Former EKWB Employees say company has racist, hostile work environment, withholds overtime pay

(Image credit: EKWB)

The scandal surrounding EKWB, the embattled cooling and custom PC building company, keeps growing as multiple former employees have now accused the company of creating a hostile work environment filled with racist jokes and abusive rhetoric in its Texas-based U.S. offices. Just as bad, the employees also say that the firm failed to pay them for required overtime hours and that it damaged relationships with suppliers by repeatedly withholding payments. 

Tuesday, PCGamesN reported that former EK Business Development / Product Manager Dan Henderson had accused the company of racism. Following up on PCGamesN’s report, I spoke to Henderson and four other former team members of EKCS, the company’s U.S. arm, all of whom painted a picture of a workplace as chaotic as it was toxic. 

Founded in 2003 by Edvard Konig, EKWB (Edvard Konig Water Blocks) has its headquarters in Komenda, Slovenia. Located in San Antonio Texas until its offices closed last month, the U.S. branch not only sells custom water cooling components, but also built water-cooled PCs that it sold under the Fluid Gaming brand and enterprise workstations under the Fluid Works moniker. 

According to Henderson and the other employees we spoke to, the Slovenian managers repeatedly belittled the American employees, calling them lazy and stupid and blaming them for issues with the company’s inventory management. Henderson and other employees told us that EK rarely knew how many of any product it had in inventory because its software was so frequently incorrect.

“There were lots of inventory issues. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of stock were not accounted for,” Henderson said. “It could say we have 50 distro plates in stock, and we have no distro plates in stock.”

According to former Regional Sales Manager Jemari Serraty, employees often spent hours trying to count products on the shelves in an attempt to make up for the shortcomings of poor product management software. However, some members of the management team in Slovenia accused the American staff of stealing inventory as a way of explaining the problems. 

Several employees said that the abusive language went way beyond just calling employees stupid or lazy or accusing them of theft and veered into blatant racism. Serraty, who said he was the only Black employee in the office, described having a former coworker who made racist jokes comparing him to chocolate and almost hit him with a forklift on several occasions. According to Henderson, a visiting manager from Slovenia also told Serraty a racist joke about chocolate. 

When non-white employees weren’t present, the jokes could apparently be even worse. Henderson shared several screenshots with me of a chat room in Teams where white employees used the N-word to describe a black case fan. 

Another former employee said that some managers had described Hispanic employees as “lazy Mexicans.” He also claimed that a former manager had moved his desk so that he was seated next to other non-white employees, effectively keeping the seating in one area segregated. 

A female employee who asked to remain anonymous described the corporate culture as “a boys club” and claimed that got constant pushback when she tried to exercise any authority over her male counterparts. However, she said that nobody explicitly told her that they weren’t listening to her because she was a woman.

In a statement, EK Head of Communications Sasha Robey said that the company had received only two reported incidents of racism and had dealt with both of them. 

“EK fully supports diversity and inclusion among employees. Any actions related to discrimination such as racial, sexual, religious, political, physical or psychological violence are not tolerated in the EK working environment and any EK team member can and should report it to the HR personnel,” she wrote. 

Robey asked that any current or former employees who have not reported discrimination to come forward and do so now.

Employees also describe not being paid for required overtime hours. 

“We were told like ‘hey we have to do overtime with building some of the extra computers to fulfill some orders or to get caught up from being behind.’ We would have to do the overtime and then fill out a form to submit for that overtime,” Serraty said. “More often than not, authority from HQ would have our completed overtime hours shaved off. Instead of getting paid for four hours of overtime, we’d get two hours of overtime.”

Another employee said that she had seen several instances of employees having overtime hours shaved off of their paychecks. Other employees I spoke with said that they had been promised promotions and never received them. 

Henderson claimed that the company had promised him commissions on all sales in his contract, but then failed to pay them. At one point, he says, he invoiced the company for the commission he was due and received a note back from management stating that they didn’t feel he was entitled to the commission and that he would need to agree to new terms if he wished to continue working there. At another point, he said, he was paid a commission he was owed, but then the company refused to pay his regular salary for several months of work, saying that the “accidental” payment of the commission was in lieu of monthly pay.

It was after the company refused to pay the missing money that Henderson decided to make a public statement, calling out EKWB. He said the company has threatened him with a lawsuit over his whistle blowing and demanded payment of 70,000 Euros if he doesn’t remove his LinkedIn post.

“I would say, ‘damn right, I’m disgruntled,’” he told me. “Because the way I’ve been treated over the past year has been pretty despicable. It was my intention to do this anyway. However, I wouldn’t have done it as a social media post. I would have gone straight to the media.”

Apparently, EKWB’s payment issues may have also affected the vendors that supply it with parts to build gaming PCs. Several employees mentioned receiving angry calls from the vendors that supply EK Fluid Gaming with its graphics cards, CPUs, and other key components. Others describe having to fight with management to pay YouTube influencers who were contracted to do videos or events for the company.

“Every call would start with just so you know you guys are 30, 60, 90 days overdue,” a former employee who chose to remain anonymous said. 

In response to the claims of vendors and contractors not being paid, CEO and Founder Edvard Konig issued a statement acknowledging that “external contractors and business partners have experienced delayed payments.”  He promised to improve communication about payment delays to partners and asked any employees who haven’t received their overtime to email, a dedicated address set up for this purpose.

Employees also complained about potentially unsafe conditions in the warehouse. Two different people said that they were required to drive a forklift when no one in the company was licensed to do so. Another person said warehouse workers were forced to stand on top of boxes of AIO coolers that were stacked very high, a potential falling risk. 

All five people I spoke with described an environment where U.S. staff, particularly the PC builders, worked hard and wanted to build a great product despite the apparent obstacles.

“We had a really unique product. We had fully liquid-cooled PCs to your door,” former Marketing Director Nery Hernandez told me. “I do really believe that we could have had something unique and special.”

Henderson said that he wanted to speak out, not only so that he could recover the compensation he believes he is entitled to, but also because his fellow employees receive any back pay they are owed.

“This industry has given me a lot and offered me a lot throughout my seven years in it,” he posited. “I feel like I somewhat owe it to not just to the industry [to speak out], but also to the people who are coming into the industry, going to companies like EKWB and would never want to work in it again.”

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.
  • Crazyy8
    This is a OSHA nightmare, EKWB really should have stopped and thought "What if we just fixed our obvious problems with niche products, workplace toxicity, and unsafe working conditions?"
  • atomicWAR
    This whole debacle makes me sad. I love custom water cooling my rigs niche as it is but EKWB has lost my buisness for the foreseeable future. They were pioneers back in the day and now they have become a poster child of what not to do. I hate to see a niche market like custom water cooling take a hit but from the sound of things...EKWB did this to themselves.
  • Crnkoj
    Trash talk is all you can. You have interviewed the alleged victims, but not the alleged perpetrators.
    Anyhow it's obvious certain entities wanted to harm ekwb and succeeded in doing so.
    Too bad people are sheep and blindly decide to punish the alleged perpetrators.
    In the end the US company was its own entity. How you can loose inventory should be cleared up before pointing fingers, the same applies to the alleged work ethics, which again normally stem from the regional management.
  • why_wolf
    I'm guessing they have a culture of just grabbing stuff off the shelf and telling the computer later that they took it. This ALWAYS leads to increasingly worse inventory counts and control.

    This is the perfect environment for thefts to occur. Especially if they are stiffing employees on their paychecks.

    Though with their bills being that overdue its also likely that vendors are not sending them completed orders but were billing them for the full amount. So accounting could be recording 50 units when really only 25 were physically sent.
  • hotaru251
    Crnkoj said:
    Too bad people are sheep and blindly decide to punish the alleged perpetrators.
    becasue if you ask a company if they are doing stuff they'd get in trouble for....they are gonna admit it?


    and its not just 1 or 2 ppl..the accusations are many and theres given how theres proof of them trying to silence people for talking bad about company you have a solid reason to believe the victims over the comapny.

    Crnkoj said:
    In the end the US company was its own entity. How you can loose inventory should be cleared up before pointing fingers, the same applies to the alleged work ethics, which again normally stem from the regional management.
    you forget the fact that main branch basically shafted US branch and (iirc)gave them no way to succeed in end going as far as to take actual profit to meet sales goals at times. (was mentioned in the GN video about it)

    If it was 1 or 2 accusations i'd of given em benefit of doubt but its too many to be baseless.
  • doughillman
    Crnkoj said:
    Trash talk is all you can. You have interviewed the alleged victims, but not the alleged perpetrators.
    Anyhow it's obvious certain entities wanted to harm ekwb and succeeded in doing so.
    Too bad people are sheep and blindly decide to punish the alleged perpetrators.
    In the end the US company was its own entity. How you can loose inventory should be cleared up before pointing fingers, the same applies to the alleged work ethics, which again normally stem from the regional management.
    Geez, now Edvard's mom is creating accounts to comment.
  • BeedooX
    Reading the article, it talks about belittling staff by calling them lazy and stupid. Well maybe that's the truth. I work with some people I would fire in a heartbeat for being utterly useless - but that's not the "inclusive" way now is it. If I told them they were useless, they'd probably complain and get me fired.
  • endocine
    You could talk to 10 different people and get 10 different perspectives about work place culture. Of course the people who were "wronged" are going to be very vocal about what was said to them.
  • Amdlova
    People are so fragile non days...
    people work for years and now they have a problem...
  • Co BIY
    In general Eastern Europe is known for low levels of business transparency and high levels of corruption. I rarely see Slovenia in a Top 10 lists of best places to do business in. The culture is much more one of "What can you get away with?". This story is not changing that understanding.

    Once a company has trouble paying suppliers and employees and deals with it in any way less than 100% honesty or transparency it is time to leave or do business on an "immediate cash" only basis.

    Once bills don't get paid or paychecks are deliberately shorted then the other side of the deal (Supplier or employee) will often "make adjustments" in response. Suppliers will short or delay shipments, Invoices could become less accurate. Employees will pad timesheets or work less while on the clock. Some may "liquidate a company asset" in a self-help bankruptcy settlement.