The TUC has warned that almost 10 per cent of staff are being made to return to the office prematurely – despite the Government’s guidance stating that everyone who can work from home must do so. 

New research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) finds that employers are breaching official guidance by forcing staff to “needlessly” work in offices and other workplaces.

This, the body states, points to a wider health and safety enforcement crisis which has been seen throughout the pandemic.

A new TUC poll found that nearly 1 in 10 (9 per cent) staff have been put under pressure by bosses to return to the workplace which rises to over 1 in 6 (17 per cent) for disabled workers.

At present, Government guidelines states that every worker who can work from home must do so, in a strategy intended to tackle the spread of COVID-19.

This accompanies the announcement made by the Government today, extending the complete lift on COVID-19 restrictions for a further month in the wake of a rising number of cases.

The data further found that a quarter of workers (25 per cent) are working from the office or other workplaces despite being able to work from home.

In addition, almost half of workers (46 per cent) say their employer has not taken technical measures to improve airflow at their workplaces.

A further three in 10 (29 per cent) claimed that they were not consulted by their employer on a COVID-secure risk assessment. Almost a fifth (17 per cent) say they have not been given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while 11 per cent do not have social distancing enforced at work.

As of now, workers have little recourse if their employer forces them to come into the workplace when they could do their job from home, the TUC has stated.

In these cases, the body has urged ministers to tell workers who are inappropriately told to come into workplaces to call the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – which should then trigger a spot check from the HSE.

If staff are not reasonably enabled to work from home, the TUC says, this may be evidence that the employer has ignored their responsibilities and is breaking health and safety law.

The union body has specifically called on the HSE and local authorities to clamp down much harder on employers who put staff at risk.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

We all want to beat this virus once and for all.

But some employers are still needlessly requiring workers to come into workplaces when they could work from home – and this is the tip of the iceberg of bosses ignoring their health and safety responsibilities. Employers should not be able to ignore government safety guidance with impunity. It puts workers at risk and increases community transmission.

The government must send out a clear message to employers to play by the rules or face serious action. When the government does move to unlock the economy, we need workers to be confident their workplaces are safe and Covid-secure.

So, ministers must fund enforcement bodies properly so they can recruit and train qualified workplace inspectors, inspect more workplaces, and prosecute companies who don’t keep their workers safe.

*To obtain data on staff being forced back to the office and workplace safety, BritainThinks conducted an online survey of 2,134 workers in England and Wales between May 13 and May 21 2021. All respondents were either in work, on furlough, or recently made redundant.

A separate survey which looked at returning to the office when able to work from home was carried out by YouGov Plc which surveyed 2,020 adults, of which 1,203 are currently in employment between June 7 and 8 2021.