Following the detainment of 35 illegal immigrants found to be employed by popular restaurant chain Byron Hamburgers, many former customers have mobilised on social media, vowing to boycott the restaurant and shaming them for their recruitment practices.
But is the backlash the restaurant has received fair? I would argue not.
From a legal perspective, employers must complete the required right to work checks to safeguard themselves against any civil penalties should illegal workers find a way of gaining employment within their organisation.
However, a recent rise in sophisticated forged documents available on the black market, many of which are extremely difficult to identify, has prompted the need for a further layer of investigation.
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Byron seems – at least at this stage – to be a prime example of an employer that carried out extensive right to work checks, but still managed to employ illegal migrant workers.
In these circumstances, if it can be shown that it was "reasonably apparent" the evidential documents had been tampered with, the employer could be at risk of a civil penalty, and potentially open for criminal prosecution if it could be shown the employer knew or had reasonable cause to believe it was employing them illegally.
What should Byron have done?
This therefore begs the question, was there anything more Byron could have done? And also, to what extent can other employers learn from this situation?
Although we don't have many details at the moment, the takeaway lesson is that when checking documents, employers should always take into account whether the person in front of them is identified in any photos supplied with the documents i.e. passports or biometric residence permits.
In addition, any validity issues should also be checked, including expiry dates and looking for other less obvious details – any inconsistencies when it comes to spelling, and, if employing students, whether or not the place of study is credible.
However: although these rigorous checks are in place to protect both the employer and the employee, it is inevitable that some forged documents may slip under the radar.
Employers are not expected to carry out a forensic analysis of such documentation and if everything looks above board, there would be no reason to suspect otherwise.
As recent reports suggest that Byron has followed the letter of the law when employing these workers, the level of social media backlash it has faced, and the resulting reputational damage seems largely unfounded.
Overall Byron should be held as a shining example to other employers.
By carrying out all appropriate checks the company has been protected by the law and the Home Office has not issued them with a civil penalty. This should be seen as a comfort to other employers, proving that so long as due diligence is followed, they will not be unduly penalised.