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Young people and employment

This information applies to Scotland only

General rules on employment

Young people over school leaving age and under 18 are known as young workers. Young people can leave school on one of two dates depending on when they become 16.

There are special laws to protect the employment rights of young workers. These concern your health and safety, what jobs you can do, when you can work, and how many hours you can work. These laws are very strict, and an employer can be prosecuted for breaking them. There are special rules for selling alcohol, tobacco products and e-cigarettes.

For information on school leaving dates, see Problems at school.

If you are over school-leaving age and an employee, you will have other rights in addition to the rights of young workers which are mentioned below. For example, it is against the law to discriminate against you because of your age and a whole range of other characteristics, for example your sexuality or race.

For more information about discrimination, see Discrimination at work - where to start.

For more information about other rights you have at work as an employee, see Rights at work

Health and safety at work

If you are under 18, your employer must do an assessment of possible risks to your health and safety before they employ you. They must pay particular attention to your age, lack of experience, and other things that could be a risk to your health and safety.

If you are under school leaving age (see under heading General rules on employment), your employer must also tell one of the people who has parental responsibilities for you the results of the assessment. This must include any risks identified and any measures put in place to protect your health and safety at work.

You do not have to be given a health and safety assessment if you are doing short term or occasional work in a family business or in a private household as long as this, in itself, is not harmful to you.

What work can you do

16 – 18 year olds

If you are over school leaving age (see under heading General rules on employment) and under 18, there are special restrictions on doing certain types of work. These are:

  • work which you are not physically or mentally capable of doing
  • work which brings you into contact with chemical agents, toxic material or radiation
  • work which involves a health risk because of extreme cold, heat or vibration.

You are only allowed to do the work above under the following circumstances:

  • where it is necessary for your training
  • where an experienced person is supervising you
  • where any risk is reduced to the lowest level that is reasonable.

These rules do not apply if you are doing short term or occasional work in a family business or in a private household and it is not considered to be harmful to you.

Children and young people under minimum school leaving age

No one under school leaving age can be employed in work other than light work. You are not allowed to do work which is likely to be harmful to your safety, health, development, or work that will affect your attendance at school or participation in work experience. You are not allowed to work:-

  • in a factory or in construction work
  • in transport
  • in a mine
  • on a registered merchant ship.

The local authority, where you live, may also have some extra rules, called by-laws, about the employment of children and young people in your area. You should check with your local authority if you want to find out what these are. By-laws authorising children and young people to work in street trading must say which days, which hours, and the places where they may work.

Employers who want to employ children or young people under minimum school leaving age are required to get a permit from their local authority. The permit must be signed by both the employer and one of the people who has parental responsibility for you.

There are some extra rules about the employment of children under 14. If you are under 14, you are not allowed to work at all except in the following types of work:-

  • to take part in sport, advertising, modelling, plays, films, television or other entertainment. The employer must apply for a licence from the local authority
  • to do odd jobs for a parent or other carer, relative or neighbour
  • to do babysitting – see under Babysitting.

However, children of 13 or above may be able to do some other types of work, depending on the by-laws of the local authority in their area. For example, the by-laws may say that children of 13 and above in your area can do a paper-round, or that you can do light work which is not likely to be harmful to your health, safety or development.

Hours of work and rest breaks

16 – 18 year olds

If you are over school leaving age and under 18, the law says that you must not work more than eight hours a day, or more than 40 hours a week. You must have twelve hours rest between each working day, and two rest days per working week. You are also entitled to a 30-minute rest break when you work for longer than four and a half hours. There are some exceptions to this (see below).

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

There are special limits on the hours you can work at night. You cannot usually work between 10pm and 6am. If you are contracted to work after 10pm, you must stop work at 11pm and not start again before 7am. There are some exceptions for young people who work in hospitals, agriculture, retail, hotels and catering, bakeries, post/newspaper deliveries, or in connection with cultural, artistic, sporting or advertising activities. You are not allowed to work between midnight and 4am, except in the most exceptional circumstances.

The rules about working at night do not apply when:-

  • your employer needs you to work to maintain continuity of service or production, or to respond to a sudden rush in demand; and
  • doing the work would not affect your education or training; and
  • no adult is available to do the work; and
  • you are supervised by an adult (if this is necessary for your protection) and you are allowed a period of rest as compensation.

If you are allowed to work at night, you must first be given a free assessment of your health and ability to do the work. The assessment should be repeated at regular intervals. You must not work more than eight hours in a 24 hour period.

Children and young people under minimum school leaving age

There are strict limits to the hours children and young people under school leaving age are allowed to work. You must not work:-

  • during school hours on any school day
  • for more than two hours on any school day or for more than 12 hours in any week in which you are required to go to school
  • for more than two hours on a Sunday
  • for more than eight hours (five hours if you are under 15) on any day which is not a school day or a Sunday
  • before 7am or after 7pm
  • for more than 35 hours (25 if you are under the age of 15) in any week in which you are not required to go to school
  • for more than four hours in any day without a break of one hour
  • at any time, if during the 12 months beginning 1 January, working means that you have not had two uninterrupted weeks of holiday from school.

Paid holidays from work

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

If you are over school leaving age, you are legally entitled to paid holiday, in the same way as other workers. You are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday a year. To work out how many days holiday you can take a year, you need to multiply 5.6 by the number of days you work in a week.

For example:

  • if you work a five-day week, you are entitled to 28 days’ paid holiday a year (5.6 X 5).
  • If you work 2.5 days a week, you are entitled to 14 days’ paid holiday a year (5.6 X 2.5).

To check whether you are over or under school leaving age, see under heading General rules on employment.


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

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

For more information about the National Minimum Wage, including the rates, see Getting paid less than minimum wage.

To check whether you are over or under school leaving age, see Problems at school.

Time off for study or training

If you are an employee aged 16 or 17 and have not yet achieved a certain standard of education or training, you are entitled to reasonable time off work for study or training. The time off should be paid at your normal hourly rate.

Selling alcohol

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

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

If you are under 18 and you work in a shop that sells alcohol, you can sell alcohol as long as it is 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 are under 18 you will 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.


The law doesn't specify a minimum age that you have to be before you can babysit. If you babysit when you are 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. Babysitting may require you to check also rules about the hours that children under 16 can work, for example, a child under 16 must not be employed before 7am or after 7pm.

Trade unions

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

Training schemes

For information about training schemes for young people, see Government employment schemes.

Further information for young people

For information about the general rights of children and young people, see Young people's rights.
For information about housing, see Young people and housing.
For information about family matters, see Young people and family.
For information about money, see Young people and money.
For information about benefits, see Young people and benefits.
For information about health and personal issues, see Young people - health and personal.
For information about the law and young people, see Young people and the law.
For information about transport, see Young people - travel and transport.

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