Since May 2004, all employers in the UK have been required to carry out document checks before recruiting a new employee to ensure they have the legal right to work in the UK.

Such checks were strengthened on 29 February 2008 to require repeat checks every 12 months where an employee had temporary permission to be in the UK and the introduction of criminal as well as increased civil penalties for employing illegal workers.

In May 2014 a new Code of Practice was introduced abolishing annual checks but requiring employers to carry out checks at the expiry of an employee’s temporary permission to be in the UK. This Code of Practice also set out further details of how to carry out document checks and details the increased penalties for getting it wrong.

At present, the starting penalty for each illegal employee found to be employed by an employer is £20,000. For employers who have not been issued with a penalty for employing an illegal worker in the previous 3 years the starting penalty is £15,000.

The general consensus has been that if you are found to be illegally employing a worker then the financial risks are very high.

What has become clear more recently is that the penalties referenced above can also apply to past employees.  In fact, employers are at risk of being issued with a penalty for illegal employment for up to two years post termination of an employee’s employment as more and more businesses have discovered to their detriment following what appears to be a change in policy regarding prosecutions. It is not an excuse that the employee no longer remains in employment.

There are steps an employer can take to mitigate a fine, specifically:

  1. Reporting suspected illegal workers to the Home Office;
  2. Actively co-operating with the Home Office;
  3. Having effective document checking practices in place and generally complying with an employer’s duty to prevent illegal working.

So what should employers do now?

Now would be a perfect time to carry out a work force audit/Immigration Health-Check to consider your employees’ right to work in the UK. This audit should look at ex-employees that have left the business up to two years previously.

If you feel the above could have an impact on your business, email blogs@gateleyplc.com for more information.


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This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.