Employees at a Swindon escape room were left upset and hundreds of pounds out of pocket after losing their jobs with weeks’ worth of pay outstanding.

Three young staff members at Escape Room HQ, in Hobley Drive, say they had been chasing payment for a number of weeks after being told in May by the business owners, Emma and John Tanner, that their account had been frozen by the bank.

And they later found themselves without a job - saying they received a message telling them the company had made the decision to move forward ‘without employees’

They say they made efforts to find out when they would be paid, with their parents also getting involved.  

They claim that the owners initially denied to parents that their children had ever worked for them - and they did initially issue a lengthy statement to the Adver denying that staff were owed any money at all.

But after the Adver contacted the Tanners for comment, we were told that their bank account had ‘just been unfrozen’ and that the outstanding wages would be paid.

On Thursday, June 13, two of the employees confirmed that they had received the money they were owed and a phone call from the Tanners - but one did not.

(Image: Public) The staff members say the issues began with a message from John Tanner on May 20, which said that the bank had blocked their account ‘due to an app updating and more verification’ but this would be resolved within five days.

A week later they say there had been ‘no update’ and in messages seen by the Adver, staff are asking each other if they had been paid on May 31.

Another message seen by the Adver - on June 3 - read: "As you know we have experienced difficulties recently in regard to matters that have been discussed, which this in mind we have taken the very difficult decision to continue without employees at this present time.”

Staff say they were told they would receive a ‘glowing reference’ but when they asked when the money owed to them would be paid, they were met with silence.

One employee, 17, who was 16 at the time of starting in January, says he had not signed a contract or received a pay slip.

He said that he was owed four weeks' wages, from April 22 to May 20, amounting to £270.

He says he received an email telling him he was on a zero-hour contract paying minimum wage of £5.30 an hour - but no more than that.

He said: “The first few months went without any sign of this sort of thing happening.

“The place was messy, with owners’ leftover food on desks and the floor for the employees to clean up.

“We were supposed to be paid on May 20, but John told us that the bank had frozen his account and this could take up to five working days for the money to come through.”

He added: “John kept giving us the answer of ‘we’re still waiting on the bank’, but this would only be after he’s ignored the messages for hours.”

This employee also explained that during this time customers were coming into the escape rooms.

A second employee, 17, had only just joined Escape Room HQ in April and says she was owed two-and-a-half weeks pay totalling £340.

She says she did not receive payslips or an employment contract to sign either.

The third affected employee, 20, also started in April. He says he completed two days of training and clocking in 64 hours of work, at a verbally agreed £8.90 per hour, amounting to £569.60.

He says he never received a contract in writing, or even terms of his payment in writing, and did not receive a single payment during his time at the business.

Screenshots were provided to the Adver, from a website called TimeClockWizard, where employees were required to clock in and out, showing exactly what shifts they had worked that were outstanding payment.

After being told they had lose their jobs, all three messaged John and Emma Tanner asking for their outstanding wages and claim they were either ignored or even blocked from sending further messages.

The mother of one of the employees contacted John directly to ask for her daughter to be paid.

In a message seen by the Adver, John initially replied to say that “[She] would need to contact us directly; we can only communicate directly with the person involved.”

In a subsequent message he denied that she had ever worked for him and told the mother: “We have not had any employees with [that name] that has worked for Escape Room HQ, I would suggest that you provide proof via the employment contract so any matters can be resolved. Otherwise, all the claims are defamation.”

The employee says John called her phone on Wednesday, June 5 and also sent a message on April 6 into the work group chat, inviting other employees to welcome her to the team.

The Adver has also seen messages between John and the employee discussing which shifts she would be working as well as holiday and sickness, a wage payment made into that employee’s account in April from Escape Room HQ, as well as white board within the premises listing her as one of three employees.

When the Adver asked for a comment, it was told by John that he was not involved in Escape Room HQ anymore and that a statement would be released by the ‘director’ of Escape Room HQ.

John Tanner was the majority shareholder and director of the company until April when he transferred both the ownership and directorship to his wife, Emma.

The employees told this paper that John and Emma would be there most days even after this change was made on Companies House, and that it would be John they discussed work-related matters, both before and after they were relieved of their duties. 

Emma Tanner provided a lengthy statement which admitted to deliberately employing younger adults on zero-hour contracts for financial reasons, denied that employees were owed any money, made accusations in return, and cited a family’s personal bereavement.

The statement can be seen in full here:

An initial statement provided by Escape Room HQ owner and director Emma TannerAn initial statement provided by Escape Room HQ owner and director Emma Tanner (Image: Escape Room HQ) After telling the paper that employees would be paid, this statement was replaced by a second one that had omitted the initial denial of money owed and had removed the accusations and personal information relating to a family member.

That statement can be seen in full here:

The new statement after two of the three employees were paidThe new statement after two of the three employees were paid (Image: Escape Room HQ)

After the first statement was provided and before the Adver could publish a story, we received a message from Emma Tanner.

It said: “Just wanted to inform yourself that the bank has now unblocked the account as of 20 minutes ago so the staff will receive their payments tonight.

“At least the article would reflect that it was delayed rather than no payments.”

(Image: Newsquest)

Two of the three employees say they have received payments, but one of them says they still have not.

When Emma Tanner was asked whether she could confirm all three staff members had been paid, she said: “I do apologise for not making it simple enough. Yes I can confirm that all three payments have been made.”

When the Escape Room first opened, John Tanner promised it would be part of a larger company, Riddles Retreat, bringing axe throwing, interactive darts, mini-golf and more across the UK, with more sites already planned across Wiltshire.