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Brewdog: an avoidable PR disaster?

A recent decision in the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that an Employment Tribunal was entitled to reject an employer’s ‘reasonable steps’ defence to a claim of racial harassment.

In the case of Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen the tribunal rejected an employer’s ‘reasonable steps’ defence that they had provided equality and diversity training to an employee who was found to have made racist remarks towards another employee.

The tribunal accepted that training had been provided – but it found that the training had been delivered in early 2015.  As a result, the tribunal described this as ‘clearly stale’. It was held that the employer had not taken all reasonable steps to avoid discrimination, identifying that a reasonable step would have been to provide refresher training. The employer appealed this decision to the EAT, who agreed with the tribunal’s approach.

This decision should act as a prompt for employers to review their equality and diversity procedures.

Could Brewdog have avoided a PR disaster?

As many of you will be aware, closer to home just recently, dozens of former staff at the UK’s largest craft brewer, Brewdog, accused the company of fostering a ‘culture of fear’ and ‘misogyny’ in an open letter.

More than 60 former workers at the Aberdeenshire-based company, using the name ‘Punks with Purpose’, said: ‘The single biggest shared experience of former staff is a residual feeling of fear. Fear to speak out about the atmosphere we were immersed in, and fear of repercussions even after we have left.’

The letter said: ‘a significant number of people have admitted they have suffered mental illness as a result of working at Brewdog’. It went on to say the brewer of Punk IPA: ‘fostered a culture within craft beer that deifies founders, and gives weight to sexist and misogynistic brewers who claim to be standing up for free speech.’

James Watt, BrewDog’s chief executive, apologised and said the company was sorry and would not contest the allegations but would ‘listen, learn and act’.

Had the company had effective equality and diversity measures in place, this situation could have been avoided.

Training must be effective

The backlash Brewdog has faced is an example of the importance of ensuring effective equality and diversity training is in place – and that this is engrained in the culture of the business.

The EAT decision mentioned above highlights that not only must employers be proactive in implementing and preaching equality and diversity training, they must also ensure this training is regularly revisited with refresher training courses.

The case also highlights the importance of the content of the training. Not only must employees receive training on equality and diversity and what this means, there must also be adequate training on how allegations or complaints should be dealt with, to allow employees to feel they can speak up against mistreatment such as that experienced by Brewdog employees.

Employers should also ensure they have up to date policies in place which are regularly reviewed.

Employees should not feel fearful to speak out against sexism and other derogatory behaviours in the workplace. With these recent cases in mind, you may find it useful to conduct a health check of your current HR practices and general culture, with regards to equality and diversity.

By offering the right training, keeping the conversation going and creating an inclusive environment for staff, your business can avoid the kind of situations we’ve talked about in this article.