Employers failing to screen international workers, says report

Businesses leave themselves exposed if they avoid pre-employment checks – but are far more likely to screen domestic hires

Almost half of organisations are failing to screen potential employees from outside the UK, according to a new survey – putting them at risk of future penalties should an employee turn out to be in the country illegally.

Forty per cent of employers said they did not screen international hires, compared to 78 per cent that said they carried out checks on domestic staff, according to Sterling Talent Solutions’ Background Checks 2018: UK Trends & Best Practices Report

Background checks can incorporate several areas and range from checking qualifications and criminal records to verifying references and social media profiles. 

Although some of these are optional, employers are required to undertake ‘right to work’ checks to ascertain that a person has the legal right to work in the UK.

Chris Brazier, business Immigration lawyer at BP Collins, said: “While there is no express legal obligation to carry out a right to work check to prevent illegal employment, the effect of failing to do so makes it a necessity. If an employer fails to do so before employment commences, the employer will have no defence to civil or, in the worst cases, criminal penalties and sanctions.”

Tania Bowers, general counsel at the Association of Professional Staffing Companies, said: “Beyond the legalities, it’s true that the UK is perhaps more relaxed than other business cultures when it comes to validating qualifications and university certificates.

“Hiring a candidate without checking their CV always comes with a risk that they don’t have the experience they claim. For this reason, it is important to check references in regards to international employees.”

The issue of poor candidate checking was evidenced last year when data emerged suggesting that many employers treated recruitment as a ‘tick box’ exercise.

The main reasons for conducting pre-employment checks were identified as improving or meeting regulatory compliance, enhancing safety and security in the workplace, and to prevent fraud and other criminal activity. 

However, employers described a number of challenges when trying to complete checks. Two thirds (67 per cent) reported that it was a lengthy process, 26 per cent said it was expensive and 24 per cent viewed it as being too complicated.

The right to work check requires employers to obtain the originals of prescribed documents. These must be viewed in the presence of the employee to assess validity, copies taken and kept securely, and the date of the check clearly recorded on the documents.

“If this process is followed, the employer will secure a statutory excuse should the employee turn out to be an illegal migrant,” added Brazier.

The failure to comply with immigration checks costs UK businesses £50m a year, according to background and identity verification firm Onfido.

A further area of concern raised by the Sterling Talent Solutions report was the difference in treatment between temporary and full-time workers. Only 60 per cent of contractors and contingent workers were screened, compared with 89 per cent of full-time employees.

“In terms of contractors, recruiters should be checking that individuals are legally able to work in the UK; however, the growth of platforms that facilitate direct hire mean that employers may need to do their own due diligence,” warned Bowers. 

“For example, even if an individual is working remotely on a self-employed basis, they should still have the right insurance in place and sign a confidentiality agreement.” 

With the fight for talent likely to increase following the UK’s exit from the European Union, the importance of screening candidates is likely to intensify. 

“From increased globalisation and uncertainty around Brexit to the complexity of the GDPR, the need for UK employers to hire with confidence is becoming ever-more crucial,” said Steve Smith, vice president at Sterling Talent Solutions.

 “Our research found that background screening plays an increasingly vital role in successful recruitment programmes and indicated that more employers are recognising the importance of meeting compliance needs and standards.”