2017 - HR Rules for Employing Apprentices & Young Workers

09 August 2017

Andrea Palmer, Head of HR at Aspire Business Partnership LLP, comments on Apprenticeships, Young Workers, and Employment Rights.

Following the Government’s announcement earlier this year about the creation of 200,000 new apprenticeships by 2020 as part of their ongoing commitment to deliver three million apprenticeships by 2020, we are seeing many more of our clients, suppliers and other businesses employing ‘young workers’.

We are also seeing many larger organisations affected by the Apprenticeship Levy putting in place plans to utilise their Levy and recruit more young workers.

According to House of Commons Apprenticeship Statistics: England Briefing Paper, there were a total of 2.4 million Apprentices ‘started’ between 2010/11 and 2015/16.

An Apprenticeship gives a student an alternative route into higher education, providing a work-based learning programme for students to 'earn while you learn'.   This in turn leads to bags of practical experience and a nationally recognised qualification matched to their chosen profession.

In their first year, Apprentices under 19 (or an Apprentice who is over 19 in their first year of their Apprenticeship) are paid National Minimum Wage which is currently £3.50 per hour (April 2017), but this excludes higher level (NVQ Level 4) Apprentices.

Young Workers

Typically, a ‘young worker’ is anyone up to the age of 24, however the Working Time Regulations 1998 define a young worker as a worker “who has attained the age of 15 but not the age of 18…”.

We act for many clients who are taking on young workers in an Apprenticeship capacity for the first time, but do not always fully understand their obligations, and we have also represented young workers who have faced problems in the work place regarding breaches of the minimum wage regulations and not being paid for the hours that they are actually working.

These younger workers are more likely to face problems and are less likely to act to resolve them, according to research by the conciliation service ACAS.   Whilst some businesses are fully aware of how they are exploiting these younger workers, some are doing so in blissful ignorance.

So, what are their Employment Rights?

Many businesses do not realise that young workers over the age of 18 but younger than 21 are subject to different rules on wages and that those over school leaving age but under the age of 18 are entitled to the same employment law rights as older workers (for example, not to be unfairly dismissed or discriminated against), but are also given some added protection in specific areas.

Health and safety

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, an employer has a responsibility to ensure that young people employed by them are not exposed to risk due to lack of experience; being unaware of existing or potential risks; and/or lack of maturity.

In practice, what this means is that an employer needs to consider the layout of the workplace, any physical, biological, and chemical agents young staff will be exposed to, how they will handle work equipment and the extent of health and safety training needed. Such considerations in a low-risk workplace such as an office, will of course, be more straightforward than at higher-risk workplaces.

Employers also need to consider whether the work is beyond an employee’s physical or psychological capacity – which could be different to that of an older worker – or involves risk of accidents that cannot reasonably be recognised or avoided by young people due to their insufficient attention to safety, or lack of experience or training.

Rest breaks

Young workers have the same statutory entitlement to paid holiday – 28 days a year based on a five-day week.

However, there are some differences when it comes to daily breaks. If you are over the age of 18, you are only entitled to a 20-minute rest break if you work more than six hours a day (the traditional “lunch hour” is not a statutory entitlement, rather one traditionally provided by employers). The rest breaks for workers under the age of 18, on the other hand are slightly more generous. They should receive a 30-minute break if they work more than 4.5 hours.

Number of days worked

Similarly, although weekends may seem like a basic right for those over 18, the actual legal entitlement is only one day off per working week.   However, workers under 18 have a statutory right to two days off.

A young worker aged between 15 and 17 is not able to work more than eight hours in any one day, nor more than 40 hours in any one week and employers need to be recording all time worked so they can demonstrate they are meeting these obligations.   This has been identified as a problem because some employers are not aware of these obligations under the Working Time Regulations 1998.


While there may be some benefits to being a young worker, pay is not one of them. The National Minimum Wage rate for Apprentices is currently £3.50 per hour – less than half the National Living Wage Rate of £7.50 per hour -  and the rate 16-17-year olds is £4.05 per hour (April 2017).  However, we have seen many clients paying more than the Apprentice Rate to their Apprentices as a gesture of goodwill for the role they play in their organisation.

Lone Working

Many companies are also not aware that young workers must not be left unsupervised.

They are also protected by The Equality Act 2010 which makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees, job seekers and trainees because of their age, this includes young workers.

So how can we help ……

If you are considering employing an Apprentice or a young worker for the first time, we can support you with their recruitment, drafting specialist contracts and providing practical HR advice and guidance.