What is the change? New rules took effect Tuesday with respect to employers’ obligations and liabilities in checking employees’ right to work legally in the U.K.

What does the change mean? The rules now make it a criminal offense for an employer to hire an illegal worker and “knows or has reasonable cause to believe” that the individual lacks permission to work. This is an extension of the offense of “knowingly” employing such a person. Employers will no longer be protected from criminal sanctions even if they did not explicitly “know” that an individual was working illegally. The maximum sentence for the offense has also increased to five years. The Home Office has released an updated guidance for employers containing important information on how to properly conduct right-to-work checks.

  • Implementation time frame: Immediate.
  • Visas/permit affected: All documents demonstrating the right to work legally in the U.K.
  • Who is affected: AllK. employers.
  • Business impact: The grounds for prosecuting employers have been expanded to include circumstances where an employer should have reasonably known that an individual is not authorized to work. Civil penalties can reach £20,000 per illegal worker, and the new criminal offense carries a maximum term of imprisonment of six months. Wages may be seized as proceeds of a crime. In addition, the government has introduced extended powers to impose sanctions as well as close businesses that continue to employ illegal workers.
  • Next steps: Employers should review the new guidance, which lists the steps that employers can take to be statutorily excused from civil penalties. The new guidance is available here.

Background: The new rules were passed under the Immigration Act 2016 and took effect July 12.

In addition to expanding the employer offense of hiring an illegal worker, the Act creates an offense for individuals who perform any type of work without the proper work authorization.

BAL Analysis: Employers in the U.K. should be aware of the new stricter rules on illegal working offenses and review their right-to-work policies and practices to ensure that they are in full compliance. Employers may wish to contact their BAL professional with questions.  

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact

Copyright © 2016 Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. All rights reserved. Reprinting or digital redistribution to the public is permitted only with the express written permission of Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. For inquiries please contact