Employing illegal workers
On 16 May 2014, the civil penalty for employing illegal workers was increased from £10,000 to £20,000 for each individual who does not have the right to work in the UK. Home Office statistics show that more than 8,500 civil penalties totalling £79,300,000 were issued to employers between 2008/09 and 2012/13. On 7 March 2014, the maximum fine for employers paying below the National Minimum Wage was also increased from £5,000 to £20,000.
In addition to the civil penalty, if an employer knowingly employs an illegal worker, they will commit a criminal offence and may face a jail sentence of up to two years and an unlimited fine. An employer will also need to consider the potential reputational damage through the loss or suspension of a sponsor licence and/or the publication of the employer’s details, as a result of employing illegal workers.
The Government is sending a very clear message to employers that it intends to tackle the problem of illegal working in the UK using tough enforcement measures. However, employers will be aware of how difficult the system is to navigate. For example, some international students are allowed to work in the UK but the number of permitted hours will vary depending on their visa and whether it is term time. Given the complexity of the rules, it is easy to understand how an employer may end up illegally employing an individual without realising it.
In light of the substantial consequences for employers who are found to be employing illegal workers, appropriate procedures should be put in place to ensure that any individual they employ has a right to work in the UK. The Government has published guidance on its website (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/preventing-illegal-working-code-of-practice-for-employers) on how to conduct a right to work check and detailing a list of acceptable documents which can be used to establish a right to work in the UK.