Complaints about health and safety in the workplace need to be investigated. If a cause for concern is found, then the business must quickly resolve the problem before it impacts the workplace. A business that ignores employee concerns can be found negligent, which can carry many legal repercussions that could affect business profitability and growth. If disregard for employee complaints becomes public, then the business’s problems can escalate.

Were employee complaints ignored? Arby’s case

 On May 11 an Arby’s manager, Nguyet Le, was found dead in a freezer by her son. The employee was alone at the time, preparing to open the shop. Her attempts to notify someone failed until her son noticed that she was missing. Her children are now suing Arby’s, accusing the company of negligence.

 A former employee came forward to say that the organisation was notified numerous times of the issue, with employees lodging complaints that the latch was broken for a while. The attorney who is representing the family is now calling for a formal investigation to be conducted into the company’s negligence. Her son is claiming that Arby’s has refused to respond to his enquiries, which is part of the reason they are suing the company. 

Similar Cases

 Arby’s case is still ongoing but there are many cases where employer negligence and not listening to employee complaints can have great consequences. In 2022 a NSW court found an employer to be negligent for ‘work-induced fatigue‘ and earlier in the year, R.M. Palmer was being sued for alleged negligence that killed seven people and injured many others, including a neighbour of the company.

Failing to listen to employees or care for their safety only causes more cases similar to these to show up. Unfortunately, employees are usually the ones who pay for employer negligence, with the worst-case scenario leading to death. Any kind of injury or illness needs to be prevented at all costs as employees are not just numbers, they are humans. 


Ignoring employee complaints

There are many disadvantages to ignoring employee complaints and feedback. Usually, nothing positive comes from not listening to employees. Initially, the company may think they have time before they act, they might think they are saving money by not doing anything, but in the long term, the consequences are greater. The main consequences from ignoring employee complaints are:

  • Damaged reputation
  • Lower productivity 
  • Lack of skilled employees
  • Absenteeism
  • Legal trouble

Damaged reputation

Work health and safety breaches are likely to reach people outside of the organisations. If employees lodge multiple complaints that are not taken care of, media outlets may be notified which can cost the business a lot of money. Not only are they risking their employees’ safety, but they are also risking their sales and reputation. Consumers are now looking for socially responsible businesses more than ever. A socially responsible company is one that abides by laws and regulations and goes beyond that to protect its employees. 

 Suppose customers see that the organisation is being negligent and is only after the profit. In that case, they are less likely to purchase from that company and they will look to take their business elsewhere. Companies may need to sacrifice profit in the short term to make more in the long term. 

Lower productivity

Employees who do not feel valued are less likely to work hard as they do not have the motivation to do so. They feel that their safety is not prioritised, the business does not care about their well-being and they are probably not receiving any training or career advancement. Moreover, by not listening to employees, companies reduce the chances of business improvement. Staff see first-hand how the organisation works and where are areas for improvement. If they suggest that something needs to change, it is likely that this will contribute to better outputs.

Lack of skilled employees

Skilled employees who know their worth do not apply to companies that are known for disregarding employee complaints. This means that the company will suffer from missed opportunities to acquire experienced individuals who will contribute to the company’s success. Your experienced employees are also more likely to apply for positions in other companies that are willing to listen to them and make them feel part of the company. Ignoring employee complaints for health and safety does not earn loyalty but taking action to resolve issues does. 


Absenteeism in an unsafe workplace is likely to occur for a number of reasons. These include:

  • Injury
  • Illness
  • Burnout
  • Mental health issues

Injuries occur when workers are dealing with machinery and equipment they are not familiar with. Illness may be because of substances they are exposed to or a long-term condition they developed over time. Burnout can occur when employees are overwhelmed with work, especially if they complete tasks that are not in their job description or if they are given more tasks than they can handle. Mental health issues can be the result of one or more of these. Injuries, illness and burnout can cause employees to feel anxious, depressed and constantly tired.

Legal trouble

As mentioned in the cases above, employer negligence can lead to companies being sued. Lawsuits can cost organisations a lot of money and investigations can be time-consuming. Neither of these is beneficial for business growth; quite the opposite, it can slow it down. Once a company has proven to be negligent, it will gain the government’s interest, with many countries requiring government agents to perform periodical checks on the business. 

How to prevent negligence

Preventing negligence when it comes to health and safety means preventing employee injuries and death. Just because death is rare, it does not mean it does not happen. Unfortunately, a lot of the time those deaths can be avoided. How? By:

  • Setting up a complaint line
  • Having a conversation
  • Training employees
  • Looking for constant improvement
  • Promoting mental health programs
  • Hiring the right people

Setting a complaints line

A complaint line, especially a confidential one, is necessary for employees to report risks in the workplace or potential safety hazards. The ways employees can lodge complaints should be clearly explained to them whether that is through a specified line or directly to their manager. However, it is not enough to have a complaints line. Employers should read each complaint lodged, determine what action needs to be taken, and monitor for recurring complaints/trends to identify systemic issues. Maybe more training needs to be provided or certain equipment needs to be updated to be safer for employees to operate.

Having a conversation

The best way to understand what is happening with employee health and well-being is to sit down and have a conversation with them. Ask them:

  • How their life is going
  • Do they feel supported
  • Have they seen something they would like to report?
  • Do they feel safe at the workplace?
  • Is there something the company can do to make them feel safer?

Make it clear that there is no pressure for employees to answer these questions. The meeting is voluntary and anything they say will not jeopardise their job. Employees should feel encouraged to come up and report a hazard, not scared and fearing for their future career. In 2022, a  McDonald’s worker was fired after she reported to the company that sexual harassment was taking place in her workplace, and she is now suing the company.

What this action does is silence victims and deter them from coming forward. A workplace where employees are afraid to lodge complaints will have a high turnover and a lot of unnecessary training costs because of new applicants.

Training employees

To avoid the costs of training new employees constantly, a business should focus on training its current employees better. Courses on work health and safety, behaviour at work and how the complaint process works are very useful in any workplace. Moreover, allowing employees to undertake personal training of their choice can contribute to greater job satisfaction.

Looking for constant improvement

Listening to employee feedback can help a company grow at a faster rate. Employees interact with customers, they listen to their concerns, they interact with their colleagues in the work environment and they know what the customers and the team need. If employee feedback is received for a certain area of the business, schedule a meeting with staff members and discuss their reasoning. Even if the change does not go through, explain your reasoning too – the fact that their manager was willing to talk further will go a long way.

Promoting mental health programs

There are a lot of mental health programs that can help employees manage their workload, seek help and know how to handle pressure. However, these programs might not show employees how to deal with these on a daily basis all year round, as it can be unrealistic. Employers should encourage work-life balance, so staff members do now grow resentful towards their job. Encourage employees to take a holiday if they need it, as many times they may feel bad for taking one. With strong mental health programs and support from their employers, employees are more likely to lodge complaints and be open.

Hiring the right people

The most important element of creating a safe workplace is thinking of what kind of people you want to employ. The employees have the power to make or break the work environment. Hiring positive individuals who are welcoming, inclusive and committed can ensure that the business is a nice place for people to collaborate. However, individuals who discriminate, alienate and mistreat other staff members can create a negative work environment where people are afraid to speak up. Complaint rates may rise eventually as employees are tired of the current situation but there will always be a fear of retaliation.

This is why it is important to choose the right individuals, as they can build a strong support system for one another and many times, resolve issues on their own. Staff will also encourage each other to report hazards as they care for everyone’s safety.

Wrapping up

It is important to respond to complaints received by employees or customers. They can both indicate that something can be improved, and help the company avoid fatal accidents and legal trouble.

To help our customers protect their workplace, Polonious assists them in carrying out various types of investigations, including health and safety. Once our customers pick their investigation team, they trust us to assist them and make the process easier for them.

We automate workflows, allow investigators to colour code risks and store all files in one safe place. We are ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 certified, as we know how essential confidentiality and security is. Do you want to save money and time when conducting investigations? Reach out!