Employing under 18s

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Key facts

  • There are special requirements that you must comply with if you are employing children under the age of 18.
  • It is illegal to employ anyone under the age of 13 and children can only undertake full-time employment once they reach school-leaving age.
  • Unless the child is a family member, you must undertake a separate Health and Safety assessment of their position that takes into consideration their age and lack of experience.
  • Children aged 16 and 17 are able to serve alcohol in a dining room or restaurant without supervision or behind a bar if each individual sale is approved by a responsible person.

The Children (Protection at Work) Regulations 2000 were introduced to help ensure that children are protected in the workplace and that employers pay special attention to their safety and well-being.

Does this apply to me?

Yes: although there are some exemptions if you are employing a family member on an occasional or short-term basis.

Employing children

It is not uncommon for small businesses to provide part-time or occasional employment to the children of friends and family. However, you need to be aware that it is illegal to employ children under the age of 13 to do any type of work (regardless of whether the work is part-time, full-time or the payment is monetary or in-kind) and that there are a number of legal requirements and restrictions that govern the employment of children until they become adult workers at the age of 18.

Employing children aged 13-16

Children between the ages of 13 and 16 can only work part-time. There are considerable restrictions on the times at which they can work, the length of time they can work, the places where they can work and the type of work they can undertake. In general, it is illegal to employ children in any work that may be harmful to their health, well-being or education.

While some of these restrictions are set nationally, there are also local bylaws that restrict the employment of children. 

Most local councils also require businesses intending to employ school-aged children to apply for a child employment permit, so it is important that you contact your local council to check the rules in your area.

Employing children aged 16-18

Children can only start full-time work once they've reached the minimum school leaving age of 16. However, they must be employed as part of an apprenticeship or traineeship scheme.

There are also specific requirements relating to their hours of work. These employees must not work more than eight hours a day (or more than 40 hours a week) and there must be at least twelve hours' rest between each working day and 48 hours' rest per working week. You must also provide a 30-minute rest break when they work longer than four and a half hours.

See the Working Hours section for more information.

Minimum pay

There is no minimum pay for children under the age of 16. Children under 16 also do not pay National Insurance, so you only need to include them on your payroll if their total income is over their Personal Allowance.

Children aged 16 and 17 are entitled to at least £4.81 per hour and, if they earn more than £123 per week or £533 per month, you will need to register them as an employee and operate PAYE.

Health and safety

A child under 18 cannot be employed for work that:

  • is beyond the child’s physical or psychological capacity
  • involves harmful exposure to toxic or carcinogenic substances
  • involves harmful exposure to radiation
  • involves a risk which cannot be recognised or avoided by young persons because of their lack of attention to safety or lack of experience or training (this is likely to mean that any employment in kitchens involving the use of sharp knives or slicers will be prohibited)
  • involves a risk to health from extreme cold or heat, noise or vibration.

If you are employing someone under 18, you must undertake a separate Health and Safety assessment, paying particular attention to their age and lack of experience. This does not apply if the child is a family member undertaking short-term or occasional work.

If the child is under 16, you must also tell one of their parents the results of the assessment. This must include any risks identified and any measures you are putting in place to protect their health and safety at work.

Serving alcohol

Under 18s can work in restaurants, dining rooms and even pubs, where they can wait on tables, collect glasses, clear tables and take orders from customers.

Children aged 16 or 17 are allowed to sell or serve alcohol in a restaurant without supervision provided that:

  • it is sold or supplied to be drunk with a table meal, and that
  • it is served in a part of the premises used only for that purpose.

This means that a child aged 16 or 17 can work as a waiter or waitress in a dining room and serve alcohol without supervision.

Children can also work in a bar serving alcohol, as long as each individual sale has been specifically approved by a responsible person. The responsible person is either the holder of the Premises Licence, the Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) or anyone aged 18 or over who has been authorised by the Premises Licence Holder or the DPS to authorise sales made by under 18s.

  • Note: you need to check whether your local authority has any by-laws that restrict people aged under 18 selling alcohol. It is known that some local authorities prevent children under 18 selling alcohol that is not in a sealed container (e.g. unopened bottles or cans).