Illegal working penalties for employers are more than a slap on the wrist

Further to our post last week on the Immigration Act 2016 (“Are You Ready For Tomorrow“), UK Visas and Immigration have published a report showing the total number of civil penalties given to employers in the second half of 2015 for illegally employing workers. The report shows that, between 1 July 2015 and 31 December 2015, 1,820 workers were working illegally. This resulted in the issue of 1,271 penalties to employers, totalling fines of £21.5 million.
Recent reports suggest the Home Office is now refining its focus and targeting large, corporate organisations for breaches of their immigration responsibilities in order to make the most of a potentially large pot of revenue. This serves as a stark reminder that, if caught out, employers could face a fine of up to £20,000 per illegal worker and two to five years in prison. Not to mention the potential damage to their reputation and the effect such a penalty may have on the status of an employer’s sponsor licence. The offences will apply irrespective of whether employers engage the individuals as employees, apprentices or under a contract to personally perform work or services.
It may seem obvious that employing workers illegally will result in severe ramifications. However, simple mistakes are becoming increasingly costly for employers. The Home Office is penalising many organisations for simple flaws in their immigration processes (for example, failing to hold the relevant paperwork or for holding incomplete paperwork).
The recent enforcement of certain provisions of the Immigration Act 2016 provides significant changes which are likely to give the UK Home Office greater ability to pursue civil, as well as criminal, proceedings against employers who engage illegal workers. Therefore, it is evermore important for employers to ensure they adopt compliant HR processes. In particular, we recommend that employers:

  • take complete copies of all relevant documents;
  • record the inspection date of these documents (but avoid backdating);
  • keep copies of these documents for the entirety of the employment and for two years post-termination;
  • regularly check the visa status of employees to ensure the validity has not expired or changed;
  • ensure that all areas of the business follow the immigration processes strictly; and
  • carry out a mock audit to identify where the risks lie.

By following these steps and taking action to resolve any issues, employers will be in a better position to avoid any penalties if and when they come under the spotlight.

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Verity Buckingham

About Verity Buckingham

Verity is experienced in all aspects of employment law and corporate immigration matters. She deals mostly with corporate clients advising on contentious and non-contentious employment matters. Verity's contentious practice includes defending claims in the Employment Tribunal and experience of Employment Appeal Tribunal litigation in relation to claims of unfair dismissal, discrimination, equal pay and whistleblowing.

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