Employing students: six tips for the new term

Freshers arriving at university. Photo: Brian Harris/REX/Shutterstock

In university towns and cities around the country, students are settling in for the start of the academic year. As freshers’ weeks come to an end, many students will start to think about finding some part-time work to see them through. We set out six tips on employing students.

1. Understand the rights of zero hours workers

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, 20% of people on zero hours contracts are in full-time education.

Despite the negative press coverage, the flexibility that can come with a zero hours contract may be welcome to some students.

However, if you use zero hours contracts, you need to be clear about the employment status of your workers and the employment protection they have.

Zero hours workers can have employee status. This will depend on a number of factors, including mutuality of obligation – that is, whether or not you are obliged to offer the workers hours and they are obliged to accept the hours offered.

While an employer can require zero hours workers to accept the hours they are offered, exclusivity clauses, which prohibit them from working for another employer, are unlawful.

How to employ an individual on a casual or zero hours contract.


2. Check for restrictions on working hours when employing foreign students

If you are employing students from outside the European Economic Area, you need to check for limitations on their right to work in the UK.

There may be a restriction on the number of hours that they can work while studying.

As well as the usual document checks to establish that they have the right to work in the UK, you will need evidence from the institution at which they are studying, showing the term dates for the period of employment.

How to employ foreign students.


3. Make sure students are not disadvantaged by working part time

Most students working during term time will be employed on a part-time basis. Employers need to be sure that they do not treat their part-time staff any less favourably than those working full time.

This means you need to make sure that they are not disadvantaged in relation to, for example, bank holiday entitlement.

How to employ someone on a part-time basis.


4. Know when a student will move national minimum wage bands

There are different rates of the national minimum wage for workers aged:

How many students work?

A 2015 study found that 77% of students were working while at university.

  • 25 and over;
  • 21 to 24 inclusive;
  • 18 to 20 inclusive; and
  • under 18.

If you are employing students and paying at or near the national minimum wage rate, you need to ensure that your system will pick up on any birthdays, moving them from one minimum wage band to the next and that the new rate is applied correctly.

The rate at which a worker must be paid during a pay reference period is the rate that applies on the first day of that period.

So when a worker turns 21, he or she is entitled to be paid at the higher rate from the start of the first pay reference period that begins on or after his or her birthday.

How to review your pay rates against the minimum wage.


5. Do not restrict recruitment to students

You might be recruiting for a role that you think would be perfect for a student.

However, focusing your recruitment only on students might put you at risk of an age discrimination claim from an older applicant who would have been just as suitable for the job.

Avoid phrases like “student wanted” in your job adverts.

Line manager briefing: Age discrimination – recruitment.


6. Assess student workers for pensions auto-enrolment

If you have passed your staging date and are now auto-enrolling certain workers into a pension scheme, make sure you keep an eye on your obligations to part-time student workers.

While someone working a few hours a week during term time may not earn enough to be auto-enrolled, if they then work full time for a period, say over the summer holidays, depending on their age and earnings, you may have an obligation to auto-enrol them.

You could consider postponement if the increased earnings are only going to be for a temporary period.

Even if you do not have to auto-enrol your student employee, they may have the right to opt in to your pension scheme.

If you do receive such a request, as well as congratulating yourself on hiring the most financially responsible student in the country, you will need to enrol the student into the qualifying scheme.

Task: Assess a worker for pensions auto-enrolment.

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