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Employees afraid to return to workplace due to COVID-19 safety

Employees are calling on employers to ensure COVID-19 safety procedures are in place before they return to the workplace.

More than half (57.9%) of UK workers are afraid to return to the office due to concerns about cleanliness and COVID-related security, according to research from IoT company Disruptive Technologies.

Of those workers, 19% said they are very concerned about their workplace not being COVID-secure. 

Employers have a responsibility to explain the steps they have taken to ensure the workplace is COVID-secure, said Kate Palmer, HR advice director at professional services firm, Peninsula.

She told HR magazine: “A consultation period is advised where employees have the chance to put across any concerns they have, and employers should take these seriously and respond appropriately.

“Employers should be prepared to answer any questions employees have about their safety in work and offer support via an employee assistance programme if required.”

Palmer said employers should share their COVID risk assessments and explain how risks will be dealt with, for example, extra deep cleans, provision of cleaning wipes or hand sanitiser.

She said: “Failing to provide a COVID-safe workplace is likely to breach the employer’s duty of care.

“It can also seriously damage employee relations, causing employees to lose confidence in their employer, resulting in tribunal claims and/or resignations."

Instances of employees losing confidence in their employers are already coming to light across the country.

Staff at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in Swansea are on strike due to a dispute over coronavirus safety.

The Public and Commercial Services Union said the four-day strike, that started on Monday (6 April), was due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the DVLA's contact centre in Swansea Vale in December, following more than 350 cases at the site.

Speaking to BBC Wales Breakfast, the union's DVLA branch secretary, Sarah Evans, said: "Staff are being forced to take this action for the sake of not just their own health and safety, but the safety of their family and their work colleagues.

"They don't feel the DVLA are taking their health and safety seriously."

A potential lack of employee compliance with the COVID-19 safety rules and procedures has also been cited as holding people back from wanting to return to the office. According to computer software company, Smartway2's Return to Work Survey, 29% of employees said a lack of clarity from employers on safety rules and procedures is a barrier.

A further 27% cited a lack of compliance by fellow employees with safety procedures.

Topping employee worries about returning to the workplace were health risks (for 38%) and the commute (cited by 35%).

Author of the report and founder of Smartway2, Jane Young said: “Professionals are clearly seeking both flexibility and reassurance, as well as clarity, around COVID safety from their employer during the pandemic.”

The importance of COVID-19 safety in the workplace:

The risks of coronavirus-related health and safety concerns in the workplace

Employees will need preventative measures to return to work

Employers under huge pressure to track COVID-19 in the workplace