EMPLOYERS in Dorset must ensure they deal properly with a new right to request flexible hours, a Weymouth law firm has warned.

From the start of this month, employees throughout the United Kingdom with more than six months service can now expect a request to work flexible hours considered ‘reasonably’ by their employers.

This means the county’s working population, estimated to be more than 300,000, could now apply to work the hours they wish.

It is believed this right will enable a further 300,000 people in Dorset and Somerset to apply to work flexibly and Dawn Gallie head of Battens Solicitors’ employment team has urged local firms to make sure their policies are up to date.

Ms Gallie said: “As with all employment law, process is the key. Managers need to know that from now anyone with 26 weeks’ service can apply for flexible hours.

“They have to put their application in writing, setting out their request and the effect, positive or negative, they believe it will have on the employer.

“If it is going to be detrimental, they have to say how the impact can be alleviated. A meeting to discuss the request is an integral part of the process.

“The employer has to be aware that if they refuse an application without good reason, the employee can make a claim to the Employment Tribunal.”

The new right is an extension of existing laws that previously applied only to those with children or carer responsibilities.

It has been made available to all employees because of greater diversity in the workplace, changing needs among families and a desire to help those workers who wish to take time out to study, go part-time or pursue additional training, for example.

Ms Gallie, who is also a member of the Employment Lawyers Association, said the changes offered opportunities for employers aside from the need for process management.

She added: “If you can be flexible and accommodate requests, you stand a much better chance of retaining talent and fostering good workforce morale.”