Workchain Ltd owners and directors Phil Tong and Adam Hinkley encouraged five senior staff at the company to get the temporary workers out of the scheme so the company could avoid making pension payments on their behalf.
Financial controller Hannah Armson, HR and compliance officer Lisa Neal and branch managers Martin West, Robert Tomlinson and Andrew Thorpe then worked together to opt workers out of the NEST pension scheme using its online system.
Derby-based Workchain (formerly known as Smart Recruitment UK Ltd), which has offices in towns and cities across the Midlands and the neighbouring counties, would have been able to avoid paying pension contributions if the offence had not been detected.
A joint investigation into Workchain, involving The Pensions Regulator (TPR), the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, Derbyshire Constabulary and Nottinghamshire Constabulary, was launched after NEST reported its concerns about Workchain to TPR in May 2014.
Darren Ryder, TPR’s director of automatic enrolment, said: “Workchain’s directors saw denying their temporary workers pensions as a quick and easy way to save the company money.
“Both they and their senior staff thought nothing of misusing NEST’s online portal.
“Thanks to the vigilance of NEST, their attempt to cheat the automatic enrolment system failed.
“Automatic enrolment is not an option, it’s the law and the law is clear - no one can opt a worker out of a pension scheme, even if the worker agrees.
“Those who try to avoid their pension responsibilities in this way face prosecution.”
TPR prosecuted Workchain, the two directors and five senior staff for an offence of unauthorised access to computer data, contrary to section 1(1) of the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
This is the first time that TPR has launched prosecutions for this offence.
All of the defendants pleaded guilty to the offence when they appeared for the first time at Derby Magistrates’ Court yesterday.
District Judge Jonathan Taaffe committed the case to Derby Crown Court for a sentencing hearing on June 28.
Those now convicted could face up to two years in jail and/or an unlimited fine.