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Illegal workers – a growing risk for employers

13 May 2008

In the past couple of months there has been a sharp increase in the number of employers being prosecuted for hiring illegal immigrants.

Since February, when there was a change in the law, many more businesses have been caught and prosecuted.  The new penalties – fines of up to £10,000 or jail sentences of up to 2 years – now make this a seriously chancy area.

In a nutshell, The Immigration Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 has created two new offences – ‘knowingly’ or ‘negligently’ employing someone not entitled to work in the UK.

Small businesses are particularly vulnerable. Take for example the builder who employs a worker he believes to be Polish. He later discovers the man is in fact Russian and therefore not entitled to work here.  But he’s good at his job so the boss allows him to carry on. The employer is now running the risk of being prosecuted because he is ‘knowingly’ aware that this person is not entitled to work in the UK.

The hotel and catering industry is a sector that is especially open to problems, not least when a business is transferred to new ownership. Acting in good faith, the new owner will take on the existing employees but often fails to make the proper checks. He may ‘negligently’ be employing any number of people not entitled to work here.”

The fines of up to £10,000 apply to each illegal worker – you won’t need a calculator to show why you need to tread carefully.

At the very least, we’d advise every employer to set up a checklist of documents that must be inspected for all new employees. (You must apply it across the board or you may be guilty of discrimination!).

Checklist

Acceptable documents for the checklist include the following:

  • documented NI number
  • passport confirming that the person is a British citizen
  • passport or ID card of an EEA national
  • birth certificate of the UK or Republic of Ireland
  • letter from the Home Office confirming that the person is allowed to work.

As always, if you need commercial and pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.

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