Want to support our work? Donate
Skip to content
Know your rights guide


Find out about your rights relating to working in the UK, and how current rules affect both employers and employees.

It is illegal to employ someone who does not have permission to work in the UK. It is also illegal to work if you do not have permission to do so. Employers have to check their employees’ documents.

What is happening?

Immigration officers are allowed to enter Licensed Premises without a warrant or written authorisation to check if people working there have the right to work.

Licensed premises are:

  • Places selling alcohol, for example pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants and off-licenses
  • Places selling late night refreshment. This means hot food or hot drinks between 11pm and 5am, even if it is not consumed on the premises. Examples: cafes, restaurants, takeaways
  • Places providing entertainment, including: theatres, cinemas, indoor sporting event, boxing, concert venues, clubs
  • Social, sporting or political clubs

The penalties for both employees and employers who break the law have recently been increased.

Advice for employers

What checks do I need to carry out before employing someone?

There are three steps you will need to follow to check if someone has the right to work:

  • Ask them for their identification documents (e.g. passport)
  • Check the documents are valid in their presence

Make copies of the documents and store them securely. You should also record the date the checks were made and the name of the person who made the check.

The law says that employers must carry out and record these checks. But you do not have to co-operate with immigration officials beyond this.

What should I do if Immigration Enforcement visits my business?

Immigration Enforcement can only enter your business if they have written authorisation:

  • A warrant with the name of the person they are looking for
  • A letter from a Home Office Assistant Director, which must show the name of the person they are looking for

In many cases, Immigration Enforcement make people sign a consent form, which means they rely on your voluntary agreement to enter the business and investigate. You are under no obligation to sign it and you can politely ask them to leave your business (if they have already entered). If this happens, you can expect them to return with a written authorisation within a few days or weeks.

You are not obliged to let them in your business if they do not have written authorisation.

What if I am caught employing someone who does not have permissions to work?

You can be fined up to £20,000 per undocumented worker, or face a prison sentence of up to 5 years or both. Nobody has yet been sent to prison for employing someone without permission to work. Immigration officials also have new powers to take away property or earnings, or close down businesses.

If you are given a penalty, you should seek legal advice immediately from a solicitor. Even if you are caught employing someone illegally, there are ways to appeal or to reduce the fine.

Advice for employees

What are ‘right to work’ checks?

Immigration laws have increased employers’ responsibility for the immigration status of their employees, including migrants and British workers from BAME backgrounds. Employers are required to conduct ‘right to work’ checks. Some employers use an Employer Checking Service (ECS) to assess ‘right to work.’

ECS checks issue negative verification notices for individuals who are not subject to immigration rules. Errors can occur during this process, which can put you in a difficult position. Home Office officials can give wrong advice when it comes to the right to work. As a result, employers who are not immigration experts are likely to suspend you, or terminate your contract on the spot, so it is urgent you seek advice as soon as possible, and learn about your immigration / employment rights.

What if I am caught working illegally?

People without the right to work could have their earnings or properties taken away by the government. In some cases, there is also a risk of being detained and/or deported.

What are my rights at work?

Your rights at work depend on your employment status. The three possible statuses are: employee, worker or self-employed. You can find more information about employment status on the Trade Union Congress website. The Work Rights Centre has also produced an online tool which can give you an indication of your what your employment status is if you are unsure.

All workers and employees have minimum basic rights at work. This includes rights to:

  • Be paid the National Minimum Wage for each hour worked
  • Receive an itemised payslip which explains their wages
  • Regular breaks and time off from work
  • Not be subjected to discrimination or harassment because of who they are
  • Work in a safe environment, and be provided the right equipment for the job

Additionally, employees also have the right to not be unfairly dismissed from their job. 

While self-employed workers have fewer rights than workers and employees, they do have the right to not be subjected to discrimination or harassment in their workplace, and to work in a safe environment.

You can find more information about your rights by contacting one of the organisations listed in the Exploitation section of this guide.

What are my rights if I suffer racial discrimination or harassment at work?

All workers have a right to not be discriminated against or suffer harassment at work because of their race, nationality, ethnic origin, or other “protected characteristics”. You may have suffered discrimination if you have been treated less favourably on the basis of your race, nationality, ethnic origin, or other “protected characteristics”. This treatment could be to do with the hours you work, the work you do, or other issues: including being denied a promotion or a training opportunity.

Harassment includes a wide variety of actions, such as racist comments or other offensive or intimidating behaviour. It also includes sexual harassment, such as sexual comments directed at you.

You can get advice on what to do about potential discrimination and harassment at work from the organisations listed in the Exploitation section of this guide.

What support can trade unions offer and how can I join?

A trade union is a workers’ organisation, which seeks to promote the interests of workers, prevent mistreatment of workers and assist individual members with disputes and problems. They are membership organisations, to which workers pay a monthly subscription fee.

At the individual level, a trade union can offer advice and representation when you get into a dispute with your employer. For example, they can help you to challenge underpayment of wages or accompany you to a disciplinary hearing. Most unions have legal advisers who can advise on your rights.

At a collective level, a trade union represents the collective voice of workers. Unions promote the interests of their workers by negotiating with employers and organising industrial action in disputes.

You can use the Trade Union Congress website to find a union that is right for you, and that is specific to your sector of work. Here are a few examples of unions who in large part represent migrant workers in the UK:

For more information and support

Migrants’ Rights Network

020 7424 7386
07534 488696

Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm

Email: [email protected]

Anti-Raids Network

Information available in different languages.

Bail for Immigration Detainees

Call 020 3745 5226 if you have been detained and need support.

Right To Remain

Information on applying for permission to work.