Workers under the age of 18 have particular legal rights in the UK. These rules are designed to provide younger workers with additional protections due to their age, ensuring that they don’t work long or unsociable hours and are paid a minimum wage, where applicable.
Employing young workers can bring many benefits to a business, allowing you to meet staffing needs, build your employer brand and develop a talent pipeline, since home-grown talent can be a cost-effective way of filling any future skills gaps. However, employers of younger workers have to ensure they are complying with the law and that their young workers are getting what they are legally entitled to.
The following guide for employers looks at the rules on employing young workers, from minimum age and wage requirements, to rules on apprenticeships and work experience.
Minimum employment age in the UK
There are minimum ages that children and young people are legally entitled to work in the UK, either on a part-time or full-time basis. A child is anyone who has not yet reached the official minimum school leaving age (MSLA). By law in England, pupils will reach the MSLA in the school year in which they turn 16. A young person is anyone over the MSLA but under 18.
In England, all young people are legally required to continue in education or training until at least their eighteenth birthday, although in practice the vast majority of youngsters continue until the end of the academic year in which they turn 18. Young people do not only have the option to stay in school, but they must either undertake:
- full-time study in a school or sixth form college
- an apprenticeship, traineeship or supported internship
- full-time work, for 20 hours or more a week, combined with part-time education or training
- full-time volunteering, for 20 hours or more, combined with part-time education or training.
This means that it’s against the law for a young person to leave school entirely, or enter into full-time work without continuing with some education and training, before the age of 18.
For those under the school leaving age, the rules are much stricter. Children are legally required to stay in full-time education until the age of 16, although they may be able to undertake part-time work. In the UK, the youngest age that a child can be employed on a part-time basis is 13. Children under the age of 16 can only take on ‘light work’, which means the job will not affect their health and safety or interfere with their education.
There are some exceptions to this minimum age rule for part-time work, including children working in areas such as television, theatre and modelling. However, children working in these areas will still need a performance licence. This could include where a child is taking part in:
- a film, play, concert or any other public performance that an audience pays to see, or that takes place on licensed premises
- any sporting event or modelling assignment where the child is paid.
The person responsible for running the event must apply to the child’s local council for a licence. If a parent or teacher will not be accompanying the child, they must be supervised. Child supervision must be undertaken by a chaperone approved by the council.
Restrictions on employing children
An employer can employ anyone aged at least 13, although there are several restrictions on when and where children are allowed to work. By law, children are not permitted to work:
- without an employment permit from the education department or education welfare service of their local council, if required by local bylaws
- in places like a factory or industrial site
- during school hours, or either before 7am or after 7pm
- for more than 1 hour before school, unless local bylaws allow it
- 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
- without a break of 2 weeks from any work during school holidays in each calendar year.
There are also special rules relating to the maximum number of hours worked, and the days on which these hours are worked, for both term times and school holidays. There are different term-time and school holiday rules depending on the age of the child:
- For 13 to 14 year olds: during term time, children aged 13 or 14 can only work up to 12 hours a week, including a maximum of 2 hours on school days and Sundays, and 5 hours on Saturdays. During school holidays, children of this age can work up to 25 hours a week, with a maximum of 5 hours on either a weekday or Saturday, and 2 hours on a Sunday.
- For 15 to 16 year olds: during term time, children aged 15 or 16 can again only work up to 12 hours a week, including a maximum of 2 hours on school days and Sundays, but 8 hours on Saturdays. During school holidays, youngsters of this age can work up to 35 hours a week, with a maximum of 8 hours on a weekday and Saturday, and 2 hours on Sundays.
Local bylaws may impose additional restrictions on working hours, conditions of work and the type of employment that children can do, so employers should always contact their local council before hiring school-aged children. The council’s education department or education welfare service will be able to advise further on what work children can and cannot do, and whether a child employment permit is needed for the part-time work in question.
If a child is taken on without an appropriate permit, there’s a very real risk that the employer will not be insured against any accidents involving the child. Employers must also undertake a workplace risk assessment before taking on someone of school age to ensure that they’re not exposed to any risk due to lack of experience or maturity, being unaware of existing or potential risks, or where the work is beyond their physical or psychological capacity.
Restrictions on employing young workers
When employing someone over school leaving age but below the age of 18, there are again special protections that apply in relation to working hours and rest breaks.
By law, workers aged either 16 or 17 must not work more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week, or not usually work before 6am or after 10pm (or 7am and 11pm by contractual agreement). Young workers must also have as a minimum:
- a 30-minute break if working longer than 4.5 hours
- 12 hours’ rest in any 24-hour working period
- 48 hours’ rest taken together each week, or at least 36 hours, with the remaining 12 hours’ rest taken as soon as possible afterwards.
In cases where a young worker might need to work when they’re supposed to be resting, for example, where there’s a good business reason why a 48-hour rest break has not been possible, the employer must still make sure they take their break later or in a different way.
In the context of night-working, young workers aged 16 or 17 can work until midnight or from 4am onwards, but only in certain industries, and where there are no adult workers available to do the work, and working those hours will not have a negative effect on the young person’s education or training. This could include work in advertising, agriculture, retail, catering, bakeries, hospitals, hotels, pubs, restaurants, or postal and newspaper deliveries.
If a young worker does need to work after 10pm or before 6am (or 11pm or 7am), the employer must ensure that the young worker is supervised by one or more adult workers where necessary for their protection, and has enough rest at another time if working during their normal rest breaks or rest periods.
Employers must conduct regular health assessments for young night-time workers. They must also keep records of these assessments, and the hours undertaken, to make sure they’re not working during restricted hours, or more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. These records must then be kept for 2 years from the date they were made.
In addition to health assessments for night-time working, a specific risk assessment must be undertaken by the employer to assess the workplace risks of employing a young person. Once someone is aged 18 they’re classed as an ‘adult worker’ and different rules relating to working hours, night-time working, rest breaks and risk assessments will apply.
Minimum wage for 16 & 17 year olds
Those over school leaving age but under 18 are entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage (NMW). The NMW is a minimum amount set by the government on 1 April each year that an employer must pay for the hours worked, based on a person’s age.
A worker must be at least school leaving age to get an NMW rate, although a lower rate applies to young workers than to adult workers. The means the minimum wage 16 and 17 year olds are entitled to get is £4.62 per hour. There are different NMW rates for adult workers:
Minimum wage from April 2022
Minimum wage from April 2021
|For workers aged 18 to 20||£6.83||£6.56|
|For workers aged 21 to 22||£9.18||£8.36|
|For workers aged 23 and over (also known as the National Living Wage)||£9.50||£8.91|
When employing a young worker, employers will need to record and report their pay as part of running payroll. If the young person earns more than £120 a week, the employer will also need to do other regular PAYE tasks, like making deductions.
School-aged children are not entitled to a minimum rate for any part-time work undertaken. Equally, children under 16 do not pay National Insurance, so an employer only needs to include them on their payroll if their total income is over their income tax personal allowance.
Employment rules for apprentices
An apprenticeship is a combination of work and training, offering young people a way of ‘earning while learning’, and gaining a recognised qualification in the process. It’s also a way for employers to get talented young people through their doors at an early age.
Apprentices have the same rights as other employees, including working hours and rest breaks, although apprentices aged 16 or 17 will have additional rights. An apprentice also has the right to be paid a minimum apprenticeship rate, depending on their age.
For apprentices aged under 19, or aged 19 or over and in the first year of their apprenticeship, they will be entitled to an hourly rate of £4.30. If an apprentice is aged 19 or over, and has completed the first year of their apprenticeship, they will be entitled to the applicable NMW rate for their age. For example, an apprentice aged 21 in the first year of their apprenticeship is entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £4.30, increasing to £8.36 in their second year.
Work experience rules
Work experience gives young people a limited time with an employer to learn directly about work, and the working environment, through observation. Providing work experience can be a great way for employers to engage with young people without making a long-term commitment, and opportunities for staff to develop their mentoring and management skills.
Work experience is typically aimed at students of compulsory school age, arranged directly through the child’s school. In these circumstances, the employer will not usually need to obtain an employment permit to host a work experience student, and the student would not have any entitlement to be paid. However, a distinction must be drawn between work experience and a paid internship, where an intern under 18 may have the same statutory rights to minimum pay, working hours and rest breaks as any other young worker.
DavidsonMorris’ employment lawyers provide expert guidance to employers on all aspects of employee rights and entitlements, including legal obligations in relation to hiring young workers. For specialist advice, contact us.
Employing young workers FAQs
What is the minimum wage for 16 year olds UK?
The minimum wage for 16 year olds is £4.62 per hour from April 2021, and from April 2022 this increases to £4.81.
Why should you hire young people?
Employing young workers can bring all sorts of benefits to a business, including improving the employer-brand and building a talent pipeline, where home-grown talent can be an ideal way of filling an organisations’ future skills gaps.
Last updated: 10 September 2021