Hiring young workers

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    Employing young people can provide a number of advantages to a company, including the ability to satisfy staffing demands, build an employer brand, and construct a talent pipeline, as home-grown talent can be a cost-effective approach to replace any future skills gaps.

    In the UK, workers under the age of 18 enjoy special legal protections, such as ensuring that they do not work long or unsociable hours and that they are paid a minimum wage where appropriate.

    Employers employing younger workers must, however, guarantee that they are complying with the law and that their employees are receiving their legal entitlements.

    The following guide for employers outlines the rules for hiring young workers.

    How old do you have to be to work in the UK?

    Minimum ages do apply to when children and young people are legally permitted to work, either part-time or full-time.

    The rules are based on the Minimum School Leaving Age (MSLA). In England, students must reach the MSLA by the end of the school year in which they turn 16. Anyone over the age of the MSLA but under the age of 18 is considered a young person. Anyone over the age of 13 who has not yet attained the MSLA is legally considered a child.

    16 – 18 year olds

    The majority of young people continue with education until the end of the academic year when they turn eighteen, but what about those who want to work?

    The law says all young people in England are legally expected to continue their education or training until they reach the age of eighteen. This means it is against the law for someone under the age of 18 to drop out of school entirely or begin a full-time job without first completing some form of education or training.

    The options for under 18s are to stay in full-time education or training in a school or sixth-form college, to undertake an apprenticeship, traineeship, or supported internship, to work full-time work for 20 hours or more per week combined with part-time education or training, or to work full-time volunteering for 20 hours or more, combined with part-time education or training.

    Under 16’s

    Children have to stay in full-time education until they reach the age of 16, though they may be eligible to work part-time.

    In the UK a child can start working part-time at the age of 13, although children under the age of 16 are only allowed to do ‘light work,’ in jobs that will not affect their health or education.

    There are certain exceptions to the minimum age requirement for part-time work, such as children working in the television, theatre, or modelling industries.

    Children working in these fields require a performance licence. This could involve activities that a youngster participates in, such as a paid athletic event or modelling assignment any film, play, concert, or other public performance that an audience pays to witness, or that takes place on licenced premises. The person in charge of the event must apply for a licence with the child’s local council.

    If the child will not be accompanied by a parent or instructor, they must be supervised. A chaperone who has been approved by the council must supervise the children.

    Restrictions on employing young people

    Anyone above the age of 13 can work for an employer, although certain restrictions apply to the type of work they can do.

    Children are not allowed to work by law without an employment permit from their local council’s education department or education welfare service, if this is required by local bylaws; in workplaces such as factories or industrial sites during school hours; either before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m.; for more than 1 hour before school, unless local bylaws allow it. They are also not allowed to work for more than 4 hours without taking at least an hour’s break in any work that may be harmful to their health, wellbeing, or education. They also cannot work without a two-week break during school holidays in each calendar year.

    There are also unique rules for both term times and school holidays regarding the maximum amount of hours worked and the days on which these hours are worked, based on the age of the child.

    Children aged 13 and 14 can only work up to 12 hours per week during the school year, including a maximum of 2 hours on school days and Sundays, and 5 hours on Saturdays. Children of this age can work up to 25 hours per week during the school holidays, with a maximum of 5 hours on weekdays or Saturdays, and 2 hours on Sundays.

    Children aged 15 to 16 can only work up to 12 hours per week during the school year, including a maximum of 2 hours on school days and Sundays, but 8 hours on Saturdays. During the summer vacation, children this age can work up to 35 hours per week, with a maximum of 8 hours on weekdays and Saturdays, and 2 hours on Sundays.

    Employers are advised to check with their local council before hiring school-aged children as local regulations may impose certain limits on working hours, working conditions, and the type of work that children can do.

    If a child is hired without the proper documentation, the employer risks being uninsured in the event of an accident involving the child.

    Before hiring someone of school age, employers must also carry out a workplace risk assessment to ensure that they are not at danger owing to a lack of experience or maturity, ignorance of actual or potential threats, or work that is beyond their physical or psychological capacity.

    Rest breaks for young workers

    When hiring someone under the age of eighteen, specific protections exist in terms of working hours and rest breaks.

    Workers aged 16 or 17 are required by law to work no more than 8 hours per day, 40 hours per week, or to work no earlier than 6 a.m. or later than 10 pm, or 7am and 11pm by contractual agreement.

    As a minimum, young workers must have a 30-minute break if they’ve been working for more than 4.5 hours; 12 hours of rest in any 24-hour work period; 48 hours of rest every week or at least 36 hours, with the remaining 12 hours of rest taken as soon as practicable.

    Where a young worker is required to work when they are supposed to be resting, for example, when a 48-hour rest break is not possible due to a good business reason, the employer must nonetheless ensure that they take their break later or in another fashion.

    Young employees aged 16 or 17 can work until midnight or until 4 a.m. in the context of night-working, but only in particular industries and where there are no adult workers available to complete the work, and working such hours will not affect the young person’s education or training. Advertising, agriculture, retail, catering, bakeries, hospitals, hotels, taverns, restaurants, and mail and newspaper deliveries are all possibilities.

    If a young worker is required to work after 10 p.m. or before 6 a.m. (or 11 p.m. or 7 a.m.), the employer must ensure that the young worker is supervised by one or more adult workers, and that the young worker receives adequate rest at a later time if working during their normal rest breaks or rest periods.

    Health & Safety obligations

    Employers are also required to undertake regular health checks on young night workers. They must also keep track of these assessments and the hours they work to ensure they are not working more than 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week during restricted hours.
    After then, these records must be retained for a period of two years from the date they were created.

    In addition to health examinations for nighttime work, the employer must conduct a specific risk assessment to analyse the workplace risks of employing a young person.
    When a person reaches the age of 18, they are classified as a “adult worker,” and they are subject to different restrictions about working hours, nighttime working, rest breaks, and risk assessments.

    16 and 17-year-olds’ minimum wage rates

    The National Minimum Wage (NMW) is a yearly sum determined by the government on April 1st that an employer must pay for hours worked based on a person’s age.

    School-aged children are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage (NMW).

    Young workers aged 16 to 17 are entitled to at least the National Minimum Wage, which is £4.81 from April 2022.

    Because children under the age of 16 do not pay National Insurance, an employer only needs to put them on their payroll if their total income exceeds their personal income tax allowance.

    If the young person earns more than £123 per week, the employer will be required to perform further PAYE activities, such as deductions.

    Apprenticeships & young workers

    An apprenticeship is a mix of employment and training that allows young people to earn while learning while also receiving a recognised qualification.

    Apprentices enjoy the same working hours and rest breaks as other employees, with the exception that apprentices aged 16 or 17 have additional rights. In addition, depending on their age, an apprentice has the right to be paid a minimum apprenticeship wage.

    Work experience

    Work experience allows young people to spend a short amount of time with a company observing work and the working environment. Employers can interact with young people without making a long-term commitment by providing work experience, as well as opportunities for employees to build their mentoring and management abilities.

    Work experience is usually organised directly through the child’s school for pupils of compulsory school age. In these cases, the business will typically not need to get an employment permit to host a work experience student, and the student will not be entitled to any compensation.

    Work experience must be distinguished from paid internships, where an intern under the age of 18 may have the same statutory rights to minimum wage, working hours, and rest breaks as any other young worker.

    Employing young workers FAQs

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    Legal disclaimer

    The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.


    Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

    Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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