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Employing young workers - what to know

Updated: Feb 17

Depending on their needs and the time of year, employers may find themselves taking on younger workers – defined for the purposes of this article as those under the age of 25.

However, whilst young workers can bring fresh ideas and an innovative outlook, not to mention generous supplies of energy and enthusiasm, employers should be aware that the regulations and requirements surrounding their employment are different from their older colleagues. These include working time, health and safety, pay and rest breaks.

Young persons below minimum school leaving age

Children who are under fourteen years of age cannot be employed. However, provided that local bye-laws permit it, ‘light work’ may start from the age of thirteen. The definition of ‘light work’ will be set out by local authorities and may vary from area to area. Children of thirteen years of age can also be employed by their parents in light agricultural or horticultural work.

A child who is below the age of sixteen must not work during school hours, before seven in the morning or after seven at night and any work carried out before school must not last more than an hour. Nor should their work amount to more than twelve hours in any school term week.

On a non-school day, their work must not last for more than five hours if they are under the age of fifteen. If they are fifteen or older, the work can last eight hours.

During school holidays, they can work for up to twenty-five hours if they are below the age of fifteen and thirty-five hours if they are fifteen or older. They must have a one-hour rest break if they work for four hours or more in any one day and they must also be given a two-week break from any work during the school holidays.

Staying in education or training after minimum school leaving age

In England, young people are required to stay in formal learning until their 18th birthday, unless they have achieved a level 3 qualification such as A-levels or the equivalent.

There are three formal learning choices the young person can make:

  • an apprenticeship

  • full-time education, such as school or college

  • employment, self-employment, volunteering or internship for at least twenty hours a week, for more than eight weeks. They must also attend part-time learning for the equivalent of one day a week.

In Scotland and Wales, however, young people do not have to remain in education or training beyond the minimum school leaving age. They can therefore go straight into full-time education if that is what they want to do.

Young persons and the Working Time Regulations 1998

Workers who are 16 or 17 years old have an entitlement to twelve hours of uninterrupted rest within a 24 hour period in which they work. If they have been working a shift and it lasts more than four and a half hours, they have an entitlement to a break of thirty minutes.

Each week, they are entitled to two days off. These have to be consecutive and therefore cannot be averaged out over a two-week period.

Workers of this age do not usually work more than forty hours a week.

Regardless of their age, all workers are entitled to at least the statutory annual leave allowance of 5.6 weeks.

Night work limits

Young workers below the age of eighteen are not normally permitted to work at night, defined as the time between 10pm and 6am (although this can be altered to 11pm and 7am).

There are, however, some exceptions – if their place of work is in an area such as:

  • hospitals,

  • agriculture,

  • retail,

  • hotels or catering,

  • post or newspaper delivery,

  • cultural,

  • sporting,

  • artistic or

  • advertising activities.

  • a bakery.

Young workers may work at night if the work in which they are involved is necessary to:

  • maintain continuity of service or production; or

  • respond to a surge in demand for service or product; and

  • there is no adult available to perform the task;

  • the employer ensures that the training needs of the young worker are not adversely affected; and

  • the young worker is allowed an equivalent period of compensatory rest.

Where it is necessary for the young worker’s protection, they should be adequately supervised.

National Minimum Wage

The National Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage apply to most workers over the school leaving age. There are different rates depending on the age and status of the worker.

Workers under the age of 18 but above the minimum school leaving age (and who are not apprentices), must be paid £3.87 per hour. From 1st October 2016, this will go up to £4.00 an hour.

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

Failure to comply with the rates laid down by law can lead to compensation claims in an Employment Tribunal, plus the likelihood of criminal charges, fines and bad publicity for the organisation in question.

Health & Safety

An employer’s responsibility for health and safety applies to all workers, regardless of their age. However, younger workers have particular needs which must be addressed by their employer, in particular lack of experience, immaturity and being unaware of existing or potential risks.

Section 19 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 covers what employers are required to do in order to discharge their legal duties, including considering the workplace layout, the physical, biological and chemical agents to which they will be exposed, the organisation of work processes, the degree of training required and the risks from particular agents in the work environment.


Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of age; this will naturally be of particular relevance to younger workers.

Age discrimination falls into four types:

  • Direct discrimination – treating someone less favourably because of their actual, or perceived age.

  • Indirect discrimination – when a policy or practice which applies to all workers, but disadvantages people of a particular age.

  • Harassment – when unwanted conduct related to age creates an offensive environment for that individual.

  • Victimisation – unfair treatment of an employee who has made or supported a complaint about age discrimination.

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