When young workers reach the age of 16, they are eligible to start full time work and are protected by a strict set of rules on how many hours they can work each week. This age group have lower caps on weekly working hours and enhanced breaks and rest periods until they reach the age of 18.
There are limits on the times of day 16 & 17 year old employees can work, and types of work permitted.
This set of rules is designed to support education for under 18s, and protect their health and safety in the workplace.
To understand how rules on young workers should be applied, you need to know whether or not you are of school leaving age.
Even if a worker has turned 16, they may still have to follow the rules on working hours for child workers. This means that 16 year olds still in school and under school leaving age can work a maximum of 8 hours per week in term time, and 35 hours per week during school holidays.
You should check if you’re of school leaving age on the .Gov website.
Related: Break entitlements for workers aged 18 and over.
How Many Hours Can You Work at 16 & 17?
Employees aged 16 to 17 must not work more than 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week, they also have more generous break and rest period entitlements than older members of staff.
Restrictions are placed on shift times, meaning under 18s should not perform night work.
Working Time Regulations & Young Workers
Working Time Regulations say that young workers should not work:
- More than 8 hours each day, and
- 40 hours each week.
These limits on daily and weekly working hours are rigid, and are not subject to averaging over a period of weeks like the rules for workers aged over 18. Young workers are not able to opt out of the limits on working hours.
How is a Working Week Defined?
Regulation 5A of the Working Time Directive says “A week starts at midnight between Sunday and Monday.”
This means that a young worker should not exceed 40 hours of work within this time frame.
When Can Young Workers Be Asked to Work Extra Hours?
In some exceptional circumstances, an employer can request that a young worker work more than the daily or weekly limits.
Employers can only make this request if:-
- Nobody over 18 is available to carry out the work.
- Exceptional cirumstances beyond the employers control lead to unforseen staff shortages.
- The work needs to be performed immediately to ensure continuity of service or production.
- Adult supervision is available should it be required for the protection of the young worker.
Source: Working Time Regulations 1998 R27(1).
For example, if you work in a shop or cafe which experiences an unexpectedly busy period you could be asked to work overtime to meet the demand.
Compensatory Rest for Young Workers
If a young worker has worked during a period that would otherwise be a rest period or break, they must be given an equivalent period of rest immediately, or within the following 3 weeks.
Source: Working Time Regulations 1998 R27(2).
For example, if a young worker has worked 2 additional hours during their usual rest period the employer should arrange for them to have an additional 2 hours of rest time within the following weeks. This might involve an earlier finish or later start to a subsequent shift.
One reason these rules are in place is that it is expected that many workers aged 16 & 17 will be completing courses or apprenticeships, and working hours should not interfere with education.
Related: how many hours an apprentice can work?
Breaks & Rest Periods for Young Workers
Young workers aged under 18 are entitled to longer breaks and rest periods than workers who are over the age of 18.
Under 18s should get a minimum of:-
- A 30 minute break in a working day that is more than 4.5 hours. This break does not have to be paid.
- 12 hours rest in any 24 hour period. This can mean they should have at least 12 hours between the end of 1 shift and the beginning of the next.
- 48 hours uninterrupted rest each week, or, if business needs prevent this, at least 36 hours with the remaining 12 hours taken as soon as possible afterwards.
If an employee was working split shifts, the 12 hour rest period between shifts rule may not apply. This is because a break would have been taken elsewhere in the day. For example, if a hotel employee worked on breakfasts from 6-10 and then worked 6-10 to cover evening meals.
Lunch breaks are not included in working hours, so should not be used as part of your calculations if you are trying to work out if you’ve exceeded your legal working hours.
How Many Hours Can 16 & 17 Year Olds Work Without a Break?
16 and 17 year old workers can work 4.5 hours without a break. This means that if their shift is 4.5 hours, they don’t have a break entitlement. However, any shift longer than this will mean they should be given a 30 minute break.
What Time at Night Can 16 or 17 Year Olds Work Until?
In most jobs, night working rules restrict 16 and 17-year-olds from working past 10pm, barring them from working between 10pm and 6am.
Check Your Contract
An exception to the 10pm rule exists if the employment contract specifies work hours extending past 10pm. In such cases, the latest permissible finish time is 11pm, provided the start time on the following day is no earlier than 7am.
If working hours are not specified in the contract of employment, a 10pm finish time applies under law. Note that certain industries may have specific exceptions..
Exceptions to Working Hours by Industry
Adjustments to the rules about working after 10pm and before 6am have been made to cater to the needs of specific industries.
Under 18s can work until midnight and after 4am in the following types of job:-
- Agricultural work
- Hospitals or care
- Paper or postal deliveries
Young employees can only be asked to work before 6am and after 10pm in exceptional circumstances.
This means that working during these hours would only be legal if ALL the following applied:-
- No staff aged over 18 were available to work.
- An unexpected spike in demand meant that extra staff were needed to keep the service running.
- Adult supervision was provided if it was necessary for personal safety.
- Education and training would not be affected by the extra hours worked.
- Compensatory rest breaks are provided.
Can Under 18s Work Night Shifts?
While there are certain exceptions for the working hours of 16 and 17 year olds, it is explicitly unlawful for them to work between midnight and 4am
That means that whilst younger employees can work late and early shifts in some circumstances, it is against the law for them to work all night.
There are no exceptions to this rule, even if a worker is doing one of the jobs above. If you are being asked to work night shift and you are under the age of 18, you should inform your local authority.
Minimum Wage for Young Workers
Workers aged 16 & 17 are entitled to national minimum wage. The minimum hourly rate that should be paid for this age group is £5.28 per hour (rate correct April 2023).
Once a young worker reaches the age of 16, their wages should be reported and put through payroll. This is still the case even if they aren’t earning enough to have deductions made via PAYE. Deductions start to be made from pay once £120 a week is being earned.
Workers Aged 13 – 15
Workers aged between 13 and 15 have a different set of rules, as they are likely to be attending full time education. Businesses employing them need licenses from the local authority, and their working hours are more limited.