· News

Backlash as BrewDog HR team responds to toxic work claims

BrewDog's people team has seemingly responded to Punks with Purpose's campaign alleging negative experiences of former employees, but the response has exacerbated the issues.

On 9 June the Punks with Purpose campaign released an open letter to their former employer on Twitter claiming they had been belittled and pressured into working beyond their capacity. 

A day later, the group shared an email that reportedly had been circulated to current employees of BrewDog by HR asking for their support against the claims of toxic workplace culture. 

Catch up on the whole story:

Former Brewdog employees claim staff aren’t treated like human beings 

KPMG, Apple, BrewDog: How should HR handle a media storm?

Brewdog's James Watt: Why I gave away £100m to my staff (2022)

The email stated: “We cannot remain quiet when we know that creating a public perception of BrewDog as a bad place to work could potentially jeopardies job security.”

It asked staff to sign a pre-written letter explaining that while they recognise the experiences of those associated with the campaign group, they dispute them.

Speaking to HR magazine a spokesperson from Punks with Purpose said the new email has only reinforced toxic culture claims they have made.

They said: “The open letter initially sent by BrewDog to staff to sign before a tight deadline, that was not written by the workers but allegedly by the people team, completely backs up our claims of the culture of fear endemic at BrewDog."

James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog, released a statement on 17 June which said the events from the past few days have caused a lot of pain for all team members and that the community apologises for that.

“The second response put out by James is a grotesque attempt to excuse the behaviour of BrewDog by insinuating that those who signed the letter were incapable of keeping up with BrewDog culture.”

The Punks with Purpose campaign currently has over 300 signatures from former and current workers.

The spokesperson added: "For BrewDog to suggest that this number is mere collateral from expansion is obscene and fails to understand the gravity of the situation.

“The statement also fails to put any concrete actions in place. A full independent investigation involving both former and present staff is the only way to uncover the insidious heritage forged by BrewDog.

“The statement dismisses the Punks with Purpose letter as feedback. This is not feedback, this is a demand for action.” 

Watt previously told HR magazine that the businesses focus now is not on contradicting or contesting the details of the letter, but to listen, learn and act.

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula UK, said employers who find themselves in a situation such as BrewDog's may choose to take a different approach due to concerns that their response may come across as being dismissive of ex-employees’ personal experiences.

Palmer told HR magazine: "Whether or not they agree with what is being said, there needs to be consideration of people’s feelings and an employer cannot state how an employee (whether current or ex) feels.

"However, it can also be argued that such a response would be proportionate in order to protect an employer’s legitimate business interests."

Either way, Palmer said any steps which an employer decides to take in a situation like this should show consideration for their company’s interests as well as the rights of their employees.

"They must ensure that their business practices are both fit for purpose and within the parameters of the law," she advised. 

In his most recent statement, Watt said: “I am ultimately responsible for the culture of our business. The letter that ex-colleagues wrote is 100% my fault.

“I owe it to all of you to be very candid about some mistakes that I have that have detrimentally impacted our culture.

“In the hard and fast environment of high growth, I have all too often neglected many important people and elements of the business.”

The danger of a toxic workplace: 

Investigations into cultural practices: when should HR bring in outside help?

Over half of UK employees have worked in a toxic workplace

One in five Brits quit their job due to toxic culture