Employing young workers: Careful planning required

Employing young workers: Careful planning required


Author: Michael Briggs

Applies to: England, Wales and Scotland

With spring having recently sprung, and summer (hopefully!) just around the corner, employers may be thinking about taking on younger workers breaking up from schools, colleges and universities to assist with seasonal peaks / resourcing needs.


ACAS has just released new guidance on employing younger workers which emphasises the importance of getting the next generation of workers into the workplace, trained and prepared for the full demands of the job. Research shows that younger workers, who often come into the workplace straight from education and/or without any work experience, can provide new ideas and a different perspective on issues facing an organisation and that they may help an employer gain a greater insight into new customer markets.

The employment of young persons however is strictly governed in a number of areas, including pay, working time and rest breaks, health, safety and well-being and very much depends upon the age of the young person concerned. Careful planning is therefore required by employers to ensure legal compliance at all times. The focus of this article is however limited to the legal obligations that employers have in relation to workers under the age of 25.

Young persons below minimum school leaving age

In the UK children under the age of 14 may not be employed. Part-time employment in the area of 'light work' may however begin from the age of 13 provided this is permitted by local bye-laws, for example to deliver newspapers. The reason for this is to ensure that work cannot be harmful to a child's safety, health or development, to their school attendance or participation in work experience.

All children must remain in full-time education until they reach minimum school leaving age (which is when a child reaches the age of 16, or they will be 16 by the end of the school summer holidays). Until a child reaches 16 they must not work:

  • during school hours
  • before 7am or after 7pm
  • for more than one hour before school
  • for more than 12 hours in any school term week
  • for more than 5 hours on any non-school day from Monday to Saturday if below the age of 15 (8 hours if 15 or above)
  • for more than 25 hours per week during the school holidays if below the age of 15 (35 hours if 15 or above)
  • without a one hour rest break after working for four hours in any day; and
  • without having a two week break from any work during the school holidays.

Staying in education or training after minimum school leaving age

In England, a young person must remain in some form of education or training until they reach the age of 18, despite having reached minimum school leaving age. As a result, young persons can either:

  • remain in full-time education or training, as provided by a school or college (but can also take up part-time employment)
  • go into work-based learning, such an as apprenticeship; or
  • work or volunteer for no less than 20 hours per week while in part-time education or training.

The position is different in Scotland and Wales; with young persons not having to remain in education or training beyond minimum school leaving age therefore allowing them to go straight into full-time employment should they wish.

Young persons and the Working Time Regulations 1998

There are a number of additional restrictions with regard to the employment of young persons and 'working time'.

Young persons in work, who are between the ages of 16 and 17, must receive:

  • at least 12 hours of uninterrupted rest within any 24 hour period in which they work
  • a rest break of at least 30 minutes in every 4½ hours worked; and
  • two consecutive days off per week.

There are also additional restrictions regarding night-time working for young persons under the age of 18 (but above minimum school leaving age). They must not work:

  • between the hours of midnight and 4am; or
  • (in most cases) between the hours of 10pm and 7am unless they work in agriculture, retail trading, postal or newspaper delivery, a catering business or a bakery.

National Minimum Wage

Young persons who decide to take up some form of employment, and are at least 16 years old, will be entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage. The young workers rate, which is for workers under the age of 18 but above the minimum school leaving age (and who are not apprentices), is currently set at £3.87 per hour. This rate will increase from 1 October 2016 to £4.00 per hour.

Additional compulsory National Minimum Wage rates of pay for younger workers (for the purposes of this article) are as follows:

Prescribed rate  Category of workers Current hourly rate  Increased hourly rate from 1 October 2016 
Development rate  Workers aged between 18 and 20 inclusive  £5.30  £5.55  
Standard (adult) rate  Workers aged between 21 and 24 inclusive  £6.70  £6.95 

It will be noted that there are no restrictions on the rates of pay that can be paid to children under minimum school leaving age. Fair rates of pay are however recommended at or around the young worker rate.

Whilst young persons may wish to work additional hours or at non-permitted times, employers must ensure strict compliance with all legislation and local bye-laws in this area. Non-compliance can result in claims being brought before the Employment Tribunal for compensation, and can also result in the commission of a criminal offence, fines being levied and bad publicity. Employers also need to remember that all young workers will have additional rights in respect of minimum entitlement to annual leave and the right not to be discriminated against because of their age or any other protected characteristic.

About the Author

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Michael Briggs

Senior Associate

0370 086 5066

Michael is an experienced employment lawyer who provides practical, commercial and results-driven advice to a wide range of clients in respect of disciplinary matters, redundancy & reorganisation, absence and performance issues, employment contracts & handbooks and executive appointment & exits. Michael also defends employment tribunal claims.

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