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The Rules about Children Working

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Working Children Law Rules Working

When you're running a family business it's natural for children to want to get involved, even at an early age - they'll see their parents working and want to join in. But the law in Britain is very strict about the age at which children are allowed to undertake work and how much they are allowed to do. This is intended to protect them from exploitation and also to make sure that they have enough time and energy to do well in their education. There are also rules to protect them from certain dangerous occupations.

If you have working children or children who want to work, it's important to understand the rules so that you can provide them with safe and appropriate work opportunities.

Children Under Thirteen

According to the law, children under the age of thirteen are not allowed to work. This means not only that they are not allowed to be in paid employment but that they are not allowed to undertake what might normally be considered work activities on an unpaid basis. However, if all or part of your workplace is within the family home, they do not need to be excluded from it, and they are allowed to shadow you and learn by watching you work.

Problems sometimes arise with this legislation due to confusion about when what a parent and child may see as a helpful errand technically becomes work. The best way to handle this is to make sure that your children are not performing such errands on a regular basis. If your child is going to the corner shop to buy some crisps, it's okay to ask them to post a few letters for you on the way, but it would not be okay for you to send them out expressly to post letters (for your business) every day or every week.

If your child is frustrated about not being able to contribute to the business when everybody else is working hard on it, find them some household chores to do and explain that this is supportive because it frees up your time for business work. Approached correctly, this can help to make them feel like part of the team. Even a small amount of household work, which won't affect their school work, can make them feel appreciated if you give them plenty of thanks for it.

Older Children Under The MSLA

Although children over the age of thirteen are legally permitted to work, there are still strict rules about how they may do so, and local councils are allowed to impose further rules, so ask your local business support service about this before you consider employing your children. These restrictions apply until your child reaches the MSLA, or minimum school leaving age - the end of the school year in which they turn sixteen.

Different local areas have different rules on how many working hours a child in this age group is allowed to do, but no child under eighteen is allowed to work for more than forty hours a week or eight hours a day (not counting school work).

Working children in this age group are not permitted to be employed in industrial settings such as factories where they may face significant health and safety risks, and anywhere they do work must have up to date health and safety certification. The simplest way to deal with this within a family business is to start your children off working in administration in your home office, or running errands within the home. This will allow them to be closely monitored in a relatively safe environment and will also teach them a good range of basic business skills, giving them a broad general understanding of how the business works which they will find useful if they want to specialise later on.

School Leavers Under Eighteen

As long as a young person remains a minor, it doesn't matter if they've left school - they're still subject to certain working restrictions. Most of these are the same as those which apply to over-thirteen year olds under the MSLA. Another common problem arises on account of insurers.

Insurance is required for work in most industrial settings and many insurers are not willing to cover people under the age of eighteen, effectively barring them from those environments. However, employers' insurance is not required when children are closely related to their employer and are working within a family business (provided it's not a limited company), so it can actually be easier for them to find employment with you than elsewhere.

Although all these rules can seem unduly complicated, it's important to remember that they're there to protect children. In this protected environment, it's easier to guarantee children a positive introduction to the working world.

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