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Employing people under 18

02 October 2009
Employing people under 18

Children and young people in the UK are subject to limitations on hours and have special rights and protections on health and safety grounds. Emilie Bennetts explains what employers need to be aware of when employing under-18s.


I employ school leavers and part-time students to supplement my workforce. What do I need to be wary of?


The employment of children in the UK is subject to limitations regarding the number of hours they can work. They also have special rights and protections on health and safety grounds.


Someone under the compulsory school leaving age, which they reach on the last Friday in June in the school year in which they have their 16th birthday. A child can be 15 when reaching the school leaving age if his or her 16th birthday falls in the summer holidays. A young person is someone who has ceased to be a child, but is under 18.


As well as employment in the normal sense, a person who helps in a trade or occupation carried out for profit is considered as employed even if he or she receives no payment. This would cover children or young people helping their parents in a restaurant, for example.


The general principle, subject to certain exceptions, is that a child under 14 cannot work. Those over 14 can only do light work and may not work:

  • In any industrial setting
  • Before 7am or after 7pm
  • During school hours on a school day
  • For more than two hours on a school day or a Sunday
  • For more than 12 hours in any week during term time
  • For more than 25 hours in any week outside of term time for children under 15
  • For more than 35 hours in any week outside of term time for children over 15
  • For more than four hours in any day without a rest break of at least one hour.

Many of these rules can be relaxed by a local authority's byelaws, so check amendments.


Daily and weekly limits are set for young workers by the Working Time Regulations. They may not work more than eight hours in any one day and 40 hours in any one week.

Health and safety

An employer must carry out a risk assessment, considering issues such as the inexperience and immaturity of the young person and associated risks, including the equipment to be used.

No young person can be employed in any work:

  • Involving the risk of an accident, which a young person is more likely to suffer because of their insufficient attention to safety or lack of experience. For example, work involving the use of sharp knives or slicers will be prohibited.
  • In which there is a risk to health from extreme cold, heat, noise or vibration.
  • Beyond their physical or psychological capacity - for example, heavy manual labour.

National Minimum Wage (NMW) and Statutory Sick Pay

The NMW for young people is currently £3.53 per hour and is reviewed each October. There is no NMW for children still under the school leaving age. Workers aged 16 or over are entitled to receive Statutory Sick Pay, but those aged under 16 are not.


  • Make sure you are aware when your employees will reach each age threshold as this will trigger different responsibilities.
  • Create health and safety policies for children and young people and document your compliance with the NMW and Working Time Regulations.


  • Check local authority byelaws.
  • Carry out a detailed risk assessment into the work the child or young person will be doing.
  • Ensure that you only require a child to carry out "light work" and that you comply with the strict time limits set out above.
  • If employing a young person, ensure you comply with the NMW and Working Time Regulations.
  • Do not discriminate against a worker on the grounds of age.


The potential consequences of failing to protect young people and paying them at the right level are serious, so employers are advised to tread carefully when recruiting school leavers and part-time students. If in doubt, take advice.


Emilie Bennetts, solicitor, Charles Russell

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