Can a child legally work on our family farm?
14 October 2022
Often overlooked are the restrictions imposed on the employment of children, which are applicable regardless of whether the child you employ is related.
You need an extra bit of help on the family farm on the weekends or during the school holidays. Maybe a local teenager, or your own son or daughter is looking to earn extra pocket money. It’s the perfect fit and one of the many reasons why children end up helping out in a family business.
What’s often overlooked however are the restrictions imposed on the employment of children, which are applicable regardless of whether the child you employ is related to you or not, and whether the work is paid or voluntary. Note that separate provisions apply in relation to children undertaking work experience placements as part of their education, and in relation to public performances by children. A ‘child’ is any person under compulsory school age (in England and Wales, a child ceases to be of compulsory school age on the last Friday in June of the academic year in which the child reaches 16).
What are children permitted to do?
Children can only be employed to undertake ‘light work’ in any sector, which is defined as work that is unlikely to be harmful to the child’s safety, health or development, to their school attendance or participation in work experience (Children and Young Persons Act 1933).
Restrictions will vary somewhat between local authorities, but some of the key restrictions are that it is illegal for a child to work:
- if they are under 14 years of age (note however that many local authority byelaws do permit 13 year olds to be employed)
- during school hours or before 7.00am or after 7.00pm
- if it is a school day, before the end of the school day (note, this rule is often relaxed under local byelaws)
- for more than two hours on a school day or a Sunday
- for more than 12 hours in any school term week
- for more than five hours on any non-school day other than a Sunday (for more than eight hours if aged 15 or over)
- without a one hour rest break after working four hours in any one day
- without the employer notifying the local authority and obtaining a work permit, if the local authority in question operates a permit system (most do).
Note that it is no longer permissible under byelaws for children aged between 10 and 12 years old under parental supervision to be employed in light agricultural or horticultural work on an occasional basis. However, as an exception to the general rule prohibiting the employment of children under the age of 14, there may be local byelaws allowing a child aged 13 years to do light agricultural or horticultural work for their parent or guardian. It is advisable to check whether this is permitted with your local council.
Many will be familiar with the general prohibition on employing under 14s (except in the limited circumstances described above) and the restrictions on the hours that children can work, but in our experience it is the need for children of compulsory school age in employment to have a work permit which is most often overlooked, particularly in family owned businesses.
Any employment of a child, whether paid or voluntary, is illegal without a work permit and this applies to parents employing their own children. Any employer found to be employing a child without the necessary work permit may be liable to prosecution by the local authority, as well as by the enforcing authority under health and safety law.
The potential fine for an employer failing to have a work permit is £1,000. However a failure to carry out a risk assessment (part of the work permit application process) can result in a fine of up to £2,000 (unlimited in the Crown Court). There is also the risk that your employer’s liability insurance would not cover a child who has been employed without the necessary permit.
What you need to do
The work permit application process is not onerous and is in most cases simply the length of two sides of an A4 page. Along with the application form, the employer will need to provide certain information to the local authority, within one week of employing a child. This information includes:
- the hours and days on which the child is to be employed, the occupation in which the child is to be engaged, details of the task involved and the place of employment;
- a statement, by a parent of the child, that the child is fit to work and that the parent agrees to the employment;
- details of the school at which the child is a registered pupil; and
- a statement to the effect that an appropriate risk assessment has been carried out by the employer.
Health and safety
Given the nature of working on a farm, there will always be significant health and safety risks, particularly for young people who may not be aware of the dangers.
When employing a young person to help out on the farm, you will need to ensure that a thorough risk assessment is carried out, taking into account:
- the inexperience, lack of awareness of risks and immaturity of young persons;
- the fitting-out and layout of the farm;
- the nature, degree and duration of exposure to physical, biological and chemical agents;
- the form, range, and use of farming equipment and the way in which it is handled;
- the organisation of processes and activities; and
- the extent of the health and safety training provided or to be provided to young persons.
The Birketts view
In conclusion, employers should check all local byelaws applicable to the employment of young people, ensure appropriate work permits are obtained and pay particular attention to the health and safety requirements before employing children to do farm work.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to discuss any elements of this article and we would be pleased to help.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at October 2022.