Aged 16-18? Know your rights at work

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Keep calm and know your rights

If you’re over school leaving age but under 18 and in work, you’re known as a young worker. Young workers have their own set of workplace rights. If you’re thinking of getting a part-time job while you study or even going into a full-time work, it’s important to know what they are.

If you’re in Year 11 or below, you should read this article about employment rights for secondary school students.

Am I a young worker?

A young worker is someone who has left secondary school but who is under the age of 18. You can legally leave secondary school on the last Friday in June of the school year when you turn 18. If you fall into this bracket, you’re a young worker!

Education and training

Everyone is required by law to continue in education, employment or training up to the age of 18. This means when you finish secondary school you must:

If you choose to work, it’s important to know your employment rights and make sure you are being treated legally and fairly.

Young workers are allowed to join a union, and you do not have to tell your employer that you are a member. We would recommend joining as you settle into work: unions provide support and advice, and can represent you if needs be. Although you will have to pay a membership fee, this is generally low and often linked to your pay. See this article on the benefits of union membership.

What does being a young worker mean for my rights at work?

Supermarket assistant

Young workers are allowed to time off just like anyone else, and

have more limited working hours than adults

Every worker has rights at work. As a young worker, you have your own set of rights, as well as certain rights that apply to everyone. Young workers may be in full-time employment if they’ve decided to leave education

Jobs you take as a young worker are likely to be among your first taste of the workplace. As a young worker are likely to be among your first experiences of the workplace. Employers must do an assessment of the possible risks to your health and safety before taking you on.

As a young worker, your rights relating to the following things are different to those aged 18 and over:

  • Hours of work and rest breaks
  • Night working
  • Dangerous working conditions

Some of your rights are the same as for older workers. This includes:

  • Time off
  • Pay
  • Discrimination

Hours of work and rest breaks

Young workers:

  • Cannot work more than 8 hours per day.
  • Cannot work more than 40 hours per week.
  • Must have at least 12 hours’ unbroken rest between each working day.
  • Must have at least 48 hours’ unbroken rest each week.
  • Must have a 30-minute rest break if working more than 4.5 hours.

Night work

As a young worker, you can’t work between the hours of 10pm and 6am, unless your contract says so. If your contract does require you to work beyond 10pm, you must stop work at 11pm and not start again until 7am the next morning.

There are a few exceptions, which you can read about here on the Work Smart website.

Dangerous working conditions

As a young worker, you usually can’t work in a job which:

  • You are not physically or mentally capable of doing (check what this means here on the WorkSmart website).
  • Brings you into contact with chemical agents, toxic materials or radiation.
  • Involves a health risk because of cold, heat or vibration.

You can work in these conditions if all of the following are true:

  • It is necessary for your training.
  • An experienced person is supervising you.
  • Risks are reduced to the lowest level possible.


Girl at work clipping flowers

Under-18s are entitled to paid holiday just like everybody else -

sure you get yours!

If you work full time, you’re entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid time off (“annual leave”) per year, the same amount as workers aged 18 and over. If you work part time, this is scaled down in proportion to your hours.

You can work out how much time off you’re entitled to by multiplying (times-ing) the number of days you work per week by 5.6. For example, if you work a few nights a week while you’re studying and this adds up to half a day’s work, this is how you would work out the number of days you’re allowed off:

0.5 x 5.6 = 2.8

This means you can take 2.8 days off per year and get paid for this time off.

Many young workers with an evening or Saturday job don’t realise this, so check your pay slips and talk to your boss if you think you’re losing out on any money. Many workplaces have a rule saying if you don’t take your annual leave by a certain date, you have to give it up. If you don’t take your annual leave in a given year, check with your boss to make sure you don’t lose out on any money.


There is a national minimum wage of £4.55 for workers aged 16 to 18. Your employer has to pay you at least this amount by law. It goes up to £6.45 when you turn 18, and again when you reach 21 and then 25 (April 2020 figures).

Check our page on the national minimum wage for more info. If you’re considering an apprenticeship, have a look at our page on the apprenticeship wage, which is slightly different.


If you’re young worker, it’s illegal for employers to discriminate against you because of your age. This means they can’t make decisions about you based purely on your age. For example, they can’t simply assume that because you’re 16 you don’t have the experience needed to do the job.

Most employers outline the experience and skills needed to do a particular job in a job description. Your age may mean you haven’t had time to build up the skills and experience. For example, an employer may ask for someone with two years’ experience of customer service – if this is your first job, you may not have this experience. If they look at your application and don’t see evidence that you fulfil these requirements, this is not age discrimination. Take a look at our article on filling out job applications to help you make the most of the skills you’ve picked up in your school and personal life.

Remember, a young worker is someone who is under 18 but who has finished secondary school.

Here are some other articles to help you understand your rights at work:

Image credits

Supermarket assistant via US Government



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