CB Writes: I have seen in the news recently that employers have been penalised for employing illegal workers. As the owner of a small business, I am worried that something like that could happen to me and I would have to close as a result. What measures do I need to take in order to prevent this?
The Government has recently taken further steps in order to reduce the risk of illegal working taking place in businesses across the UK. One of the measures it has implemented is an increase to the financial penalty applied for employing an illegal worker which is now £20,000 per each illegal worker, writes Peter Done, managing director of Peninsula. If you knowingly employ an illegal worker, you could also face up to 2 years imprisonment.
However, there is a defence available to employers who have unwittingly employed an illegal worker. In order for them to be able to rely on the defence, they have to satisfy a number of conditions. The statutory defence applies if the employer can show that they have made the correct document checks before the employment commences. The Government has published a list of documents which are considered suitable to prove that an individual is eligible to work in the UK. You must see the worker’s original documents and check that they are valid and that they belong to the individual who is applying. For the purposes of relying on the statutory defence, you must make and keep copies of the documents you were presented with and keep a record of the date you undertook the ‘right to work’ check.
So as to keep in line with the statutory Code of Practice on checking documents you do not need to have extensive knowledge in immigration and immigration documents, but you need to be satisfied that the documents are genuine, original and have not been interfered with. If there are various documents, cross reference all the occasions the name of the individual and their date of birth appear to make sure they are consistent. If the names differ, request documents certifying the change of name, e.g. marriage certificates. You should follow the required steps and keep evidence to be able to show that you have done this. Implementing document checking practices in your business and complying with duties to prevent illegal working could be a mitigating factor if illegal workers are found in your workplace.
You must not discriminate against any applicants because of their race. In order to avoid discrimination, you should check documents for all applicants, even those who you perceive are from the UK. Remember, also, that you need to carry out further checks periodically if the employee only has a limited right to work in the UK.