COLUMN: Check your employees ‘right-to-work’

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New right-to-work checks should make it harder for illegal migrants to work in the UK and will put employers on the front line of immigration controls.

The Immigration Bill progressing through Parliament reinforces the idea that employers bear responsibility for the checking the status of those they employ.

The difficulty with the ever-changing right to work checks means employers can easily make mistakes.

The consequences for businesses have always been serious, but the bill, which could become law in the summer, adds a new level of severity along with a whole host of changes to the checking regime and additional powers for immigration enforcement officers.

Officers will have the power to issue an immediate illegal working closure notice which will effectively shut down a business for 48 hours.

Failing to carry out proper checks can already result in a £20,000 civil penalty for employers and, in some circumstances, a criminal conviction.

The maximum prison sentence will increase from two to five years.

Convicting an employer will be easier too - rather than having to actually know someone doesn’t have permission to work here, ‘reasonable cause to believe’ someone was an illegal worker will be sufficient.

Most employers who are penalised only do so due to poor practices.

Common and avoidable mistakes the unwary make include -

- forgetting to record the date a check was carried out.

- forgetting to make follow-up checks at the correct time.

- not carrying out the additional checks required if the employee is a student with work restrictions and failing to note the end of term dates. 

- getting caught out by not retaining evidence of checks for the necessary period of time.

- making photocopies of documents that are unclear or not complete. At one time a partial right to work check would be considered ‘mitigating circumstances’.

- only conducting right to work checks after the employee has already started work. Employers should ensure that all initial right to work checks are carried out prior to new recruits commencing work.

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