Working hours and young workers

If you are a young worker or a child worker, you have different employment rights from an adult worker. You get longer rest periods and more protection from night working. Unlike adult workers you cannot opt out of these protections.

Young workers and child workers

The number of hours you can work and the types of jobs you can do, will depend on your age.

If you are ‘compulsory school age’ you are classed as a child worker. Compulsory school age is up to the end of the academic year of your 16th birthday.

If you are under 18 but over school leaving age (you are under school leaving age until the end of summer term of the school year in which you turn 16) you are classed as a young worker, and you have different rights to child workers.

If you are a young worker but you are employed on ships or as part of the armed forces, working time limits don't apply to you.

Working time limits

A young worker cannot usually be made to work more than eight hours per day or 40 hours per week. These hours cannot be averaged over a longer period and you're not allowed to ignore these restrictions.

You'll only be able to work longer hours if you either need to:

  • keep the continuity of service or production
  • respond to a surge in demand for a service or product

and provided that:

  • there is no adult available to do the work
  • your training needs are not negatively affected

If you need to work longer than 40 hours a week, or you think your employer is unfairly asking you to work over this limit, contact Advice NI or the Labour Relations Agency.

Breaks from work

You will normally have a variety of different breaks from work. These can be broken down into three types:

  • rest breaks - lunch breaks, tea breaks and other short breaks during the day
  • daily rest - the break between finishing one period of work and starting the next - for most people this is overnight between weekdays
  • weekly rest - whole days when you don't come into work - for many people this will be the weekend

Daily and weekly breaks are almost never paid, unless you have to remain 'on call'. The first type is often paid but does not have to be unless your contract says so.

Rest breaks

Young workers who need to work for more than four and a half hours will get a rest break of 30 minutes.

If you are working for more than one employer, the time you work for each one should be added together to see if you can have a rest break.

Rest breaks must be:

  • taken in one block
  • taken somewhere in the middle of your work period, not at the end
  • spent away from the place where you work, if you want them to be
  • taken when your employer says you can, as long as it meets these conditions

Daily rest

Young workers get 12 uninterrupted hours rest in each 24 hour period in which you work. These 12 hours may be interrupted if your periods of work are split up over the day or do not last long.

Weekly rest

Young workers must take two days off each week. This cannot be averaged over a two-week period meaning you can't work an extra day one week and take more days off the following one, even if you are trying to earn a little extra cash. These two days rest should also be taken together with no working in between them.

Compensatory rest

Your breaks and daily rest can only be reduced or excluded in exceptional circumstances. If they are reduced or cut short, you should get compensatory rest within three weeks.

Compensatory rest is rest that you are 'owed' and is ideally taken during the same or following working day.

Night working

The laws around night working and night workers are very complicated.

Generally speaking, young workers can’t work between 10.00 pm to 6.00 am but you can agree to change this to between 11.00 pm to 7.00 am. However, there are a few exceptions if you work in:

  • hospitals
  • agriculture
  • retail
  • hotels or catering
  • post or newspaper delivery
  • cultural, sporting, artistic or advertising activities

You can work into the night if it's crucial to your job, but only if you need to either:

  • maintain continuity of service or production
  • respond to an increase in demand for service or product

Also if:

  • there is no adult available to perform the task
  • your employer makes sure that your training needs do not suffer
  • you are allowed to take a rest period the same length as the time you worked later in the day

For example, if you're an actor working on a film, you can work at night time because night shooting might be needed to ‘maintain continuity of production’ and no adult would be able to play your role for you.

If you’re unsure about your rights or if you think you’re unfairly being asked to work throughout the night, contact Advice NI.

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