Employees 'forced' back to workplaces, says TUC

15 June 2021

The TUC has warned that employers are breaching official guidance by forcing staff to “needlessly” work in offices and other workplaces – and says that this points to wider a health and safety enforcement crisis.

New TUC polling reveals that nearly 1 in 10 (9 per cent) staff have been put under pressure by bosses to return to the workplace – a number that rises to over 1 in 6 (17 per cent) for disabled workers.  

This is contrary to current government guidance – and the union body says it is “the tip of the iceberg” of employers ignoring their health and safety responsibilities.  

The TUC says the government must send a “clear message” to employers not to breach the current guidance - which states that people should work from home if possible – to reduce community transmission and keep workers safe.   

The polling reveals that 1 in 4 workers (25%) are working from the office or other workplaces despite being able to work from home.

The union body says employers have a duty to make sure their staff are safe. 

The polling also reveals that many employers have still not taken the necessary action to ensure that workplaces are Covid-secure: 

  • Nearly half of workers (46 percent) say their employer has not taken technical measures to improve airflow at their workplaces 
  • 1 in 6 staff surveyed (17 per cent) say they have not been given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 
  • 3 in 10 staff (29 per cent) said they were not consulted by their employer on a Covid-secure risk assessment 
  • 1 in 10 (11 per cent) say that social distancing still isn’t enabled in their workplace

The TUC says that at present workers have little recourse if their employer forces them to come into the workplace when they could do their job from home.   

The union body says that ministers should 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.    

Employers who unreasonably require workers to come into the workplace when their job can be done from home should be fined.    

To date not one company in Britain has been prosecuted and fined for breaching Covid-19 safety rules - despite outbreaks at many workplaces. 

TUC generalsSecretary 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."