Back to the office – what are your rights as an employee?
In this last of our three-part series on mental wellness and returning to the workplace, we look at the sensitive subject of taking action when you feel your employer is putting you and your colleagues at risk.
Remember: Being safe at work is a right, not a gift.
How to Complain
If you’re unhappy that your employer has not addressed your concerns, you can contact your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive, who can force firms to take action. “Employers who fail to keep their workers safe must be fined – and if necessary, shut down,” says TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.
The TUC is also asking for ‘workplace monitors’ to take a short survey about how safe their workplace is. “This will help us measure how safe different jobs are during the pandemic, as people go back to work,” she said.
It is also compiling a database of how firms are carrying out such risk assessments which can be accessed here.
But what should you do if you return to work and feel unsafe? “First off, they should speak to their boss. If they’re still not happy then they can blow the whistle to the Health and Safety Executive, who will take appropriate action.
Finally, a note of caution. Maz Alexander, a mental health specialist with Southwark Council and a life coach, said mental health services were still counting the cost of Covid-19. “We are used to seeing career service users – some have been accessing our services since childhood. But we have seen a big influx of users accessing the services since lockdown. The true costs in mental health terms will not been known for a while yet.”
Alexander continues: “People don’t know their rights, and are feeling compelled to go back to work even if they don’t want to. And some – like agency workers – have to go back or they will not get paid. The advice they have been getting has been ambiguous.”
An office worker’s view
Jo Johnstone works in an office in central London. For her, travel and childcare are the main causes of stress and anxiety concerning returning to the workplace. “I have to get two buses to work, which is really not a pleasant experience. The office is OK, it’s very spacious.
But my real stress is around childcare.
My three-year-old’s nursery is closed, my husband is a key worker, and my boss is putting real pressure on me to get back to the office. I’m worried that if there are redundancies I’ll be picked out. But, being truthful, I really don’t want to leave the house at all.”