BrewDog chief executive accused of inappropriate behavior by current and former employees

·4 min read
BrewDog's DogTap Columbus, 96 Gender Road in Canal Winchester.
BrewDog's DogTap Columbus, 96 Gender Road in Canal Winchester.

Brewdog chief executive and co-founder James Watt has been accused of inappropriate behavior and abuse of power in the workplace by employees.

The allegations are coming out of a documentary by BBC Scotland, where the brewery was founded. According to the news organization, over a dozen current and former employees of the company have made accusations against Watt, including employees from BrewDog's Central Ohio locations.

Lawyers for Watt have said the allegations are false and he denies having behaved inappropriately.

Last year, 300 former and current BrewDog employees signed an open letter accusing the BrewDog chief of leading over a "toxic" workplace culture. Watt at the time responded to the letter with an apology, and a subsequent response from former employees foreshadowed the current accusations.

"Many of the things that ground us down at BrewDog will never be proved, because they happened in person, and thus we felt we had to remain vague – citing specific examples could expose people to repercussions," read the second open letter, published by Punks with a Purpose, a group formed in 2020 to call out the company and its silence during allegations of more widespread sexism and misogyny. "It's not our intention to share more stories at this moment, but make no mistake – we hear these people, we believe and support them, and if the right circumstances arise, we will help amplify their voices too."

The documentary now sheds light on additional claims, including that female employees of the BrewDog DogTap, the brewery's flagship taproom and facility in Canal Winchester, would intentionally dress down as to not draw attention from Watt, and that Watt had been witnessed by staff kissing an intoxicated customer on the roof of BrewDog's Franklinton bar.

Other accusations included that Watt had been witnessed flirting with a staff member before taking her to the roof at BrewDog's Canal Winchester headquarters, and regularly took intoxicated women customers on private, late-night tours of the DogTap brewery, making employees feel uncomfortable.

Watt's lawyer told the BBC that he does not just take female customers on private tours, but "both women and men, friends and customers," and that people who accompany him are not intoxicated.

The lawyer said the claim, made last year, was investigated by BrewDog USA's human resources and was not substantiated.

As for claims Watt gave unwanted attention to female staff members, the lawyer pointed to an investigation by Worthington-based human resources outsourcing firm Centric HC, which concluded there was "no substance" to the claims.

BrewDog USA's press relations team provided a statement to The Columbus Dispatch, similarly noting the claims are "not accurate" but that Watt has expressed "considerable regret" if his behavior has made staff feel uncomfortable.

"To those former crew members for whom BrewDog failed to meet their expectations, we are sorry," read the statement, attributed to BrewDog chairman Allan Leighton. "To those who felt strongly enough about their experience to participate in the programme, we urge them to get in touch with our HR Team or use our independent ethics hotline so we can listen and act. Their feedback is hugely valuable."

The report by BBC Scotland came just five days after a different BBC investigation, which found BrewDog had sent multiple shipments of beer to the US with ingredients not approved by federal law in 2016 and 2017. Those claims were made by Scottish staff and one U.S.-based importer.

On Jan. 19, Watt published a post on LinkedIn, entitled "My Biggest Mistakes As BrewDog CEO," where he admitted to making "some mistakes with the paperwork" on some of the company's first beer shipments to the U.S., but that the company self-reported the issue to the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), though he does not say when.

Officials with the TTB told BBC that a three-year statute of limitations prevented any action from being taken against BrewDog.

In a provided statement from BrewDog USA, the company again noted the issue was self-reported and that it is committed to "world-class compliance."

"We are confident in our ongoing compliance practices and can confirm these instances were one-offs as BrewDog entered the US market over 5 years ago," the statement read. "Further, we have confirmed that all ingredients in the 2016 and 2017 Elvis Juice and Jet Black Heart recipes are approved in the US for consumption and were at all times safe for consumption and legal."

tmoorman@dispatch.com

@TaijuanNichole

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: BrewDog co-founder James Watt accused of inappropriate behavior

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