D-BRIEF – Employment & Pensions Blog: How to deal with allegations of having a toxic workplace

BrewDog, the craft brewers, have been in the media spotlight recently amidst allegations of having a toxic workplace culture and bullying claims from their employees. Media sources have indicated that BrewDog has apologised to its employees in light of these allegations; however, allegations of bullying or having a toxic workplace are something that many employers can face from time to time. In this article we review the best ways for employers to deal with these allegations should they arise.

Workplace Policy
If employers don’t already have a policy covering bullying then they should consider implementing one. Having a policy not only shows employees that you take such allegations seriously, but it is also a useful guide for employers to ensure a proper process is followed.

Act Swiftly and Seriously
Any allegation of bullying or having a toxic workplace should be dealt with seriously and investigated as soon as possible. Speaking to the employee(s) who raised the complaints should be paramount as this will enable employers to understand the alleged issues and what steps may help resolve these. For allegations of bullying, employers may wish to consider putting in place temporary arrangements to ensure the employee(s) raising the complaint do not have to work closely with those they have made allegations against.

Maintaining Impartiality and an Open Mind
In circumstances that employers are having to deal with allegations of a toxic working environment or bullying, it is essential that any investigation launched to deal with these allegations is seen as a truly impartial investigation. Identifying and choosing an investigator that has experience and sufficient time to deal with the investigation will assist in achieving the levels of impartiality required. In cases where there are issues raised about workplace culture or where the allegations are made at a senior level, you may wish to consider appointing a third party outside the organisation to investigate.

Thorough Investigations are the Best Investigations
As referred to above, it is critical that investigators/employers speak to all those raising complaints and even potentially the wider workforce to obtain a clear picture of the experiences of the employees. Any investigation in respect of a toxic working environment will need to be extensive and look at the shared actions and values of the employer which can contribute to a toxic culture, and make recommendations on how these can be dealt with.

Supporting those making the complaint
In circumstances that an employee has raised concerns about bullying or a toxic work environment, it is critical that the employer provides the appropriate support. This can vary from the provision of staff support networks, counselling or specialist external organisations that provide support. It is also essential that any complaint or allegation raised by an employee is dealt with confidentially.

The timing of issuing a report in relation to allegations of a toxic workplace is critical. Publishing too soon could lead to allegations of the employer not taking allegations seriously enough or rushing the investigation, but publishing too late could lead to allegations of the employer not doing enough in response to the initial “toxic” allegations. Finding the balance between the two is the key to avoid either of these criticisms.

Lessons to be Learnt
Any findings from an investigation will need to be thoroughly addressed, and could lead to a series of spin off disciplinary proceedings against employees within the company. Once any disciplinary proceedings have been dealt with, it is then important for employers to continue to encourage an open and safe workplace for all employees to discuss any concerns and raise issues in a safe and confidential manner.

Whilst a thorough workplace investigation and any consequential disciplinary proceedings may be time consuming, these are important to ensure employee(s) feel their concerns are being listened to and addressed. If an investigation does conclude that there needs to be a change in culture, listening to individuals and tackling their concerns will be the first step on a long road to bringing about a positive change.

If you require any additional information in respect of the issues discussed within this article or consider that you may require a third party investigator, please contact a member of the Employment Team.

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