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Young people and employment

About this information

In this information child means someone aged under 14 and young person means someone aged 14 or over but under 18. Parent means someone with parental responsibility.

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General rules on employment

Young people over school leaving age and under 18 are known as young workers. Young people can leave school on the last Friday of June of the school year in which they are 16.

There are special laws to protect the employment rights of young workers. These concern your health and safety, what jobs you can do, when you can work, and how many hours you can work. These laws are very strict and an employer can be prosecuted for breaking them.

If you are over school-leaving age and an employee, you will have other rights in addition to the rights of young workers which are mentioned below. For example, it is against the law to discriminate against you at work because of your age.

For more information about age discrimination at work, see Age discrimination at work.

For more information about other rights you have at work as an employee, see Basic rights at work.

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Health and safety at work

If you are under 18, your employer must do an assessment of possible risks to your health and safety, before they employ you. They must pay particular attention to your age, lack of experience, and other things that could be a risk to your health and safety.

If you are under school leaving age (see under heading General rules on employment), your employer must also tell one of your parents the results of the assessment. This must include any risks identified, and any measures put in place to protect your health and safety at work.

You do not have to be given a health and safety assessment if you are doing short term or occasional work in a family business or in a private household, and this is not considered to be harmful to you.

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What work can you do

16 – 18 year olds

If you are over school leaving age (see under heading General rules on employment) and under 18, there are special restrictions on doing certain types of work. These are:

  • work which you are not physically or mentally capable of doing
  • work which brings you into contact with chemical agents, toxic material or radiation
  • work which involves a health risk because of extreme cold, heat or vibration.

You are only allowed to do the work above under the following circumstances:

  • where it is necessary for your training, and
  • where an experienced person is supervising you, and
  • where any risk is reduced to the lowest level that is reasonable.

These rules do not apply if you are doing short term or occasional work in a family business or in a private household, and this is not considered to be harmful to you.

Children and young people under school leaving age (England and Wales only)

No one under school leaving age (see under heading General rules on employment) can be employed in work other than light work. You are not allowed to do work which is likely to be harmful to your safety, health, development, or work that will affect your attendance at school or participation in work experience. You are not allowed to work:-

  • in a factory or in construction work
  • in transport
  • in a mine
  • on a registered merchant ship.

The local authority where you live may also have some extra rules, called by-laws, about the employment of children and young people in your area. You should check with your local authority if you want to find out what these are. By-laws authorising children and young people to work in street trading must say which days, which hours, and the places where, they may work.

Employers who want to employ children or young people under school leaving age are required to get a permit from their local authority. The permit must be signed by both the employer and one of your parents.

There are some extra rules about the employment of children under 14. If you are under 14, you are not allowed to work at all except in the following types of work:-

  • to take part in sport, advertising, modelling, plays, films, television or other entertainment. The employer must apply for a licence from the local authority
  • to do odd jobs for a parent, relative or neighbour
  • to do babysitting – see under heading Babysitting.

However, children of 13 or above may be able to do some other types of work, depending on the by-laws of the local authority in their area. For example, the by-laws may say that children of 13 and above in your area can do a paper-round, or that you can do light work which is not likely to be harmful to your health, safety or development.

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Hours of work and rest breaks

16 – 18 year olds

If you are over school leaving age (see under heading General rules on employment) and under 18, the law says that you must not work more than eight hours a day, or more than 40 hours a week. You must have twelve hours' rest between each working day, and 48 hours' rest per working week. You are also entitled to a 30-minute rest break when you work for longer than four and a half hours. There are some exceptions to this (see below).

There are special limits on the hours you can work at night. You cannot usually work between 10pm and 6am. If you are contracted to work after 10pm, you must stop work at 11pm and not start again before 7am. There are some exceptions for young people who work in hospitals, agriculture, retail, hotels and catering, bakeries, post/newspaper deliveries, or in connection with cultural, artistic, sporting or advertising activities. You are not allowed to work between midnight and 4am, except in the most exceptional circumstances.

The rules about working at night do not apply when:-

  • your employer needs you to work to maintain continuity of service or production, or to respond to a sudden rush in demand; and
  • doing the work would not affect your education or training; and
  • no adult is available to do the work; and
  • you are supervised by an adult (if this is necessary for your protection) and you are allowed a period of rest as compensation.

If you are allowed to work at night, you must first be given a free assessment of your health and ability to do the work. The assessment should be repeated at regular intervals. You must not work more than eight hours in a 24 hour period.

Children and young people under school leaving age (England and Wales only)

There are strict limits to the hours children and young people under school leaving age (see under heading General rules on employment) are allowed to work. You must not work:-

  • during school hours on any school day
  • for more than two hours on any school day or for more than 12 hours in any week in which you are required to go to school
  • for more than two hours on a Sunday
  • for more than eight hours (five hours if you are under 15) on any day which is not a school day or a Sunday
  • before 7am or after 7pm
  • for more than 35 hours (25 if you are under the age of 15) in any week in which you are not required to go to school
  • for more than four hours in any day without a break of one hour
  • at any time, if during the 12 months beginning 1 January, working means that you have not had two uninterrupted weeks of holiday from school.

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Employment of children under school leaving age (Northern Ireland)

If you are under compulsory school leaving age you can only be employed in certain permitted occupations:

  • delivering newspapers, milk, groceries, foodstuffs, flowers or drapery goods
  • office work, except in premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor, betting or gaming
  • hotel and catering work except in the kitchen or portions of premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor
  • work as a shop assistant, excluding any premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor, betting or gaming
  • domestic work
  • light agricultural work or horticultural work for your parents.

No-one under the minimum school leaving age can be employed in work other than light work, that is, in work which is likely to be harmful to your safety, health, development or work that will affect attendance at school or participation in work experience. If you are under 14 you must not work:-

  • for longer than one hour before school and the work period must end at least half an hour before school starts
  • for more than two hours on a Sunday
  • between 1 July and 31 August without two weeks continuous holiday
  • without written parental consent to the your employment
  • without suitable protective clothing and footwear if you are to work outside.

In addition, if you are under the age of 15 you must:-

  • not work for more than five hours on a Saturday or non-school day
  • not work for more than 27 hours in a week
  • have a rest period of three consecutive hours during each twelve hour period
  • be allowed one hour for meals and rest after four hours continuous work on a Saturday, after three hours continuous work on any other day.

If you are aged 15 but not yet over school leaving age you must:-

  • not work for more than seven hours on a Saturday or non-school day
  • not work for more than 37 hours in a week
  • be allowed one hour for meals and rest after four hours continuous work.

If you are aged 13 years and over, but under school leaving age you may not be employed:

  • before the end of school hours on any day you have to go to school
  • for more than two hours on any day you have to go to school
  • before 7.00am or after 7.00pm on any day
  • for more than two hours on a Sunday
  • in street trading.

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Paid holidays from work

If you are under school leaving age you are not legally entitled to paid holiday from work.

If you are over school leaving age, you are legally entitled to paid holiday, in the same way as other workers. You are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday a year. To work out how many days holiday you can take a year, you need to multiply 5.6 by the number of days you work in a week.

For example:

  • if you work a five-day week, you are entitled to 28 days' paid holiday a year (5.6 X 5)
  • if you work 2.5 days a week, you are entitled to 14 days' paid holiday a year (5.6 X 2.5).

To check whether you are over or under school leaving age, see under heading General rules on employment.

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Pay

If you are 16 or over (and above school leaving age) you are entitled to earn a minimum wage. This is called the National Minimum Wage, which for workers aged under 18 is £3.72 an hour.

If you are under 16, you are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

To check whether you are over or under school leaving age, see under heading General rules on employment.

For more information about the National Minimum Wage, see Rights to pay.

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Time off for study or training

If you are an employee aged 16 or 17 and have not yet achieved a certain standard of education or training, you are entitled to reasonable time off work for study or training. The time off should be paid at your normal hourly rate.

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Working in a bar or restaurant

If you are 16 or 17, the law says that you are allowed to sell or serve alcohol in a restaurant without supervision provided that:

  • it is sold or supplied to be drunk with a table meal, and that
  • it is served in a part of the premises used only for that purpose.

This means that, for example, a person aged under school leaving age working as a waiter or waitress can lawfully serve alcohol in a restaurant without supervision.

People aged under 18 are also allowed to sell alcohol in a bar provided the sale is specifically approved by a responsible person, who will be the licence holder or manager.

However, in both of the above cases, a local authority may have bye-laws which stop people aged under 18 selling alcohol except in sealed containers, such as in cans or bottles. If your local authority has such a bye-law, then anyone employing someone aged under 18 to sell alcohol will be committing an offence, unless the alcohol is in a sealed container.

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Working for the armed forces

If you are under 18, you will usually need permission from both parents to join the armed forces. If your parents are separated or divorced, only the permission of the parent with whom you live is needed.

The armed forces have their own minimum age restrictions that reflect current recruitment needs. Details are available from your local armed forces careers offices.

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Babysitting

You can babysit at any age, whether you are paid or not. However, if a parent chooses to leave their child with a babysitter under 16, the parent remains legally responsible for the child's care and safety. If a parent chooses to leave their child with a babysitter under 16, the parent could be prosecuted if the child comes to harm, or action could be taken to put their child into care.

If you are over the age of 16, you can be charged with a criminal offence if you deliberately assault, ill-treat or abandon a child in your care.

You can find more information about babysitting and leaving your child home alone on the Children's Legal Centre website at www.childrenslegalcentre.com.

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Trade unions

Most trade unions allow young people to join at the age of 16, but some accept younger members.

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Training schemes

For information about training schemes for young people, see Government employment schemes.

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Further information and advice for young people

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Citizens Advice

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