal letter simply to vent isn’t a good idea. There are certain guidelines for planning and writing an effective rebuttal letter when appropriate, however. Any rebuttal letter should:

  • be brief, and to the point, using clear and concise language
  • acknowledge positive comments and suggestions in the evaluation
  • refrain from making accusations against the evaluator or others
  • be written in a positive tone
  • mention positive interactions the employee has had with the evaluator
  • be written in a formal, businesslike tone
  • be free of spelling and grammatical mistakes

How to Write a Rebuttal Letter for Employment

Once an employee decides to write a rebuttal letter in response to a negative evaluation or reprimand, there are certain steps that can be followed to make it as beneficial as possible.

Step 1: Prepare the Letterhead

The employee should include his full name, address, and phone number at the top of the page. Contact the company’s HR department to ask whether there is a specific grievance procedure to follow in submitting a rebuttal letter. Be aware there may be time limitations on submitting a rebuttal letter. Address the letter to the appropriate supervisor, and include the date the letter is written.

Step 2: Body of the Letter

Refer to the performance review or other document by name and date, and reference the person who submitted the review. Identify the specific things you disagree with, clearly stating that you would like to discuss them before the review is added to your personnel file.

Be sure to use professional, non-emotional language in the letter. Quote sections of the review to which you are objecting, then make your arguments against them one at a time. Keep a positive attitude throughout the writing, and make it clear you hope the issue can be resolved.

Step 3: Rebuttal Evidence

Gather evidence to rebut, or contradict the negative findings of the report. This may be done by providing such things as statistics, actual work product, and testimony of a supervisor or co-workers that support the idea that the review was an unfair assessment. If your performance has dropped due to something outside your control, explain the situation. If you feel you have been discriminated against, specifically describe the circumstances.

In addition to discussing the evidence in the letter, attach photocopies of each piece of written evidence to the letter. Specifically ask that a copy of the rebuttal letter, and any evidence submitted with it, be kept in your personnel file.

Step 4: Sending the Letter

Be sure to keep a copy of the performance review, your letter, and any evidence submitted with in your own records. Forward the completed letter to the individual specified by the HR department, or to a supervisor that sits above the reviewer in the chain of command. Letters may be hand delivered, delivered by email, or delivered by regular mail. Whatever method is used in sending the letter, it is important to have some type of confirmation of delivery.

Employment Review Rebuttal Example

Employee’s Name
Employee’s Address
Employee’s Phone Number or Email Address

Date Letter Written

Employer’s Name
Employer’s Address
Method of Delivery (if other than mailing to the address above)

Re:       Performance Evaluation dated [insert date]

Dear [Employer’s Name]:

Please accept this letter as my formal response to the performance evaluation dated [insert date]. I appreciate the fact that my efforts to maintain a good working relationship between members of our team, was expressed so well. I find that working well together within the department has a very positive impact on our efficiency.

I am troubled that, in my evaluation, it is noted that my overall annual sales level decreased since last year, and a recommendation was made to reduce my bonus level as a result. I agree that my sales level was lower this year, however that was because I took 60 of my allowed 90 days for maternity leave. It is my understanding that employees are not to be reduced, docked, demoted, or otherwise penalized for using leave granted to us by law and company policy.

Although my maternity leave was planned well ahead of time, and I provided the required documentation from my doctor, this evaluation makes it sound as though the reason for my lower sales numbers is because I did not work as hard as I did last year. Of course, that is not true. In fact, my average monthly sales since my return from leave are higher than my monthly average last year.

I hereby request that the reason for the drop in my sales totals this past year be changed to reflect my approved leave. I think it would be fair to note my sales totals in terms of monthly average, not including the time I was out on leave. In the event a new or amended evaluation that accurately and fairly represents my work efforts is not given, I request that this letter be attached to my official performance evaluation, and kept in my file.

I am devoted to the company, and enjoy my work, as I generally feel valued and appreciated. Please rest assured that I will continue to do the best job I can, and I am willing to receive any suggestions you may have regarding my performance. I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to discuss this situation, and have faith that it can be quickly resolved.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter. I look forward to hearing from you.


Printed Name of Employee
Signature of Employee

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Evidence – Something which shows that some other thing exists, or is true.
  • Reasonable Doubt – The fact that no other logical explanation exists, given the facts presented, that the accused committed the crime.
  • Verdict – A decision, opinion, or judgment in a civil or criminal trial.

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