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Your rights at work if you're under 18

This advice applies to Scotland

General rules on employment

If you're under 18, 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, you can check your employment rights and working hours on GOV.UK. See also the Scottish Government guide on the employment of children

What work can you do

If you're over school leaving age and under 18, you shouldn't be asked to do work that:

  • you're not physically or mentally able to do
  • is a risk to your health because of extreme cold, heat or vibration
  • brings you into contact with chemical agents, toxic material or radiation.

If you're over school leaving age and under 18, you're only allowed to do the work above if:

  • it's necessary for your training
  • a competent person is supervising you
  • any risk is reduced to the lowest level that is reasonable.

If you're too young to leave school, you can check your employment rights and working hours on GOV.UK and also in the Scottish Government guide on the employment of children

What hours can you work

If you're over school leaving age and under 18, you shouldn't be asked to work more than 40 hours a week or 8 hours a day.

Your employer is allowed to ask you to work 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 the shift are also ill you can be asked to work.

Your employer shouldn't expect you to work if you're under 18 and you're supposed to be learning, for example when you're:

  • at college or school, full time or part time
  • studying as part of your apprenticeship or trainee-ship.

What times of day can you work

If you're over school leaving age and under 18, you can't usually 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. For example, if there has 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 aged 18 or over is available to do the work and
  • it's suddenly busy or you're needed to keep the service running and
  • your education or training won't be affected by the work and
  • you are supervised by an adult (if this is necessary for your safety) and
  • you're given time to rest to make up for it - find out more about compensatory rest breaks.

The times of day 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

If you're too young to leave school, there are strict limits to the hours you can work. You can check your employment rights and working hours on GOV.UK and also in the Scottish Government guide on the employment of children

Breaks and time off

You're entitled to a 30-minute rest break when you work for 4 and a half hours or more in a shift. You and your employer can decide when you can have your break. You might not get paid for your break - check with your employer.

You are entitled to 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.

For example, if you work in a cafe from 8-11 am every morning and 5-9 pm every night, you don't need 12 hours off overnight because you 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 aged 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 breaks.

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.

If you stay on at school, a local education authority can restrict the type of work and number of hours you can do.

Holiday pay

If you're under school leaving age you're not legally entitled to paid holiday from work.

If you're over school leaving age, you are legally entitled to the same amount of paid holiday as other workers - check how much you should get.

You can check if you're over or under school leaving age on GOV.UK.

Pay

If you're 16 or over and above school leaving age you're entitled to earn a minimum wage. This is called the National Minimum Wage.  

If you are under 16, you're not entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

Find out more about the National Minimum Wage, including the rate for your age and what to do if you're not getting the right amount.

You can check if you're over or under school leaving age on GOV.UK.

Selling alcohol

If you're 16 or 17, a licensee must not employ you in a bar at a time when it's open for the sale or consumption of alcohol. If the licensee does employ you in these circumstances it's the licensee who is committing the offence, not you.

If you're over 16 you can work as a member of the waiting staff in a hotel or restaurant and can serve alcohol if it's to be drunk on the premises along with a meal and the sale has been authorised by a responsible person. 

If you're under 18 and you work in a shop that sells alcohol, you can sell alcohol as long as it's to be consumed off the premises and the sale has been authorised by a responsible person over 18. All staff who serve alcohol must receive training.

Selling tobacco or nicotine vapour products

Nicotine vapour products such as e-cigarettes allow the user to inhale vapour that contains nicotine, also called 'vaping'.

A retailer must keep a record of any staff under the age of 18 that the retailer has authorised to sell tobacco, cigarette papers or nicotine vapour products. If a young person who is not authorised does sell these products, it is the retailer who commits an offence, not you.

For information on the control of sales of alcohol, tobacco and e-cigarettes, see Licences and other types of official permission.

Working for the armed forces

You can join the armed forces from the age of 16 upwards. However, if you're under 18 you'll need consent from someone with parental responsibility for you to do so. The armed forces also have their own minimum age restrictions which reflect current recruitment needs. Details are available from the appropriate armed forces careers office.

Babysitting

The law doesn't specify a minimum age that you have to be before you can babysit. If you babysit when you're under 16, the people with parental responsibilities for the child are held responsible if the child comes to any harm. If you babysit once you reach the age of 16, you have a general responsibility to safeguard the child.

If you're under school leaving age, there are strict limits to the hours you can work. You can check your employment rights and working hours on GOV.UK and also in the Scottish Government guide on the employment of children

Trade unions

Most trade unions allow young people to join at the age of 16, but some accept younger members.

Find out more about trade unions on the TUC website.

Training schemes

For information about training schemes for young people, see the My World of Work website.

If your employer is treating you unfairly

If you're being asked to work for too long or when you shouldn't be, you can get help from Acas. They're a government-funded body whose job it is to help with workplace disputes. They'll help you decide what to do, for example, making a complaint to the Health and Safety Executive or your local council.

For other situations, you can talk to your employer to try to solve the problem. If you're a member of a trade union, you can talk to your union rep. 

You can also get free advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau.

Further information for young people

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