If an employee doesn’t have the right to work in Australia, the employer can incur heavy penalties.

It can be complex in our multi-cultural society to know who is and who isn’t a legal worker. Frankly, you can’t make assumptions. You need to check.

What are the penalties for employing an illegal worker?

Employers must take reasonable steps not to employ, refer or contract illegal workers. The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection can impose penalties of up to $108,000 per illegal worker. It doesn’t matter if the employer knew someone was an illegal worker or not – so it is worth checking!

Who has unlimited permission to work in Australia?

The groups who have unlimited permission to work in Australia are:

  • Australian citizens
  • Australian permanent residents
  • New Zealand citizens.

To confirm this status, employees or potential employees should provide evidence of:

  • Australian citizen – proof of Australian Citizenship – one of the following:
    • Australian Birth Certificate
    • Australian Citizenship Certificate with additional photo ID
    • Australian Passport
  • Australian permanent residents and New Zealand Citizens – one of the following:
    • New Zealand passport
    • International passport.

Employers can then use the New Zealand or international passport details to check right to work status.

How to check right to work status

Employers can verify right to work via Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO). HR Gurus can also do this for you.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection manages the system. It allows employers to confirm a person’s right-to-work status and visa details.

What right to work do foreign nationals have?

Foreign nationals may have limited or unlimited rights to work in Australia. The employee (or potential employee) should provide their international passport. Employers should check a person’s visa details using VEVO.

VEVO advises the conditions associated with a person’s visa, including any work limitations. It also confirms if they have no work rights and Visa expiry dates.

Where VEVO identifies that the person has no right to work, the employer cannot engage them.

VEVO confirms no right to work restrictions

The employer can be confident that the person is a legal worker, if VEVO identifies no associated work restrictions.

VEVO confirms right to work restrictions

The employer can still employ the person where VEVO identifies work restrictions. The employer must follow the work restrictions.

If not, there are serious penalties of up to $108,000 per worker. This can apply to employers who employ, refer or contract a foreign national who:

  • does not have permission to work, or
  • is in breach of their visa conditions.

A case study of breaching the right to work laws

An example of how easy it is to breach these laws:

Bill is hired on a part-time basis, as his Student Visa allows him to work up to 20 hours per week during school term, and full time outside of school terms.
For the first year or so, Bill works 20 hours per week, then full time over the holidays. Bill moves to a different department, or gets a new supervisor, who has a need for more labour. He asks Bill to work overtime or rosters him on additional hours. Bill accepts, because he needs the money, and ends up working more than his allowed 20 hours per week.
Suddenly, the employer is in breach of Bill’s visa conditions.

HR Gurus can help you understand your obligations under the Right to Work laws. We can also conduct an audit of your workplace. Get in touch with us at HR Gurus.

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