One facet of the new Immigration Act 2016 focuses on strengthening the laws surrounding illegal workers and tightening the obligations on UK employers.

The new law is intended to, amongst other things, "introduce new measures to make it easier to enforce immigration laws and remove illegal migrants". This is particularly relevant to employers in the retail and hospitality spheres.

Employers – you may be committing a civil and/or criminal offence if you have reasonable cause to believe that any of your employees is not permitted to work in the UK as a result of their immigration status.

If you are found to be in violation of the law, you may find yourself vulnerable to fines of up to £20,000 per illegal employee, closure of your business, and imprisonment on conviction for up to 5 years.

To protect yourself, you should be vigilant to check (and re-check where appropriate) whether your employees are permitted to work in the UK. Achieve this by:

  • undertaking the prescribed "right to work" checks when hiring, which involves checking that employees have the necessary immigration status before they commence work for you, and repeating those checks at prescribed intervals where the employee has temporary or time-limited permissions to work; and
  • collecting and retaining (for the duration of the employment and a further 2 years following termination of employment) copies of original documents from employees which demonstrate their right to work, taking steps to ensure that said documents are valid and legitimate.

You should also bear in mind that immigration officers now have enhanced powers to enter and search your premises, seize evidence, remove and detain illegal migrants, and close your business down if they suspect illegal working is taking place. The resounding takeaway is that employers must never turn a blind eye to suspicions about the legality of their workers.