The marine sector contributes nearly £40bn to the UK economy each year and supports nearly 1m jobs[i]. Many marine businesses rely on EU nationals as a valued part of their workforce. With Brexit looming it’s vital that marine businesses ensure their workers are employed legally.

Post March 2019, EU nationals who wish to live and work in the UK are going to have to regularise their immigration status in the UK. Employers employing EU nationals need to be certain that they are fully aware of their duties regarding carrying out right to work checks. As some EU nationals will be subject to immigration control in the future, it is important for marine businesses to know how to carry out an adequate right to work check and how to determine whether their potential employees have the right to work in the UK.

Right to work checks – are you falling foul of the law?

It is a legal requirement for employers to make sure that prospective employees have the right to work in the UK before their employment starts. The risk to marine businesses is significant given the extent of penalties that can be imposed for employing illegal workers. The Home Office has been conducting more and more spot checks on businesses as part of their ‘Hostile Environment’ policy, which seeks to make it increasingly difficult to work and reside in the UK illegally.

With employers facing civil penalties of up to £20,000 per illegal worker, making sure that you have carried out an adequate right to work check, and therefore have obtained a statutory excuse, could be vital. A valid statutory excuse will ensure you avoid civil penalties.

An employer who knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, they are employing an illegal worker will be committing a criminal offence and can face up to five years in prison and/or unlimited fine.  Despite this, many employers are not completely aware of all the aspects of carrying out an adequate right to work check and are falling foul of the law.

How do you carry out an adequate right to work check?

To carry out an adequate right to work check, always follow the three step process:

  1. Obtain the employee’s original identity documents
  2. Check the documents are valid with the employee present
  3. Copy the documents, keep the documents securely and record the date of the check

A repeat check is required for certain individuals depending on their status in the UK.

It is important to note that you can only obtain a statutory excuse should you be found to have employed an illegal worker, if the steps above are followed and an adequate right to work check is carried out. It is not sufficient to merely obtain the relevant identity documentation. If these steps are not carried out and you are found to have employed someone that does not have the right to work in the UK, you may face a large fine.   This is the case irrespective of whether you were aware that the worker did not have the right to work in the UK.  It is important to remember that a person’s immigration status cannot be ascertained merely by their appearance. Employers must balance avoiding unlawful discrimination whilst trying to prevent illegal working.

Jhenna Mortimer is a paralegal in our immigration team. To discuss this article or any other immigration issue call 01392 210700 or email employment@stephens-scown.co.uk.

[i] British Marine Federation report, Sept 2017