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The importance of listening to an employee with something to ‘moan’ about

Published 31 August 2021

We all like a good whinge about work from time to time but when it is a serious complaint there is a right way for an employer to deal with it. 

Any number of work-related matters can rightly or wrongly give an employee cause to feel aggrieved. 

It may be about a task they are asked to perform, a colleague, treatment by management or working conditions. 

Sometimes just having a good moan to a workmate or anyone who cares to listen is enough, and no further action is needed. 

But when it is a serious matter that an employer needs to address, dealing with it correctly is crucial. 

It is easy to be dismissive of an employee who appears to complain too much, but as one employer has discovered doing so can be a costly mistake. 

A female mortgage advisor was awarded £23,000 in compensation after she was sacked for ‘always moaning’ (1)  

She was dismissed two days after complaining of feeling ‘stressed’ due to working more than 48 hours a week. 

Other matters raised along with working long hours related to her salary, commission paid and sick pay. 

The employer reportedly justified the decision to dismiss her by saying it was because of poor performance, despite the fact she had been rewarded in the same year with a bottle of champagne for doing so well at work. 

An employment tribunal judge ruled she was unfairly dismissed for being a ‘moaner’ and awarded the claimant compensation, unpaid sick pay and owed commission. 

The matters complained about are all legitimate concerns, and the type that any employer should take seriously and consider fairly. 

For example, an employee cannot work more than 48 hours a week on average - normally averaged over 17 weeks. This law is sometimes called the ‘working time directive’ or ‘working time regulations’ (2)  

An employee can of course choose to work more hours by opting out of the 48-hour week. 

And employees suffering work-related stress is a major issue for employers. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the rate of work-related stress depression and anxiety has increased in recent years (3)  

The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2019/20 was 828,000, which was statistically significantly higher than the previous period.  

The figures from the HSE also show the total number of working days lost due to stress related illnesses in 2019/20 was 17.9 million days.  

It is not just complaints about working hours and stress that an employer has to take seriously, any formal complaint by an employee should be considered sensibly and reasonably. 

The most common way for an employee to raise a matter of concern is by submitting a formal grievance (4)  

Dealing with such a complaint effectively can make-or-break a working relationship.  

Grievances are concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employer.  

All employers should have a formal written grievance procedure, which has been communicated to staff and is available to them. 

The grounds for grievance can vary widely and include bullying, harassment, discrimination, unlawful deduction of wages, unfavourable treatment for being a whistle-blower or any other form of unfair treatment. 

There is a minimum statutory procedure which should be followed in dealing with a grievance, which is based on the ACAS Code of Practice (5)  

Key points in the Code include: 

  • If possible try to resolve the matter informally. 
  • Deal with the matter without unreasonable delay. 
  • If the matter cannot be resolved informally invite the employee to a grievance hearing, allow them to be accompanied and to fully explain their complaint and how it should be resolved. 
  • Following the meeting decide on what action, if any, to take. 
  • The employee should be informed that they can appeal if they are not content with the action taken. 

Any formal grievance investigation can be stressful for the employee and those involved so it is important for employers to consider the well-being and mental health of their employees and offer support where needed. 


1 £23,000 compensation awarded, [Internet] [Cited 31.8.21] 

2 Working time directive, [Internet] [cited 31.8.21] 

3 Increase in anxiety & depression, [Internet] [cited 31.8.21] 

4 Submitting a grievance , [cited 31.8.21] 

5 Acas code of practice, www, [Internet] [Cited 31.8.21] 


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