Why the long face? Common employment issues for equine businesses

30th November 2020

A few weeks ago, Horse & Hound reported on the findings of a survey of grooms carried out by the British Grooms Association, which found that the majority were employed on an illegal basis, lacking proper holiday entitlement and more often than not being paid less than the national minimum wage.

There are of course very many good employers in the equestrian world. The Equestrian Employers Association is a membership association that all equestrian employers in the UK can join and which offers advice and support together with a Code of Good Practice for employers to follow. However, clearly there remains a widespread problem within the industry.

Here we set out some of the employment basics that any employer in the equestrian world should familiarise themselves with and follow.

Employee/worker status

If a person is engaged to undertake work for payment (of money or a benefit) they will be classified as a worker or an employee. This status entitles that person to a number of employment law rights.

Worker entitlements include:

  • National Minimum Wage
  • Holiday pay
  • Sick pay
  • Rest breaks
  • No more than 48 hours of work on average per week unless opted out of this right
  • Protection against discrimination
  • Protection for whistleblowing

Employee entitlements include:

  • Right not to be unfairly dismissed (after two years’ continuous service)
  • Right to a statutory redundancy payment (after two years’ continuous service)
  • Maternity/parental rights

Employers must ensure that workers and employees, even where employed on a casual basis, are able to access their statutory rights.

National Minimum Wage

Many equestrian centres choose to employ staff on a ‘working pupil arrangement’, where they will receive a discounted wage for the work that they do, with the agreement that they will receive free or reduced cost lessons. However, employers must ensure that, if these arrangements are put in place, the discounted wage should not be lower than the National Minimum Wage.

 25 and over  21 to 24         18 to 20      Under 18       Apprentice
Rate   £8.72   £8.20                 £6.45              £4.55                £4.15

Employers are permitted to pay their workers in kind; however, this must be in addition to the National Minimum Wage.

Where the employer provides accommodation to the worker, the maximum amount the employer can offset against National Minimum Wage entitlement is £57.40 per week.


An employer has to give a worker/employee a written statement of terms within two months of their start date.

Having a written contract of employment enables employers to set out their desired terms and ensure that the terms of the engagement are clear and agreed.

A failure to provide this can result in the worker/employee being awarded two to four weeks’ extra pay.

The statement must cover specified terms including:

  • Start date
  • Place of work
  • Pay details
  • Working hours – including how any variable hours will operate
  • Holiday details
  • Sick pay
  • Notice required to end the engagement
  • Details of any probationary period.

Working hours and rest breaks

A worker cannot work more than 48 hours average per week unless they have chosen to opt-out of this. There is also an entitlement to rest breaks at work, daily rest and weekly rest. For adult workers (over 18) these are:

  • Rest breaks at work – 20 minutes if they work more than six hours a day
  • Daily rest – 11 hours between working days
  • Weekly rest – 24 hours of rest each week or 48 hours each fortnight

Young workers (aged between 15 and 18) have higher rest entitlements.

Working hours and rest breaks are a key consideration for employers and should be clearly specified in the contract.

Employing children

Under 16s

The minimum age a child can start part-time work is 13. There are a number of restrictions on the hours that children are able to work which varies between school days and weekends and is dependent upon whether the child is over or under the age of 15. Children are also limited to work a maximum of 25 hours a week during the school holidays.

Most local authorities specify that businesses that are intending to employ school-aged children must apply for a child employment permit. Without this, there is a risk that the employer will not be insured against any accidents involving the child.

Children under 16 are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage and, therefore, it is down to the employer to set a payment level.

Under 18s

Over 16 year olds are entitled to the National Minimum Wage for their age group. They are also subject to restrictions regarding working hours, namely that they must not work more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. There are further requirements regarding entitlement to rest:

  • Rest at work – 30 minutes
  • Daily rest – 12 hours
  • Weekly rest – 48 hours.