O’Connor Brewing: Findings of investigation into toxic workplace are ‘troubling and heartbreaking’

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A Norfolk brewery says an independent investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, sexism and racism in the workplace has been completed — and the business calls the findings “troubling and heartbreaking.”

O’Connor Brewing Co. President Kevin O’Connor and Vice President Penny O’Connor released a statement Wednesday night about the findings of an independent third-party investigation into the workplace environment at the popular Norfolk brewery.

The statement did not go into detail about the report’s findings, citing “confidentiality reasons.”

However, the statement said company leadership found the independent report’s findings “troubling and heartbreaking.”

In June, women who previously worked for the brewery anonymously posted on social media saying they faced sexual harassment, sexism and racism at the brewery. The posts claimed leaders of O’Connor had been notified of each instance, but that they had been met with silence or acts of retaliation.

Accusations ranged from telling employees to stop using “girly” tones on O’Connor’s social media, to calling a Filippino employee “oriental,” to issues with pay and work conditions.

The third-party investigator looked at O’Connor’s policies and procedures and interviewed current and former employees.

O’Connor Brewing said the findings of the investigation indicated that while they failed in some regards as they pursued company goals like making quality craft beer, “constructing a new production facility, developing marketing and distribution teams, and staffing a tasting room for events that have honored inclusivity and raised over a million dollars for local charities.”

“While aggressively pursuing these goals, we obviously lost sight of some workplace issues,” the statement reads.

Instead of detailing findings from the independent investigation — which was done by a former director with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — Wednesday’s statement from O’Connor detailed ways the company plans to improve workplace culture.

Some of the efforts listed Wednesday overlap with previous ones that were announced by the company, such as starting diversity, equity, and inclusion and sexual harassment trainings.

  • Implemented a 24/7 anonymous HR hotline for employees to report concerns
  • Revised appropriate personnel policies
  • Instituted quarterly Culture Surveys to learn of any new concerns and to receive new ideas to nurture a safe and supportive workplace
  • Hired an outside firm to conduct DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), sexual harassment and bias training for all employees. O’Connor leadership has also begun executive training to “establish a leadership approach that is thorough and comprehensive.”

“We want everyone to know that we have taken all of this seriously and sincerely apologize for any hurt this has caused anyone. We should have known about these workplace issues sooner and/or handled them much faster and more effectively. As the founders, we take responsibility for this and will work diligently to make certain O’Connor Brewing offers a positive environment for all,” the statement reads.

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