Check your rights at work if you're under 18 - Citizens Advice Northern Ireland
Skip to navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

Check your rights at work if you're under 18

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

You'll usually have more rights at work than an adult and you might not have to work as many hours.

It's a good idea to check your school leaving age on GOV.UK because your rights depend on whether you've reached this age.

If you're too young to leave school, check your employment rights and working hours on nidirect.

If you've left school, or you stayed at school after you could have left, your rights are different.

Check the number of hours you should work

You shouldn't usually be asked to work more than 40 hours a week or 8 hours a day.

Your employer is allowed to ask you to work for longer in exceptional circumstances. They can only ask this if:

  • no one who's 18 or over is available to do the work
  • they need you because it's suddenly busy or to keep the service running
  • your education or training won't be affected by the work

This might be, for example, if you work in a care home and there's extra work because several residents are ill. If the adults who'd normally cover a shift are also ill, you can be asked to work.

Check what times of day you can work

In most jobs, you can’t normally be asked to work between 10pm and 6am. If your contract says you have to work until 11pm, that’s alright but you shouldn’t start work before 7am the next morning.

You can be asked to work at other times in exceptional circumstances. This might be, for example, if there’s been a flood and you have to help to clear up.

If you work in some jobs, your employer can ask you to work at night if all the following apply:

  • no one 18 or over is available to do the work
  • it’s suddenly busy or you’re needed to keep the service running
  • your education or training won’t be affected by the work
  • you’re supervised by an adult - if it’s necessary for your safety
  • you’re given time to rest to make up for it - find out more about compensatory rest on GOV.UK

The hours you can be asked to work depend on the job:

Times you can workType of job
Between 10pm and 6am
  • sport
  • advertising
  • in a hospital
  • cultural or artistic work
Up to midnight or from 4am
  • hotel or catering
  • retail, for example in a shop
  • pub, restaurant, bar or bakery
  • agriculture
  • postal or newspaper deliveries

Example

Mo works in a hospital and is asked to work until midnight because the adult who usually covers that shift is on holiday. There are more patients than usual at the moment so the department’s very busy. Mo is allowed to do this work because there’s no adult available and there’s more work than normal.

Check what breaks and time off between days you should have

You’re allowed a 30-minute break if you work 4 and a half hours or more in a shift - you and your employer can decide when you have it. You might not be paid for your break - check with your employer.

You should have 48 hours off in one go each week.

You must have at least 12 hours off between each working day - unless your working day is split into short periods of work.

Example

Holly works in a cafe from 8-11am every morning and 5-9pm every night. She doesn’t need 12 hours off overnight because she had a break in the afternoon.

Your employer can ask you to have shorter breaks or less than 12 hours off between days if:

  • no one 18 or over is available to do the work
  • it’s temporary
  • the work needs doing straight away and can’t wait
  • something unexpected has happened
  • you’re given time to rest to make up for it - find out more about compensatory rest on GOV.UK

For example, your employer could ask you to shorten your break if you work in a restaurant and a coach party arrives. Other colleagues have called in sick and there's no one else to do the work.

Check what work you can do

You shouldn’t be asked to do work that:

  • you’re not physically and mentally able to do
  • is a risk to your health because of extreme cold, heat or vibration - for example by working with a drill or in a freezer

If you work somewhere that sells alcohol

Normally you’re allowed to sell or serve alcohol in a restaurant or bar if it’s sold as part of a meal.

If you’re asked to work with chemicals

You can’t do work where you might be in contact with chemicals, toxic material or radiation unless:

  • it’s part of your training
  • you’re supervised by an experienced person
  • your employer keeps you as safe as possible

Check what pay and time off you can get

You’re allowed the same amount of paid holiday as adults - check how much you should get.

To make sure you’re being paid the right amount, check the minimum wage for your age on GOV.UK. You should get this even if you’re working for someone you know, for example as a babysitter.

If your employer’s treating you unfairly

If you’re being asked to work for too long or when you shouldn't be, you can get help from The Labour Relation Agency. They can help to resolve employment problems through their conciliation, mediation and arbitration services.

For other situations, you can talk to your employer to try to solve the problem.

Did this advice help?
Why wasn't this advice helpful?
Did this advice help?

Thank you, your feedback has been submitted.