On the day that the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 comes in to force, a new survey highlights that business owners are currently putting themselves at risk of fines and legal action as they are not doing enough to verify the legality of their employees.
A joint survey run by BusinessZone.co.uk and HRZone.co.uk found that 34% of small businesses had no process in place at all to verify the legality of workers. Even in larger businesses with a dedicated HR function, 37% leave it until the candidate has accepted a job offer.
The survey asked 120 businesses at what point in the recruitment process they verify the legality of new employees and answers ranged from "on receipt of CV" to "not at all".
Under the 2006 Act, the approach towards illegal working is even stricter; key changes to the current law include a civil penalty for those that employ illegal migrant workers, of up to £10,000 per employee. However, the employer will have a defence if it can prove that it has seen, copied and retained copies of original specified documents, before employing an individual.
Employers will also have to carry out further checks at specified intervals, to confirm the employee's ongoing entitlement to work in the UK. In addition, employers will be subject to a criminal offence if they knowingly employ illegal migrant workers, which could result in employers being imprisoned for up to two years and/or receiving a fine.
The results of the survey also showed that nearly a third (31%) of respondents on HRZone.co.uk do check the legality of new employees on invitation to interview – proof that HR professionals are increasingly becoming vigilant to the new laws.
Laura Mitchell, a solicitor at Clarion Solicitors, said: "It is a real concern that such a high proportion of businesses do not have a consistent policy in place to verify the legality of their workers, particularly given the consequences of non-compliance.
"The new legislation introduced this week will set an even stricter regime for employing overseas workers and it is therefore essential that employers take steps as soon as possible to prepare for the forthcoming changes.
"Implementing and following a clear written procedure based on the requirements of the 2006 Act will provide employers with greater protection against the civil and criminal penalties under the Act. Employers who fail to check the legality of their workers, do so at their own risk."
Dan Martin, editor of BusinessZone.co.uk, added: "The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act coming into force should provide clarity in terms of what measures businesses need to take and the risks involved if they don't.
"This survey shows an alarming volume of businesses, primarily SMEs, failing to take sufficient action and as a result putting both themselves and their businesses at risk."