Whistle-blower alleges 'unlawful' practices at Codemasters

A former Codemasters employee has publicly accused the publisher of unlawful business practices. Semi Essessi, programmer on the flop Bodycount, claims that Codemasters has threatened former staff with bankruptcy proceedings over a dispute regarding wages the company claims were mistakenly paid out.

Once a programmer at Codemaster's shuttered Guildford, England, studio, Essessi paints a picture of a workplace where his employer failed to pay employees overtime or comply with labor laws.

In a revealing blog post, Essessi said that Codemasters frequently infringed on employees' rights. Specifically, he notes that during his time as programmer for Bodycount, Codemasters failed to give workers at least 11 hours of rest between any 24-hour work period as well as a complete 24-hour break during any single work week.

"I can no longer recall if I opted out of the European Working Time Directive as part of my contract - but I believe I did," Essessi wrote, citing the law which mandates a "minimum number of holidays each year, paid breaks, and rest." Essessi states that the only right that can be waived as part of opting out of the directive is that of a maximum amount of hours per week (48 hours) and that rest periods cannot be affected.

"There was no effort to enforce the directive on the part of Codemasters, which is dubious given how effectively access to the office was restricted during the consultancy period," he wrote.

In response to unpaid overtime hours, Codemasters responded to Eurogamer that while the company did "appreciate" a focus to complete the project, "it was made clear and communicated upfront to everyone that [for] those who did work, no TOIL or overtime pay would be made for those extra hours."

Following the studio's closure, Essessi said employees were given a substantial extra sum on their checks. "After lots of pub discussion the overriding opinion was that they had seen sense and had decided to pay us all a bit extra to keep us quiet about just how illegally the studio had been running," he theorized.

Soon, Codemasters came calling, saying the additional sum was given in error. After a number of deadlines were not met, a lawyer for the company sent Essessi--and presumably all employees who had failed to return the money--a letter stating the company would take failure of pay "of your insolvency, in which circumstances it will be entitled to petition for your bankruptcy."

In response to his post, a Codemasters rep said: "The company has been, and continues to be, in open dialogue with Semi regarding the reimbursement of funds paid into his account following an administrative error, as it is entitled to."

"As the conversation regarding his personal situation is ongoing, the company has not, as alleged, pursued it as a legal matter with him. The company's advisers are now aware of the additional comments that Semi has published and these will be addressed with him directly through the appropriate channels as necessary," they added.

The deadline Codemasters set before filing for bankruptcy proceedings against its former staff is January 20.

Essessi says he went public because he feels he is in the right and not because his position was made redundant. Nor does he say he is attempting to "weasel out of paying money," which he says he will gladly give back "provided [Codemasters] make it reasonable for me to do so."

"I do it because it is the right thing to do - because I am sick and tired of big businesses being incompetent and getting away with it because of fear and naivete. I don't like bullies, I never have, I never will."