Employing under 18s: legal Q&A

If the supermarkets’ shelves are to be believed, Christmas is already just around the corner. During school holidays, many employers will be recruiting youngsters for seasonal work. They will join the many under 18s who work weekends and perhaps evenings. It’s important for employers to be aware of the regulations that apply to youngsters and to make appropriate adjustments.

Generally, what hours are under 18s allowed to work?

A That depends on how old they are. It is unlawful to employ anyone under the age of 13 at all, except in very limited circumstances (for instance, child actors – but the relevant Local Authority must issue a permit)

There are different rules for employees aged younger than 18 but over the minimum school leaving age, and those between 13 and minimum school leaving age. The earliest a young person may leave school is the last Friday in June if they are 16 or will turn 16 before the start of the next school year. Prior to that date they fall into the ‘school-age’ category. ‘School-age’ workers may not work:

  • between 7pm and 7am
  • for more than two hours on a school day or a Sunday
  • before the close of school hours (although the relevant Local Authority may allow work for up to one hour before school starts)
  • for more than 12 hours per week during term time
  • for more than four hours per week without a break of at least one hour.

Q What about under 16s?

A Thirteen and 14-year-olds may not work:

  • for more then five hours on Saturdays and during school holidays on weekends
  • for more than 25 hours per week in total during school holidays.

For 15 and 16-years-olds, the relevant restrictions are eight hours on a Saturday and 35 hours total per week.

Q And those above school age but younger than 18?

A Workers above ‘school age’ but below 18 may not work:

  • between 10pm and 6am
  • for more than eight hours per day
  • for more than 40 hours per week
  • for more than 4.5 hours without at least a 30-minute break.

They must also be given rest of at least 12 hours between each working day and two days per week. There are limited exceptions to these rules.

Q What minimum rates of pay should they receive?

A Workers above school age but below 18 are entitled to the minimum wage of £3.57 per hour from 1 October 2009 to 30 September 2010. There is currently no minimum wage for school-age workers.

Q What health and safety considerations apply?

A Employers must undertake risk assessments before taking on workers under the age of 18 and take account of the health and safety implications of employing young people. School-age workers are not allowed to work in certain occupations (for example, pubs or betting shops) and may not undertake any work that may be harmful to their health, wellbeing or education. Workers between school age and 18 may only be employed in certain dangerous environments if it is necessary for their training, if they are supervised, and if the risks are minimised.

Q What should employers do when an under-18 becomes 18 during their employment?

A The main change will be that they will move from the young workers rate to the development rate for national minimum wage (NMW) purposes. Employers should make sure they are complying with their minimum wage obligations (as they should when workers reach 21 and become eligible for the standard (adult) rate of NMW). Restrictions on working time will be less stringent but employers should be careful of any attempts to unilaterally vary working hours or other terms and conditions of employment.

Q What rights do under-18s who work weekends only, or who are recruited for a short defined period, have? For example, will they be entitled to paid leave?

A The main restrictions relating to under-18s are those relating to hours, pay and working in certain occupations. In other matters, their rights will depend more on the circumstances of the arrangement between the worker and their employer than their age. Like any other worker who only works weekends or for a short fixed term, under-18s will be entitled to holiday at the full-time rate of 5.6 weeks per year that is prescribed by the Working Time Regulations or a pro-rated part-time equivalent. There are often practical difficulties in calculating and allowing such holiday.

Bob Fahy, solicitor, Matthew Arnold & Baldwin

Comments are closed.