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Brewdog boss denies inappropriate behaviour amid allegations female staff felt ‘uncomfortable’

Brewdog's chief executive, James Watt, has come under fire in the BBC documentary
Brewdog's chief executive, James Watt, has come under fire in the BBC documentary

The “captain” of north-east beer giant Brewdog has denied any inappropriate behaviour following allegations from former staff.

BBC’s Disclosure: The Truth about Brewdog looked into allegations about the brand’s workplace culture.

More than 15 ex-Brewdog workers spoke out about chief executive James Watt, alleging he made female bartenders feel “uncomfortable” and “powerless”.

Lawyers for Mr Watt have strongly denied all the allegations.

The critical documentary airs just months after the self-styled “punk” brewery apologised to current and former employees who had signed an open letter alleging a “culture of fear” in which workers were bullied in a “toxic” work environment.

In tonight’s documentary, journalist Mark Daly spoke to more than 15 former staff members, as well as some shareholders.

As well as allegations of inappropriate behaviour, claims emerged that Mr Watt – a vocal critic of “bland” big beer companies – has invested £500,000 in Dutch beer Heineken.

Rob MacKay, former “Munitions and Propaganda” – marketing – at Brewdog told the BBC’s Disclosure programme he was “astonished” to learn of Mr Watt’s personal investment and said it undermines BrewDog investors.

Brewdog now has chains across the US – and 15 employees from these bars spoke to BBC Disclosures

Lawyers insist sexual encounter did not happen

Brewdog, which has its headquarters in Ellon, was set up by Mr Watt and friend Martin Dickie in 2007. In 2016, they expanded to America and opened their first chain in Ohio.

There are now eight bars across three states.

In the documentary, former staff at these alleged there had been inappropriate incidents on the roof terrace bar and that female employees were advised on how to handle Mr Watt’s unwelcome attention.

Former bar manager Dylan Grey also claimed he would reschedule shifts for his female colleagues if Mr Watt was in town.

Dylan Grey, former manager at Brewdog would reschedule female workers so that they would avoid Mr Watt when he visited.

Former manager Meg Herman claimed Mr Watt had been “flirtatious” with an employee one evening at Brewdog’s Canal Winchester outlet in Ohio.

She said: “He ends up going up to the roof with her, and no-one on staff, that was downstairs, felt comfortable with it.

“He could’ve gone anywhere else but he didn’t.

“And that is a power trip.”

Ms Herman was later fired for stealing but she claims that there was an understanding that any unsaleable stock was allowed to be taken by staff.

Mr Watt’s lawyer rebuffed the claims regarding the rooftop bar.

He said: “At no time did Mr Watt have a sexual encounter on the roof terrace of the Franklinton bar… We hold a statement from the only party that Mr Watt could have been present with at the Franklinton Bar. She has confirmed in her statement that Mr Watt and her did visit the roof briefly, but absolutely no sexual encounter took place. She has also confirmed that far from being intoxicated, she drove herself home that evening.”

Mr Watt’s lawyer said that they also “hold a statement from the manager of BrewDog Franklinton, that it has never been reported to him, nor does he have any knowledge of Mr Watt ever having any kind of sexual encounter with someone on the rooftop bar.”

BrewDog’s chairman Allan Leighton believes Mr Watt, pictured, has changed his management style since the open letter was published last year

‘Culture of fear’

Another former employee told the BBC the environment at work every day was “blokey and laddish” and “aggressively sexualised”.

Former staff member Jenny Lane, who worked at Brewdog for three years, believes that this behaviour and work environment came from the higher-ups in the company.

She claimed: “There was absolutely a culture of fear surrounding interactions with James.

“For all of the really cool, interesting and brilliant things that James Watt did, what he has turned into for me is a person who thrives on fear and chaos and being in control.”

Other employees said they were “terrified” of him.

BrewDog chairman Allan Leighton said he’d been given assurances from Mr Watt the BBC’s claims were not accurate, and were based on misinformation.

Mr Leighton said: “James has committed to making improvements to his management style.

“Since publication of the open letter in 2021, the board has overseen a major independent review into our culture and we have implemented a wide-ranging action plan to address the issues raised.”

Mr Watt declined to be interviewed for the BBC Disclosure programme.

Brewdog has been approached for comment.

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