Employing Children

Employing Children

Employing children (lawfully) is far more complicated than you would expect.  The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DOC) has helpfully produced a guidance document setting out the rules relating to the employment of children.  The guidance sets out some key provisions relating to the employment of children under the school leaving age (broadly, those who are under 16 years of age).  We’ve produced a straightforward guide below to assist you:

What is “Employment”?

The rules relate to “employment”, which means assisting in a trade or occupation carried on for profit.  Interestingly, the guidance states that babysitting will not normally be regarded as “employment”, but does warn that if a parent chooses to leave their child with a babysitter who is under 16, the parent remains legally responsible for ensuring that their child comes to no harm, because they cannot delegate their parental responsibility.  The guidance also points out that there is no legal minimum age for babysitting.

Children Under 14 Years Old

There is a general prohibition on employing a child under 14 years of age, unless expressly permitted by local byelaws, which may allow employment of 13 year old children for some types of “light work”.

Limits on Time of Work

A child cannot be employed before 7am or after 7pm.  Additionally, a child may not be employed before the end of the school day (on a school day), unless expressly permitted by local byelaws which may permit an hour’s employment in the morning before school.  This would typically cover paper rounds.

Maximum Hours of Work

The maximum hours that a child may be employed depend on whether they are under 15.  There is a maximum daily limit for all children, on school days and Sundays, of 2 hours per day and 12 hours per week.  During school holidays and on Saturdays, children under 15 may only be employed for up to 5 hours per day, with a maximum of 25 hours a week, whereas those aged 15 and over may be employed for up to 8 hours per day and 35 hours a week.

Breaks and Holidays

A child may not be employed for more than 4 hours without at least one hour’s break and must have a two-week break from any employment in each calendar year, to be taken during the school holidays.  There is no requirement (as with adults) for children to have 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday leave in any year.

Prohibitions and Restrictions of Work

Children may be employed to undertake “light work”, provided it is not prohibited or restricted.  “Light work” is defined as work which “… is not likely to be harmful to the health, safety or development of children and is not such as to be harmful to their attendance at school…”.

Work activities which are prohibited or restricted to children and young persons (which includes anyone under 18 years of age) are as follows:

  • any work which poses a health and safety risk to them;
  • any work prohibited for that child by the Local Authority, where the child attends a Local Authority maintained school;
  • employment in an “industrial undertaking”, which includes:
    • mines and quarries;
    • any manufacturing;
    • construction or repair of buildings, roads etc; and
    • transport of passengers or goods, including handling goods in a warehouse.
  • employment in licensed premises involving the unsupervised sale of alcohol (except where it is sold or supplied for consumption with a table meal in a part of the premises used only for that purpose);
  • employment in work involving gambling;
  • employment on boats;
  • employment prohibited by local byelaws, which may include employment in a commercial kitchen, other than where the child is not involved in the cooking process – this may therefore permit work such as washing up, making sandwiches, waiting at tables etc; and
  • street trading.

Many Local Authorities have adopted byelaws which require permits for the employment of children.  Where this applies, the employer has to provide certain information to the Local Authority within a week of employing a child, before the Local Authority issue an Employment Permit to the child.


If a child is employed in contravention of the regulations, there is a maximum fine for employers of £1,000 or, in the case of ‘health and safety’ offences, £2,000 (in a Magistrates Court) or an unlimited fine (in the Crown Court).

Health and Safety

There are special health and safety rules applicable to employing children and young persons.  In particular, employers must assess risks to all young people under 18 before they start work; ensure that the risk assessment takes into account the inexperience, lack of awareness of risks and immaturity of young persons, and introduce control measures to eliminate or minimise the risks, so far as is reasonably practicable.  Before employing a child, an employer must let a parent of the child know the key findings of the risk assessment and the control measures introduced.  While a written record is not obligatory, it is clearly good practice to do so.

Work Experience

There are some relaxations to the rules on employing children, where they are on work experience which has been arranged by the Local Authority or by the governing body of their school, and where the work experience is in the last two years of the child’s compulsory schooling.  Broadly, the same rules will apply to those children as normally apply to 16 and 17 year olds.


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