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Managing the younger generation can be a battlefield

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How can you as an employer make it work? With increasing competition for jobs as well as the cost of education, more young people are entering the workplace to gain skills and experience necessary to build a career. Says Zee Hussain, here he answers some frequently asked questions surrounding the subject.

What do you need to know?

The new government has proposed to create 3 million apprenticeships over the next few years, coupled with tax relief for young workers, so employers are likely to see a surge in applications from young people.

What are the acceptable hours of work for young people?

This can vary between age groups. There are different rules for employees who are younger than the minimum school leaving age. For teenagers aged 13-16, there are restrictions to work before 7am and 7pm. As for hours of work, they can only work a maximum of 12 hours per week during term time and 25 hours per week during school holidays.  

Over 18 year olds can work full time over any day of the week. However, even where a young person is not an apprentice, employers may wish to consider adapting any hours to facilitate ongoing training or education. 

What minimum rates of pay should young workers receive?

Workers aged 16 - 18 are entitled to the minimum wage of £3.79 per hour and for 18 - 20 year olds, this is £5.13 per hour. There is currently no minimum wage for school-aged workers. Apprentices under 18 or 19 and in the first year of their apprenticeship are entitled to £2.73 per hour but only if they are under a contract of apprenticeship. The new style apprenticeship agreements are contracts of employment and therefore this rate would not apply. 

What health and safety implications should employers undertake?

Employers must undertake risk assessments before taking on workers under the age of 18 and take account of the health and safety implications of employing young people such as those with disabilities and ongoing medical treatments. School-aged workers are not allowed to work in certain occupations, for example, pubs or betting shops and may not undertake any work that may be harmful to their health, wellbeing or education. Workers between the ages of 16 - 18 may only be allowed to work certain dangerous environments if it is necessary for their training and as long as it is supervised and where risk are minimized.

What rights do under-18s have? For example, will they be entitled to paid leave?

The main restrictions relating to under-18s are those relating to hours, pay and working in certain occupations. In other matters, their rights will depend more on the circumstances of the arrangement between the worker and their employer than their age. Like any other worker who only works weekends or for a short fixed term, under-18s will be entitled to holiday at the full-time rate of 5.6 weeks per year that is prescribed by the Working Time Regulations or a pro-rated part-time equivalent. There are often practical difficulties in calculating and allowing such holidays.They are also protected from discrimination on the grounds of their age, so do ensure they are treated consistently with other workers.

I have heard that you can’t dismiss an apprentice, what if I take someone on and the work dries up?

There are two different types of apprentice agreements. The common law apprenticeship agreement meant that if you failed to fulfil the apprenticeship then you could be liable for loss of expected earnings had the apprenticeship been concluded. This is all dependent on the statements in the contract. 
However, the government has introduced a new type of agreement which has made it clear that the apprentice is an employee, and could be dismissed according to normal rules. However, the contract you have in place has to meet specific guidelines. Fortunately, in many areas to obtain funding you have to have one of the new style agreements but this is not always the case so you should consult a legal professional before issuing the contract. 
In a case where you can no longer keep an apprentice due to irrefutable circumstances, the training provider will assist in finding an alternative employer. 

I have had problems with my young worker, they are frequently late and takes calls at the desk.

It is important to make clear to all staff, regardless of age, the standards you expect at work. If a young worker is not pulling their weight then you can address the issue as you would to any other member of staff. However, do bear in mind that inexperienced members of staff may need coaching and guidance to ensure they understand the rules of work and if you need to discipline someone who is under 18, it is reasonable to allow a parent or guardian to accompany them at any meetings. If you are disciplining an apprentice, we would recommend involving the training provider so they can support them as well.

How do I address other colleagues not taking young workers seriously?

Unfortunately this situation is common and could potentially amount to age discrimination as well as loss of a valuable employee. It is really important to ensure that all members of staff are treated fairly and consistently regardless of age.  As an employer, you are liable for the actions of your employees so make sure you nip any issues in the bud. This situation could be addressed by encouraging senior team members to be responsible for making the young person feels supported in their ideas, to give constructive rather than disruptive feedback and ensure that they are aware of your equal opportunities policy.

So why hire younger workers?

While young workers have commonly been perceived negatively in the press – we believe that this is often undeserved. We hear from our clients that young workers bring fresh ideas into the business, they are potentially game changers of the future and are easier to train as they have strong eagerness to learn and grow. 

Many employers today invest into apprenticeships and graduate training programmes as a means to develop a wealth of knowledge and diversity in the workplace. Providing opportunities like these can effectively prolong the competitiveness of your workforce. With many having grown up with access to cutting edge technology and more sophisticated forms of educations, young people, being tech savvy and economically aware, are evitable to sustaining business growth – the potential of this happening is in the hands of the employer.    

Zee Hussain

By Zee Hussain

Zee is an employment partner at Simpson Millar.

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