With the approach of the summer holidays employers should be aware of the rules which apply to the employment of children and young people.

Child and young person 

There is a difference between a “child” and a “young person”. A child is a person who is under the school leaving age: a child reaches the school leaving age on the last Friday in June in the school year in which he or she has their 16th birthday. This means that a child can still be 15 when reaching the school leaving age if his or her 16th birthday is in the summer holidays. A young person is someone over compulsory school age but under 18.


Employment includes assisting in a trade or occupation carried on for profit, even if the individual receives no payment. This would cover the situation where children help their parents in a shop without receiving any payment. It would also cover unpaid work in a charity shop; but unpaid work at a youth centre, for example, would not be covered as it is not being “carried on for profit”.

Age limits and hours 

A child under 14 may not be employed, but this rule can be, and often is, relaxed by byelaws to allow the employment of 13 year-old children in certain occupations, for example to deliver newspapers, to stack shelves or to work in riding stables. Employers should check with their local authority.

Children cannot be employed:

  • Before 7am or after 7pm.
  • Before the end of the school day on any day on which the child has to go to school. Again this rule is often relaxed by byelaws to permit an hour’s employment in the morning before school starts.
  • For more than two hours on a day on which he or she has to go to school, or on a Sunday.
  • For more than 12 hours in any school term week
  • For more than five hours on a non-school day from Monday to Saturday (if under 15); or for more than eight hours on a non-school day from Monday to Saturday (if over 15)
  • In the school holidays, for more than 25 hours in the week (if under 15) or for more than 35 hours in the week (if over 15)
  • For more than four hours without a rest break of at least one hour.

Type of work 

A child under school leaving age may only be employed to do “light work” defined as work which is unlikely to be harmful to the child’s safety, health or development or to their school attendance. Examples of light work include:

  • Agricultural or horticultural work
  • Delivery of newspapers
  • Shop work, including shelf stacking
  • Work in a hairdressing salon
  • Office work
  • Car washing by hand in a private residential setting
  • Work in a café or restaurant (but generally not in the kitchen of a café or restaurant)
  • Work in a riding stables
  • Domestic work in hotels


There are no statutory restrictions on the rates of pay that can be offered to children. Children are not entitled to receive the national minimum wage, but young persons are entitled to receive the young workers’ rate of the national minimum wage.


Children must be given a two-week break from any employment in each year, but there is no statutory right to paid annual leave.

Health and safety requirements 

All employers have a general duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all their employees. In addition, where children and young persons are employed, every employer must ensure that the individuals 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. Any employers intending to employ children or young persons should carry out a risk assessment looking specifically at the potential risks to young people.

Alistair Wells aw@woodfords.co.uk  

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.