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Properly structured part-time work can help a child to develop self-confidence, communication and organisational skills and familiarity with handling money and dealing with other people. 

However, a child’s capabilities are generally less developed than those of experienced and mature employees and they can therefore be more vulnerable when exposed to certain risks, due to their physical and psychological immaturity and their lack of awareness of potential hazards or the risks they present.

A child is considered employed:

  • where they help in a business that aims to make profit, whether or not they receive pay or a reward;
  • where they help in their parents shop without receiving payment; and
  • where the aim is to make a surplus (e.g. as unpaid work in a charity shop).

Employers must comply with duties set out in a wide range of legislation, in addition to bylaws made by local authorities, which may follow the model bylaws published by the Department of Health or may further prohibit the kinds of work a child may do, or otherwise depart from the model bylaws to suit local circumstances. There are some differences in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, although the law is similar to that in England. There are limitations on the work they can do and the hours they may work. Close attention to their health and safety and welfare is essential.

The guidance provided within this page deals primarily with the health and safety at work of a child under the minimum school leaving age (MSLA), including students involved in work experience. Our risk topic page on employing young people discusses the issues associated with under-18s that are above the MSLA.

A child reaches the minimum SLA on the last Friday in June in the school year (1st September to 31st August) in which the child has his or her 16th birthday.

A child under 14 may not be employed, except where the bylaws allow employment of 13-year-olds in some kinds of light work, such as delivery of newspapers, shop work, assisting in hairdressing salons and domestic work in establishments like hotels. It’s important to remember that the rules vary between different local authorities.

In the past, some local bylaws allowed employment of a child under 13, but changes in the law in 2000 mean that employment of a child under the age of 13 is regarded as illegal.

A child aged 14 or above, but under the MSLA, cannot do any work restricted or prohibited by national law and/or local authority bylaws, due to:

 

  • the role being beyond the child’s physical or psychological capacity;
  • the work involving harmful exposure to toxic or carcinogenic substances or radiation;
  • the presence of a risk which cannot be recognised by a child or young person because of their lack of attention to safety or lack of experience or training – e.g. work involving the use of sharp knives or slicers;
  • their health being put at risk from extreme cold or heat, noise or vibration;
  • its negative impact on the child’s ability to reap the full benefits of his or her education at a local authority-maintained school;
  • the inherently dangerous nature of the workplace (e.g. quarries, construction sites, sea-bound ships and factories); or
  • the work involving the sale of alcohol and other age-restricted items.

Local bylaws and national regulation regarding the matter should be consulted to clarify what work is and isn’t permitted.

Before the MSLA, children may work:

During term time

  • 13 and 14-year-olds:  

    - Sunday – Friday: Up to 2 hours a day;

    - Saturdays: Up to 5 hours

    - No more than 12 hours a week


  • 15 and 16-year-olds:

    - Sunday – Friday: Up to 2 hours a day

    - Saturdays: Up 8 hours

    - No more than 12 hours a week

During school holidays

  • 13 and 14-year-olds:

    - Monday – Saturday: Up to 5 hours a day

    - Sundays: Up to 2 hours

    - No more than 25 hours a week


  • 15 and 16-year-olds:

    - Monday – Saturday: Up to 8 hours a day

    - Sundays: Up to 2 hours

    - No more than 35 hours a week

Once a child reaches the MSLA, they will be classed as a young person, until they’re 18, and can work up to 40 hours a week.

Most local bylaws make it compulsory for employers to get a permit from their local council’s education department before a child’s employment starts. Without the permit, the child might not be covered by insurance for any accidents they might be involved in.

The local authority is responsible for the issue and terms of performance licenses allowing children, including those under 13 years of age, to take part in performances where audiences are charged for entry.

Performances organised by a school don’t normally require a licence, but the employment bylaws include recommendations for the safety and welfare of children, whether or not a performance licence is required.

Students can take on work experience placements during their last two school years (when they’ll usually be aged 14-16).

During work experience placements, a child is normally permitted to work up to 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week. Employment permits aren’t required when the work experience is arranged by their school, and the restrictions to do only light work and prohibition on employment in industrial undertakings and the restrictions on street trading don’t apply. The model bylaws don’t apply, except where any local bylaws go beyond the model in terms of the prohibition of employment of persons below a specified age.

The prohibitions, restrictions and rules still apply in respect of health and safety, the sale of alcohol, and employment in gambling or in boats.

While the employer will be responsible for the health and safety of a child during their placement, the partners involved in the provision and monitoring of work experience placements to students (education employers/establishments, work experience organisers, placement providers and parents or carers) will also have health, safety and welfare duties.

  • Identify the prohibitions, restrictions and specific duties defined in health and safety law and the local bylaws.
  • Check the actions required to meet duties with regard to safeguarding children.

    - The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) helps employers prevent unsuitable people from working with vulnerable groups, including children. (Except for sole traders,) DBS checks are necessary for individuals, paid or unpaid, whose job involves “regulated activity” (such as teaching, training, instructing or supervising) with children done “frequently” (once a week or more often).

    - It’s a criminal offence under the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 to knowingly employ someone (including volunteers) who is barred from working with children or vulnerable adults, or to fail to report to the DBS someone who may be harmful to children.
  • Complete a young person’s risk assessment, taking into consideration the activities, legislation, prohibitions and restrictions.
  • Liaise fully with the child’s parent or guardian and inform them of the possible risks and the measures put in place to control them.
  • Supply the required information to the local authority within a week of the start of the child’s employment where the bylaws require an employment permit. Unless approved and registered, a child may not be included under Employers’ Liability insurance.
  • Provide information, instruction and training before the work starts.
  • Supervise the child’s use of risk control measures. For example, check that they’re correctly wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) as required.
  • Monitor compliance with the daily and weekly working hour limits.
  • Review and update the risk assessment if circumstances change and at regular intervals.
  • Arrange amendment of the employment permit if circumstances change and ensure it’s renewed prior to expiry.
Find information on regulations that you and your business may need to comply with.
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Frequently asked questions
Find answers to some common queries about managing risks to people, property and business continuity.
When children are in your employment, you’ll need to make a specific assessment regarding some risk topics, such as:
Visit our risk topic page on employing young people for guidance about what’s required when employing individuals that are under the age of 18 but beyond the MSLA.