Managing Employer Obligations When Hiring Students for Summer Work Roles

Hiring students during the summer break is a common strategy, helping businesses manage increased demand during this busy period and providing students with an income and work experience during their time away from school, college or university.

Many business owners are confused about the legalities of hiring staff under 18, what they should pay in compliance with the minimum wage, and the rules around areas such as weekly hours, manual labour and the work a young person can be asked to do.

We’ve summarised all you need to know about your obligations as an employer and important tasks to tick off before you recruit students to fill your summer vacancies.

UK Rules for Hiring Young Workers

If you’re taking on uni students, they'll likely be 18 or above, but it's essential to consider the age of any worker because there may be restrictions on what an employee below this age can do – regardless of the hourly rate you offer.

There are also varying rules depending on whether a worker is considered a young worker, i.e. below 18 but above school leavers age, and children from age 14 and up to 16. Children cannot work until they are at least 13.

The National Minimum Wage is currently as follows:

  • Age 23 and above £10.42 an hour.

  • Aged 21 to 22: £10.18 an hour.

  • Aged 18 to 20: £7.49 an hour.

  • Aged under 18: £5.28 an hour.

  • Apprentices: £5.28 an hour.

Children are not directly covered in minimum wage legislation. Still, if they are considered working, which we'll clarify shortly, they are expected to be paid a fair wage. An employer with workers aged 16 to 17 should pay £5.28 per hour or above. Note that once a child becomes 16, they must be paid through PAYE payroll.

Employing Students Aged Under 16

Students below the school leaving age must be registered with the local authority, which is mandatory for any organisation hiring a child. The employer must have a Child Employment Permit and appropriate insurance.

Under-16s can only undertake light duties which do not have the potential to impact their safety or well-being.

Typical jobs include delivering papers, working in a café, outside the kitchen, washing cars, assisting in hair salons and stacking shop shelves. They can also work within a hotel or accommodation facilities and do outdoor agricultural work, but this cannot be overly strenuous or involve heavy loads.

Children are prohibited from working in industrial environments such as warehouses or manufacturing plants. They can only sell alcohol if they work in a restaurant and serve alcohol alongside a meal. They are also not allowed to work in any gambling-related job and cannot work within a transportation service – more details about settings where young people can work are available through the Restrictions on Child Employment page.

Before an under 16 begins work, the employer must risk-assess the workplace and take appropriate steps to safeguard young workers, paying particular attention to supervision and their ability to make mature, informed decisions.

Maximum Weekly Working Hours for Students

Young people should not be expected to work a full-time role until they are 16 or above. The maximum working hours also depend on their age. Children can work a maximum of 12 hours per week during term time, up to two hours each weekday, and only between 7 am and 7 pm – they must have a one-hour break if their working time is over four hours total.

During the school holidays, the following working hours rules apply:

  • Children aged 14 can work up to five hours a day during school holidays, up to 25 hours per week.

  • Children from 15 to 16 can work 35 hours as an upper limit during school holidays, up to eight hours for a Saturday shift.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 apply, along with standard annual leave eligibility, and young people above 14 but below 17 should have a half-hour break for every 4.5 hours worked, with at least two non-working days each week.

Categorising Young Workers as Employed

If a young person is working – in contrast to shadowing – they should be paid the minimum wage as set out above or a reasonable discretionary amount per hour if they are below 16. Any job that involves work, from admin tasks to stacking shelves, is payable.

Companies that hire students and treat them as unpaid interns while expecting the young person to carry out work can face a claim by HMRC or the young person themselves, with a three-month deadline on retrospective pay claims made by the employee. Work experience placements and charitable volunteering are both excluded.

Holiday Pay for Student Employees

As noted above, young workers are entitled to holiday pay, which must be paid at their normal rate. Depending on the duration of the work, this entitlement will vary, normally based on 20 days per year plus bank holidays.

For example, a young person working six months of the year will have ten days of paid leave or pay in lieu of a holiday if they cannot take the leave or will leave the position once the contract expires.

Employment Rights and Protections for Student Workers

Safeguarding rules apply to all workers under 18, where employers need to ensure they have appropriate policies and training to take action should there be any indication that a young person is at risk of harm.

Employees and student workers may also require training around areas such as confidentiality, sharing images of the workplace or child workers on social media and discrimination.

Following these rules and understanding the right rates of pay, holiday entitlements and terms a student is entitled to will ensure your workers are correctly paid and supported, providing much-needed additions to your workforce during the holidays.

For more information about employing students over the summer or managing your payroll, please get in touch with the SAS Accounting team at any time.


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