Employing younger staff

Article reference: UK-IA-EMP20
Last updated: December 2020 | 8 min read

There is much legislation regarding the treatment of young people in employment. Regulation in this area is designed to protect the young employee, who is generally less experienced in issues that arise from being employed.

For a business, employing younger staff obviously has its benefits, such as lower wage rates, but not without associated risks.

Important definitions

Compulsory school age starts at five and ends at sixteen.

A child is any person who is not over compulsory school age.

A young worker is someone aged between 15 and 18 who is over compulsory school age.

Employer health and safety responsibilities

As an employer of young people, you have a strict duty on you to "ensure that young persons employed by him are protected at work from any risks to their health or safety which are a consequence of their lack of experience, or absence of awareness of existing or potential risks or the fact that young persons have not yet fully matured".

There are relaxations on the definition of “young worker” if the person is over compulsory school age (16) and is supervised by a competent person.

A child cannot be employed in any work before the age of 13. This excludes children employed by their parent  or guardians or in light agricultural or horticultural work on occasions, and employment as part of a public performance.

It is a criminal offence to employ any child in an industrial undertaking.

It is prohibited to allow a child to ride on certain classes of vehicle or machine used in an agricultural operation.

Permitted working times

A child cannot be employed during school hours, or for more than 2 hours on a school day (only one of which can be before school starts) or a Sunday. Since a child cannot work before 7am or later than 7pm, the hours that he or she could work on a school day are restricted in any case. The maximum hours per school week is 12.

Children must have at least 2 weeks in a year, during school closures, during which they will not work.

At weekends and during holiday periods, children aged 13 and 14 can work a maximum of 5 hours per day (excluding schooldays and Sundays) with a maximum of 25 hours in a non school week (any period of 7 consecutive days).

Children aged 15 or 16 may work a maximum of 8 hours per day (excluding schooldays and Sundays) with a maximum of 35 hours in a non school week (any period of 7 consecutive days).

All children, if working for a continuous period of 4 hours, must have a break of at least one hour.

Permitted Employment

There are limitations on what work a child may carry out.

At the age of 13, this is limited to:

  • agricultural or horticultural work

  • delivery of newspapers, magazines, leaflets

  • shop work, including shelf stacking

  • hairdressing salons

  • office work (but not in an office attached to a factory)

  • car washing by hand in a private residential setting

  • in a cafe or restaurant (but not in a commercial kitchen)

  • in riding stables

  • domestic work in hotels or other establishments offering accommodation

Aged 13 and above, a child may carry out any light work, "work which, on account of inherent nature of the tasks which it involves and the particular conditions under which they are performed is not likely to be harmful to the safety, health or development of children, and is not such as harmful to their attendance at school or to their participation in work experience in accordance with Section 560 of the Education Act 1996, or their capacity to benefit from the instruction received, or as the case may be, the experience gained".

Prohibited Employment

No child of any age may be employed without the appropriate permit:

  • in a cinema, discotheque, dance hall or night-club, except in connection with a performance given entirely is children

  • to sell or deliver alcohol, except in sealed containers

  • to deliver milk

  • to deliver fuel oils

  • in a commercial kitchen

  • to collect or sort refuse

  • in any work which is more than three metres above ground level or, in the case of internal work, more than three metres above floor level

  • in employment involving harmful exposure to physical, biological or chemical agents

  • to collect money or to sell canvas door to door, except under the supervision of an adult

  • in work involving exposure to adult material or in situations which are for this reason otherwise unsuitable for children

  • in telephone sales

  • in any slaughterhouse or in part of any butcher's shop connected with the killing of livestock, butchery or the preparation of carcasses or meat for sale

  • as an attendant or assistant in a fairground or amusement arcade or in any other premises used for the purpose of public amusement by means of automatic machines, games of chance or skill or similar devices

  • in the personal care of residents of any residential care home or nursing home

Protection of Children Act

Protection of Children Act 1999 ("POCA"), as amended by the Care Standards Act 2000, is designed to create a cross-sector system for identifying people unsuitable to work with children and to provide a "one stop shop" to compel or allow employers to access a single point for checking the names of people they propose to employ in a post involving the care of children, through the gateway of the Criminal Records Bureau.

The Act requires the Secretary of State to "keep a list of individuals who are considered unsuitable to work with children" - commonly called the "POCA" list. The Act extends to England and Wales.

Under the Act, Local and Health authorities, NHS and Primary Care Trusts, and other regulated childcare organisations are obliged to check employees (whether paid or voluntary) against the list.

The Scottish Executive has a similar system (under which it is a criminal offence for those on the Scottish version of the index, as well as those convicted of serious offences against children, to work with children and under which employers will notify the Executive of people they judge should be considered for inclusion on the index, and consult it when considering offering employment in a position working with children.

The four main changes made by the Act are:

  • to arrangements for the DHSS "Consultancy Index List" of people considered unsuitable to work with children

  • to arrangements for the DfEE "List 99" of people considered unsuitable to be teachers

  • to enable the new Criminal Records Bureau to disclose information about people who are included on either list along with their criminal records

  • to require child care organisations to make checks of the above before employing child carers. Child care organisations affected are those whose "activities are regulated by or by virtue of an enactment prescribed by the Secretary of State" - as to which see the Protection of Children (Child Care Organisations) Regulations 2000, SI 2000/2432.

The Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, relevant parts of which came into force on 11th January 2001, gives the courts power to make orders disqualifying persons who are convicted of serious offences from working with children.

Time off work for study

16 and 17 year old employees are allowed to have paid time off for study if while at school they had not reached a prescribed "standard of achievement". The Employment Rights (Time off for Study or Training) (Northern Ireland) Order 1998/1761 makes similar provision in Northern Ireland.

The Right to Time Off for Study or Training Regulations 2001, SI 2001/2801 was made on 31st July 2001 and came into force on 1st September 2001. They list the institutions whose diplomas count towards the prescribed standard of achievement and provide other details about those standards. They update, revoke and replace similar regulations which had been in force since 1st September 1999.

Vetting job applicants

With a view to preventing unsuitable people being employed in child care and teaching jobs, the DTI and the Department of Health maintain two informal lists of names known respectively as "List 99" and the "Consultancy Service Index". The Consultancy Service Index contains information on child carers and List 99 holds details of people barred from or restricted in work with schools, further education and the youth service.

The Home Secretary has power to order that a person shall not work with children in a wide variety of circumstances. There is an automatic prohibition of persons convicted of specified offences.

The Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, relevant parts of which came into force on 11th January 2001, gives the courts power to make orders disqualifying persons who are convicted of serious offences from working with children.

Working time regulations

The Working Time Regulations 1998 SI 1998/1833 includes special provisions in respect of young workers (basically those aged between 15 and 18 who are above compulsory school age). The special provisions for young workers relate to:

  • maximum working hours

  • night work

  • rest breaks

  • emergency situations (WT rags 1998, reg 27)

More information on the Working Time Regulations can be found on our site.

Further information and useful documents

Children, like any other employee should have employment contracts in place. Net Lawman provide a range of contracts for different types of employee.

Next, you may wish to read our article on employing apprentices under the government Apprenticeship scheme.

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