When we last left Sensory Sweep, the Utah studio that just stopped paying employees, it cut a deal with the government to pay back nearly $1 million by September. That hasn't happened, and its founder is facing tax evasion charges.
The Salt Lake City Weekly has a comprehensive roundup of the Sensory Sweep fiasco, and it won't fill you with holiday cheer. But I do encourage you to read it out of respect for these workers and their families, caught up in the studio's deceptions and paid in promises for a year.
In addition to the unpaid wages, the company had stopped paying insurance premiums and 401(k) contributions, even though workers' checks (when they were getting them) had still been deducted for them. The lack of insurance means former employee Paul Grimshaw is looking at bankruptcy over an unpaid dental claim.
The federal government, which negotiated the back-pay deal way back in January, is using threats of jail to collect back taxes from founder Dave Rushton and his wife Maureen, but not to get destitute employees the money they were owed. In other words, some guy and his wife made money off people's free labor, and the government's first in line to be paid, not the workers. Utah's Labor Commission needs prosecutors if it's going to bring state criminal charges against an employer who does not pay, and that kind of case hasn't been brought in 10 years.
Oh, and speaking of taxes? A former employee, who sent us this tip, told Kotaku that his (and others') Social Security taxes hadn't been paid in 2007, so workers are on the hook for that, too.
A former studio employee, commenting on the Salt Lake Weekly's article, sums up how Sensory Sweep was able to keep going even when the checks weren't:
"One of the most frustrating things about being a former Sensory Sweep employee was watching other people young to the industry walk into the company while it was floundering. Those kids would end up being paid in promises and optimistic half-truths, and they just didn't have the available experience to know any better."
It is sad. Jobs in this industry are incredibly competitive because so many want to work in it, and will make great sacrifices to do so, and are reminded by people on the outside that this is somehow a dream job others would be happy to do for free. Speaking personally, I clench my fists every time I read someone say that kind of thing so casually. And out in Utah, where people also had mortgages, student loans, families and no other jobs in the industry to seek, I can see how that helped keep Sensory Sweep's charade going.
Sensory Sweep Shortchange [Salt Lake City Weekly]