Employment lawyer Felicity Staff explores the legal implications of employing workers under the age of 25.
According to a recent survey commissioned by The Prince’s Trust that assessed the happiness of 2,136 young people aged between 16 and 25, around one person in 10 said they feel unable to cope with day-to-day life. Young people who are not in education, employment or training – also called “NEETs” – are more than twice as likely to feel this way than their peers. More than half of young people said they feel disillusioned by the current state of the job market.
The results of the survey clearly illustrate the importance of employment to the overall wellbeing of young people. Yet in these difficult economic times, they increasingly find themselves trapped in a catch-22 situation – rejected by employers because of a lack of experience and with no hope of gaining experience without a job – and, as a result, they risk becoming disengaged from the labour market.
In the current economic climate, the temptation for employers to recruit those who can “hit the ground running” rather than investing in young people is understandable. So, what is the business case for investing in young workers and what legal considerations should employers keep in mind?
The business case
Age differentials in the structure of national minimum wage (NMW) legislation mean that young people can be employed cost effectively – for example, under apprenticeship schemes – and can be trained up to meet industry standards. Developing talent in-house and growing a committed workforce can improve staff retention and reduce future recruitment costs. Employees who have trained with a business and have bought into its values are more likely to stay.
Innovation and brand value
Young people provide insight into new markets, enabling businesses to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals. Recruiting young people sends a clear signal that an employer is engaging with its community, which can boost the public’s perception of the company.
Young workers are often less constrained by a need to work in specific locations or during particular hours. Their adaptability offers a range of options for employers who take the time to nurture their talents.
An organisational culture that focuses on the development of young people minimises the negative effects of staff absences and unplanned retirement. Establishing effective support structures helps to ensure that valuable skills remain in-house.
National minimum wage
The NMW dictates the minimum hourly rate that must be paid to workers. Current rates are £6.19 per hour for those aged 21 or above, £4.98 for those aged between 18 and 20, and £3.68 for those under 18 years of age. Apprenticeships offer an alternative for employers, as the minimum wage for apprentices is currently £2.65 per hour. The National Apprenticeship Service provides useful guidance on the process of offering apprenticeships and the legal structures that can be used.
Incorporating a probation period into an employee’s contract is a useful safeguard for employers. If they are dissatisfied with the employee’s performance they may dismiss the employee at any time within the probationary period on minimal notice, usually around one week.
Health and safety
Special health and safety rules apply when employing under-18s. There are restrictions on 16- to 18-year-olds undertaking certain types of work – for example, work that involves a health risk because of extreme cold, heat or vibration. Employers should undertake thorough risk assessments before appointing a young person, taking into account their age and level of experience.
Young workers have particular rights under the Working Time Regulations 1998. Those over the minimum school-leaving age but under 18, and those on work experience schemes, may not work between 10pm and 6am or between 11pm and 7am (except in certain circumstances). They must have at least 12 hours’ rest between each working day, at least two days’ rest per week and a 30-minute rest break when working longer than four-and-a-half hours. Other stipulations under the Regulations also apply.
Establishing support structures, such as peer-group support, can help young workers to develop, reaping long-term business rewards. While young workers may require more training, this can be focused to address organisational skills gaps with a view to maximising business growth.
Age is a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act 2010. This means employers must not discriminate against young people, either directly or indirectly. As a matter of good practice, employers should avoid:
- requiring job applicants to have a specific length of experience – advertisements and specifications should require proven skills in certain areas, and salaries should be appropriate to the role instead of the applicant’s age;
- asking questions in interviews relating to age; and
- making stereotypical assumptions about job applicants based on their age.
While it may be justified to set an age minimum for applicants in certain circumstances, age should generally not be a factor when assessing a candidate’s suitability.
Employers who tap into the benefits of recruiting and training young people can reap long-term business rewards. With an open-minded approach, coupled with effective support structures, employers can benefit greatly from investing in young workers.
Felicity Staff is an associate in the employment and pensions team at Charles Russell LLP.
Improve career advice, CIPD says
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has urged the Government to improve careers advice for young people after a survey found more that than half of employers said the advice available was “inadequate”.
In addition to the 53% of employers that said they believe young people receive inadequate careers advice, almost two-thirds (63%) also said the young people they had recruited “lacked insight” into the working world.
The research, published in January 2013, was carried out as part of the CIPD’s submission to the Education Select Committee’s report into career guidance for young people.
The CIPD has called on the Government to improve the information made available to young people as part of their education, and pointed out that career advice currently available was too general, leading to a skills “mismatch” and a failure to prepare young people for the jobs market. It added that a failure to offer adequate information on different sectors and occupations resulted in young people failing to study the subjects required for some jobs, and led them to rule out entire sectors as career options because they do not know what opportunities may be available to them. The CIPD has recommended that education providers and businesses should work more closely to improve the situation, and asked the Government to support organisations such as the Education Employers Taskforce, which enables collaboration between employers and schools.
Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive, said: “There has never been a golden age of careers advice in schools and, unfortunately, it has failed to develop in response to the increasing complexities of the labour market, causing problems for both young people and employers. There is already a worrying mismatch between the skills employers need and the skills the next generation of workers are focusing on.
“A critical way to help resolve this is to increase the emphasis on careers advice in schools and to get employers into schools more regularly, bringing to life the natures of different careers and the generic and specific skills they are looking for when they recruit.
“The challenge for the Government is to work with schools and colleges to prioritise and make it easier for employers to make good on their desire to talk to their future workforce.”