Young workers

Employing young workers

With the increase in apprenticeships, many organisations are employing young people for the first time.  This article provides tips and guidelines on employing individuals who are under 18.

There are a number of employment rights all workers have when they start a job, but young workers - those under 18 years old - usually have a few additional or different rights to protect them at work.

Relevant employment law

The regulation of the employment of people under 18 years of age is covered by two separate, but related, regimes. The key distinction is whether an individual is a 'child' or a 'young person'.  The definitions are:-

Child: a child is anyone who is of compulsory school age, ie; has not reached the official age at which they can leave school. A person can leave school on the last Friday in June in the academic year in which they turn 16, provided he or she continues to receive some form of education or training until the age of 18. Such compulsory education or training will often be provided by an employer – for instance, in the form of an apprenticeship or training scheme.

Young person: a young person is anyone who is over compulsory school age, but under the age of 18.

What to do before employing young people

The general position is that young people can be employed, but employers need to be aware of a few specific restrictions.  Young people should not carry out work that is beyond their physical or mental capacity. Unfortunately, there is no reported judicial or administrative guidance on what 'capacity' means in this context and the employer will need to make a decision on each young person on a case-by-case basis.

Young people cannot generally be employed in roles that involve:-

  • Contact with chemical agents, toxic material or radiation
  • Extreme cold, heat or vibration which pose a risk to health.

These latter restrictions will not apply if such risks are necessary to the young person’s training, there is proper supervision, and the risk has been reduced to the lowest level that is reasonably possible. Again, the extent to which an employer is able to mitigate risks will depend on the situation in each case. As a result, best practice is to consider each case on its own merits, rather than applying a blanket rule.


Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks must be carried out on any employees who will have day-to-day responsibility for a 'child' or are likely to work with a child unsupervised. This would ordinarily include the child’s line manager and/or supervisor. DBS checks are not usually necessary when employing young people, unless there is a residential or travel element (for instance, a weekend residential course).

Health and Safety

Employers are required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to carry out such risk assessments in respect of all employees – not only children or young people. However, organisations that employ children or young people must carry out the assessment with those individuals specifically in mind. They must consider a number of factors, such as:-

  • The inexperience and immaturity of young people
  • The suitability of work equipment for use by young people. This is why often age limits are in place on the use of some equipment and machinery such as fork lift trucks.
  • The extent of health and safety training that will be required.

If employing a child, the child’s parents must be provided with a copy of the assessment.

Working time

Young workers are entitled to:-

  • At least 48 hours of uninterrupted rest each week
  • A daily rest break of 12 consecutive hours (the break between finishing work one day and starting work the next)
  • A rest break of at least 30 minutes if the working day lasts more than 4.5 hours. The rest break can be unpaid
  • Young workers normally will not work more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week
  • Young workers cannot work between 10pm and 6am, although there are some limited some exceptions (see next section)
  • All workers are entitled to at least the statutory annual leave allowance of 5.6 of their working week.

Night work

Workers under 18 are not usually allowed to work at night, however, there are some exceptions. Younger workers may work during the night if they are employed in a hospital or similar places of work, or in areas such as, advertising, sporting or cultural activities.

Younger workers may work between 10pm or 11pm to midnight and between 4am to 6/7am if they are employed in:-

  • Agriculture
  • Retail trading
  • Postal or newspaper deliveries
  • A catering business, hotel, public house, restaurant etc
  • A bakery.

They may work when the work is necessary to, maintain continuity of service or production, or respond to demand for services or products.

Wage rates

Most workers over school leaving age will be entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage. Young people must be paid the rate for their age, this includes, 16-17 year olds who are above school leaving age but under 18, and apprentices under 19.

England only

Young people who do not hold a level 3 educational training qualification are required to stay in education or training at least part-time, until they are 18 years old. They are required to take part in education or training through either:-

  • Full-time education or training, including school, or college
  • Work-based learning, such as Apprenticeships or part-time education, or training, or volunteering more than 20 hours a week
  • The education or training can be work-based.

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