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Ready To Work

10 May 2020
UK workers eager to return and ready to accept new safety measures.

Half of employees in the UK are ready to return to work post-lockdown, assuming their employer has the right safety process in place, according to a survey of 2,000 workers by the global legal business, DWF. A further quarter of workers say they may be ready to go back to work, however 18% believe it is too soon to return regardless of additional safety measures. Younger workers are the most eager to be allowed back to work, with 68% of those aged 18-24 and 58% of 25-34 year-olds ready to return immediately. Just 8% of workers aged 18-24 believe now is too soon for them to return.

As Boris Johnson prepares to outline the Government's roadmap to release lockdown, the survey also finds that workers in the UK would be willing to accept a wide range of safety measures to enable a return to work. Over 69% would be happy to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, on public transport and in their workplace, with up to 11% unwilling to do so. 79% would be comfortable with their employer conducting regular temperature tests, while 78% would also be willing to allow their employer to conduct regular COVID-19 antigen tests. The measure attracting the least acceptance was signing up to a central Government contact tracing app, although even here there was still majority support (62%), with only 16% categorically stating that they are unwilling.

Just 4% of workers said they would be unwilling to adhere to social distancing at work, with 85% happy for their employer to adopt the measure.

Commenting on the survey, Kirsty Rogers, Employment Partner at DWF, said, "It is evident from the survey that the British workforce is keen to get back to work – but with conditions. They expect their employers to follow the guidance is coming from government, keep them informed and ensure that their workplace is safe to return." 

When asked who has primary responsibility for their health & safety at work, 63% of people said it was their employer, with 29% of workers believing it was their personal responsibility, indicating that more than ever employees will be looking to employers to ensure that they meet their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act. 

Rogers added, "The challenge for businesses cannot be underestimated. They need to get going again, in many cases it is an existential need, but they must also understand the expectations and responsibilities they have to their employees and customers. The return to work raises clear issues around health and safety and the potential liability of employers if employees develop COVID-19 as a result of alleged exposure to the virus at work. Opening too early without the necessary measures in place could be counterproductive resulting in confusion, fear and worst of all more infection. The need to support employees in a return to work, engage with them clearly on new ways of working, safety and wellbeing must be at the very top of employers' agendas.

"It is vital that employers have carefully considered what measures will work for them.  This should be supplemented by a clear risk assessment and robust policies and procedures. They must clearly communicate changes to the workforce; help the workforce to understand steps they are taking to protect health and safety. There should be special consideration for those workers particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, or those with caring responsibilities. Those employers with the ability to do so may initially take the view that it is better for people to continue working from home, and for some this will be a long term change, but all employers will need to be alert to the mental wellbeing of their workforce, particularly where employees are continuing to work remotely."

With the British workforce seemingly willing to allow their employers to conduct medical testing, James Drury-Smith, UK leader of Privacy and Cyber Security at DWF, commented, "If UK employees really are prepared to allow their employers to conduct COVID-19 testing; it would give employers more personal data, including sensitive medical data, about their staff than ever before. It seems unlikely that British workers would have felt this way six months ago, but we are in uncharted territory. It opens up serious questions for businesses that are considering taking this route, over whether they have lawful grounds under data protection law to collect such data and, if they do, how they secure and use the data. These are questions for both the immediate and long-term, especially as attitudes to data collection and use may flip back when we emerge from this crisis."

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