As restrictions ease and offices start to reopen, many employees are feeling nervous about returning to their workplace. Seventy-six per cent of employees would like to continue working from home, shows research by McCrindle Research, with anxiety about contracting coronavirus believed to be one of the main reasons behind the reluctance to return to the office.
Before you go back to your place of work, your employer must be able to ensure your safety. Here are the questions you should ask before heading back to your desk:
1. How will you implement social distancing?
Employers must be able to set up their workplace so employees can practice physical distancing. There should be at least four square metres of space per person, and 1.5 metres space between people at all times. Face-to-face interactions should be limited to less than 15 minutes, and interactions where people are in close contact with each other, such as meetings in enclosed rooms, should be limited to two hours. Your employer should be able to guarantee all this is possible. If you’re unsure about what’s being done, check in with your union so they can follow up with your employer on your behalf.
2. What’s your emergency plan?
All businesses must have an emergency plan in the event there is an active case of coronavirus in the office. Your employer should be able to tell you about the plan, and prove they are ready to respond immediately, appropriately, effectively and efficiently if someone at work is diagnosed with COVID-19. They should be able to give you information on how quickly the office will be shut down, what the cleaning procedures will be, and how people can be tested. They should also have procedures in place if an employee comes to work with cold or flu like symptoms. If you don’t feel comfortable with the plans your employer has in place, ask your union for advice on what to do next.
3. How will the office be cleaned?
As part of the COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, workplaces must be cleaned and disinfected at least once a day. This means either using a combined detergent and disinfectant, or cleaning with soap and water, and then disinfecting afterwards. Workplaces should be able to guarantee that frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, taps, light switches, desks, cupboard handles, and phones are prioritised for cleaning.
4. Can I work differently?
The Queensland government has urged workplaces to allow staff to continue to work from home if possible, or to work different hours so public transport isn’t overloaded in peak hour. So, if you’re keen to work flexibly, now is the time to talk to your manager. All requests must be considered by your employer. As an employee you’re required to comply with reasonable directions about returning to work, but it’s your employer’s job to make sure the health and safety risks to you are eliminated. If you’re nervous about having these conversations, your union can have them on your behalf.
5. How will you assist vulnerable workers?
Employers can’t automatically expect more vulnerable workers to return to work, even as restrictions ease. Vulnerable members of the community include people with chronic medical conditions, those who have a compromised immune system, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders over 50, or anyone who lives with a vulnerable person. Employers should assess the risks of someone returning to the office, then give special dispensation, such as giving a vulnerable person their own office or reducing their face-to-face time with other employees. If you don’t think your employer is acting fairly, your union can give support and advice on how to move forward.
Visit Together union for more information on staying safe when you return to work.