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Employment of under 18s

A guide to the current legislation around employing school leavers

Please note: printable PDF guide at the bottom of this page.

Over recent years, the trade has stepped up a gear to entice school leavers into its work force. Competition is hot, but just how compatible is the current legislation in terms of being able to compete?

Age restrictions

Subject to local bylaws, children aged 14 and above can be employed to do ‘light work’ which is not harmful to their safety, health, and development nor to attendance at school or participation in work experience.

Generally, due to licensing restrictions children under 16 tend to work in kitchens and back of house areas, not front of house.

The Licensing Act 2003 does not allow a person under 18 to sell alcohol unless the sale is specifically approved by an adult. That might be easy in a supermarket where not every transaction involves the sale of alcohol but in a bar that is going to prove more challenging.

Premises or areas set aside for dining

The 2003 Act does allow under 18s to work in premises (or a part of the premises) set aside and reserved for diners and to take orders and deliver alcoholic drinks for consumption with a meal. It would be sensible to check with the local authority for any local bylaws relating to age-restrictions on this.

The child would need to carry out age verification checks as appropriate, and you need to ensure that they have the maturity and training to undertake these. They would not be allowed to physically dispense the alcohol nor put the drinks order together behind the main bar unless supervised by an adult. Technically, the law does not prohibit them from dispensing drinks or putting drinks together at a separate dispense bar in the restaurant/dining area however, again from a risk management point of view you will want to ensure sufficient training and supervision.

Hours of work

14 to 16 years (child)

There are restrictions on the number of hours and days that can be worked depending upon whether it’s term time or holidays.



If a person is 15 years but has just finished school and has a birthday by 31st August, then you have to treat them as a child ‘still at school’ until their birthday.

16 to 17 years (young worker)

A person who has left school and is under 18 must now either stay in full-time education or start an apprenticeship or, can do part-time education or apprenticeship and work at the same time.


Things to consider if employing a child

  • You are legally responsible in ensuring that the child is not exposed to a risk due to their lack of experience, maturity, or absence of awareness of the risk.
  • You must check with the local authority for bylaws, including whether the child needs a work permit.
  • A young worker is eligible for the national living wage (or the apprenticeship rate) and must receive a payslip and be on the payroll whereas a child under 16 is not (subject to local bylaws).

How can the Government and local authority help?

Government could consider changing the law to allow young workers to sell alcohol without each sale being specifically approved provided they have received full training and are working on a shift with an adult who is supervising and monitoring the bar. We all understand the importance of ensuring alcohol is not sold to someone under the age of 18. The law currently allows under 18s to carry out the age verification checks when taking orders with food in a restaurant/dining area, and to deliver alcoholic drinks. Surely, 16-17 year olds, subject to training and a sensible risk assessment, can be trusted to carry out the same checks at the bar before dispensing the drink, where they might in fact feel more comfortable refusing service with a bar counter between them and the customer, or where they can quickly call for assistance from an adult working with them.

Local authorities could review bylaws to ensure that they are not a barrier to employing under 18s.

Printable PDF

Download a printable version of this document using the link below.

Employment of under 18s

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