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Know Your Rights

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Know Your Rights

If you’re aged under 18, employment law is slightly different to the law for people over 18. Check out our handy guide to find out more.

When can I leave school?

In Scotland:

  • pupils who turn 16 on or before 30 September can leave school on 31 May of that school year
  •  pupils who turn 16 between 30 September and 1 March can leave school at the Christmas break of that year.


When can I start working?

Many people can’t wait to leave school and start earning. For some, college and university aren’t desirable options, and they want to start working straight away.

However, there are guidelines about what under 18s can and can’t do in employment. Employment law can be tricky when it comes to under 18s, but the basic rules are as follows:

  • If you’re under the age of 13, it isn’t legal for you to work unless you make special arrangements with your local council
  • At 13 you can take on work that isn’t likely to affect your health, safety or education.
  • At 14 years old, there is a wider range of jobs you can do, but there may still be restrictions on the workplace – you may not be able to work on a building site or in a factory, for example
  • At 16, you’ll be classed as a ‘young worker’ and while you’ll have more choice in what you can work, you won’t have the legal rights adults do – until you turn 18.

If you’re still at school the law is:

  • During term time, you can only work for two hours on weekdays
  • Throughout term time, you can only work for five hours (if you’re aged under 15) or eight hours (if you’re aged over 15) on Saturdays
  • During a school holiday, you can work for up to five hours (if under 15) or eight hours (if over 15) on a weekday or a Saturday
  • You cannot work more than two hours on a Sunday
  • You cannot work before 7am or after 7pm on any day of the week

If you’ve left school but are still under 18 you cannot be made to work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours per week, with exceptions only in extreme circumstances.


National Minimum Wage

National Minimum Wage (NMW) is the minimum pay per hour almost all workers are entitled to by law. However, the amount of NMW depends on the person’s age and whether they are an apprentice. To find out more about NMW, see here.

There is no set national minimum wage until you are over school leaving age.

When you are over school leaving age, the current rates, as of March 2017, are:


Year  25 and over  21 to 24   18 to 20  Under 18  Apprentice
October 2016 (current rate) £7.20 £6.95 £5.55 £4.00 £3.40
April 2017 £7.50 £7.05 £5.60 £4.05 £3.50

You might have heard about ‘zero-hour contracts’ in the news. The main issue is the difference between a ‘worker’ and an ‘employee’. For more information, see here.


For more information on when you can leave school, or what your rights are, speak to your school Careers Adviser. If you’ve left school and you’re looking for work, you can sign up to the Youth Employability Service by calling 0300 300 1180.