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BrewDog whistleblowers: ‘They need to work on being the company they say they are’

After more than 70 BrewDog staff tabled a formal grievance against the company, we spoke to five workers who want the firm to live up to their 'punk' image.

Picture shows; Brewdog . Aberdeen. Supplied by DCT
Picture shows; Brewdog . Aberdeen. Supplied by DCT

Past and present BrewDog staff have urged bosses to “be who they say they are” after tabling a raft of complaints.

We exclusively revealed yesterday that dozens of staff from the Ellon-based firm, which employs thousands around the world, have alleged there is a “toxic culture of bullying” at the firm.

Unite the Union said it is one of the worst cases they have ever seen and has tabled a formal grievance, urging CEO James Arrow to act.

On the eve of the company’s AGM in Ellon tomorrow, we spoke with five workers about their experience working for BrewDog.

They allege:

  • staff are told to serve beer towers to drunk punters just before last orders
  • a bartender was disciplined after attending a friend’s funeral
  • one server raised concerns about EDL members – and was sacked
  • bosses sometimes don’t check if starters do legally necessary training
  • cellars are dangerous as staff have to clamber over barrels to change taps
  • a bartender was assaulted and wasn’t allowed to go home
  • a chef worked open til close and slept in his car before another shift

They are so concerned about being sacked for speaking out they would only be interviewed if we didn’t identify them.

Philip is a bartender who works in one of BrewDog’s three Aberdeen bars.

He said: “The camaraderie among staff is great. It makes you feel part of a team – but that’s in spite of the management culture.

“You report something, nothing happens and then people just stop reporting stuff.

‘A worker paid a £50 taxi and wasn’t refunded’

“At my bar, kitchen and front-of-house equipment is broken and is left as long as possible before being fixed, meaning customer and staff safety is genuinely compromised.

“It’s the same with HR and IT.

“In one case, a lad covered a Christmas Eve shift on the basis that the company paid for his taxi him. It cost him £50 and he never got it back.

“Expense claims can take six months. People just don’t try.

“The pressure to ‘press on’ is severe. You can work six hours, earn a break and then see that your teammate is drowning in bar queues so you skip the break.

‘She asked to go home – but the boss refused’

“One chef claimed that he had worked from noon until 11pm, slept in his car outside and then worked a 10-hour shift the next day.

“Among the worst things I’ve seen is a female colleague who intervened to break up a far fight and was herself assaulted.

“You can imagine how distressing that was for her.

BrewDog co-founders Martin Dickie, left, and James Watt.
BrewDog co-founders Martin Dickie, left, and James Watt. Image: Paul Glendell/DC Thomson

“She was upset and asked to go home – but the boss refused, and the incident didn’t get recorded.

“What we want is better pay and to be listened to genuinely and constructively so the company practices what it preaches in its marketing material.”

Nicola is a bartender who has worked for three years at a Brewdog bar in the north of England.

“Our cellar is dangerous. A manager injured his hip moving kegs and had to leave as a result.

“His replacement had been accused of harassing women at his previous job.

“People who had worked with him at his previous job were coming into Brewdog crying in shock that he had been hired.

‘Make sure female staff are not left alone with him’

“None of his references got back, so my colleague went to his old manager who said they had let him go because of his behaviour towards women.

“Brewdog’s area manager told us: ‘While we look into it, make sure none of the female staff are left alone with him’.

“After several weeks, he was eventually fired because he threatened to sack people who didn’t like him.”

Some of the beers BrewDog makes from its base in Ellon. Image supplied by BrewDog

“We find out about in-bar events from Brewdog social media.

“We then have to delete Instagram posts because we don’t have the facilities to make the food in the promotion.

“On Father’s Day we had ‘fathers eat for free’ and we had no warning. It was chaotic.

“One person was cooking for 60 people with a 90-minute wait.

‘The bathroom at our bar is falling apart’

“The BrewDog app was still taking table bookings and we had to wait an hour for IT to turn it off, while angry customers were storming out.

“New starters have to do licensing training. It can be overdue for four months.

“They haven’t been properly trained and managers aren’t checking they know about refusing people service or food hygiene.

“They emphasise how they want to ‘hear all your thoughts because we’re a big, family company and we’re punk and we’re cool and we’re edgy’. But that’s not our experience.

“They need to invest more in the way the bars look – the bathroom at our bar is falling apart.

“Also, they need to collaborate more with staff who are at the coal face and they need to pay people better.”

BrewDog's brewery in Ellon
BrewDog’s brewery in Ellon. Image supplied by BrewDog.

John has worked as a bartender for 18 months at a BrewDog bar in the south of England.

“Managers encourage you to do health-and-safety training and Challenge 25, but we’re not explicitly told to do it.

“Announcements are made on the day they are implemented and it causes panic.

‘A colleague was distressed. They sacked her’

“We were told our opening hours would be longer as of that day – and so worked until 4am with no notice.

“On St George’s Day, English Defence League supporters came, with their England flags.

“A manager was made aware this would happen at least a week before.

“A colleague, who is a person of colour, was distressed because her family and friends had had encounters with EDL supporters before.

“Rather than dealing with it, management fired the staff member.

“Managers make out that the union is the enemy, while calling themselves ‘punks’.

“They are co-opting this really political term, corporatising it and stripping it of its meaning.

‘Eight of us did were made to do a last-minute deep clean until 2am’

“The cellar is tiny. You have to clamber over kegs to change taps and there is water everywhere and electric wires. It’s definitely a safety risk.

“In February the company got wind of an impending inspection the next day.

Inside BrewDog's DogTap bar in Ellon.
Inside BrewDog’s DogTap bar in Ellon. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

“Eight of us were made to do a last-minute deep clean until 2am because the cellar was so bad.

“I want Brewdog to own their mistakes rather than go on the defensive.

“I want them to do what they say on the tin in terms of paying liveable wages.”

Jacob recently left his job as a bartender at the London Waterloo branch where he had worked since August 2022.

“There are no inductions for new staff. They just throw people in.

“Starters are supposed to do a computer course that show they understand licensing law.

‘We sell 3-litre beer towers 10 minutes before last orders’

“It can take months for managers to check they have done that training.

“So new workers don’t understand serious things like food hygiene and bar safety.

“You’re often encouraged to serve drunk people because some managers are obsessed with hitting quotas.

“We have these beer towers of 3-litres and we were encouraged to sell as many 10 minutes before the bar shuts – to meet our quota.

“Staff have said ‘we’re not comfortable with this’ and been told by bosses ‘we don’t care.’

BrewDog’s Waterloo bar which was opened in August 2022. Image: Simon Jacobs/PA Wire

“Since 44 staff signed a letter of complaint to management a few months ago, they have done many disciplinaries against them.

“It’s the hypocrisy of Brewdog – they are growth-orientated at all costs, yet call themselves punks.

“To improve – they need to communicate with staff better, work on being the company they say they are and accept it’s a bar, not a military operation or a convent.

“Pay us good money, let us do our jobs and we will.”

‘I went to a funeral and was told I let the company down’

Jenny has worked as a bartender for a Brewdog bar in England for three years.

“There was one time I asked for time off to attend the funeral of a close friend who died – a young person.

“I turned my phone off for a few days and turned it onto many voicemails and texts.

“The boss claimed I hadn’t told anyone and had let the company down – and brought a disciplinary against me. I was absolutely devastated.

“Earlier this year, 44 people signed a letter of complaint. Of those, 42 are gone.

“The only improvement the letter made was that security now count how many people are in the bar as beforehand it was carnage.

“There is absolutely no oversight of licensing training. We have a poster for Challenge 25 barely on display on our top shelf, hidden.

‘We need full confidence we will be heard’

“Sometimes I will ask for ID and a less experienced colleague will say ‘I’ve already sold the drink’. They have done the training and nobody has checked.

“We find out on Yapster (the company’s communication platform) ‘this new product is launching today’ – at 8am, so we walk through the door and are told ‘just find some ingredients and make it happen’.

“We have 35 beers and the cellar is tiny.

“To change a keg, you have to stand on top of three kegs and climb over on your hands and knees – and there is water all over the floor from ice machines. It’s very dangerous.

“To improve things, we need full confidence from managers that we will be heard.

“Otherwise our incredibly high staff turnover will get even worse.”

BrewDog responds

A BrewDog spokesperson said: “We’re totally committed to making BrewDog a brilliant place to work and we will continue to engage directly with our people to that end.”

In response to the specific incident related to the staff member and EDL supporters, BrewDog released a statement: “The standards of behaviour we expect from our colleagues are set out in our workplace code of conduct. There was a clear and unacceptable breach of this code in this instance.

“We followed all relevant processes and complied with our investigation and disciplinary policies, and we stand by our decision.”