COVID-19 – Return to the Workplace and other issues
|An update for members around COVID-19 arrangements in the workplace and H&S advice for members.
Current Home Office position
Members will be aware of recent changes announced by the Home Office in relation to the status of colleagues who have health conditions which render them more vulnerable to the effects of Coronavirus. This Briefing provides further background to the changes and updates members on other Covid19 H&S issues.
Firstly, it must be stressed that the Home Office position remains – ‘if you can work from home, you should continue to do so’.
This position underpins all current Home Office decisions on the deployment of its staff during the pandemic; it’s one that we have supported and will continue to support. Many of our members have a done a great job supporting the delivery of public services whilst working from home.
However, there are a significant minority of members, mainly in operational frontline roles who have continued to attend the workplace throughout the pandemic. PCS recognises, values and will continue to support this group of members who have provided a magnificent service to the public in these difficult times.
Changes to the Home Office Position on staff working from home
At the beginning of last week, the Home Office announced changes to its Policy relating to staff suffering from health conditions which render them particularly vulnerable to the effects of Coronavirus.
As part of its Return To Work process the Home Office has set out 4 phases of returnees:
Phase 1 – Critical Roles (frontline roles which are essential and cannot be undertaken from home – e.g. frontline BF or IE work. Critical work in other areas)
Phase 2 – Priority Wellbeing
Phase 3 – Enhanced Productivity
Phase 4 – Improved Collaboration
We have only reached Phase 1 which covers essential frontline/operation roles and the changes to policy concerning those with health conditions at present only affects those whose roles are included in Phase 1. Everyone else’s position is unchanged at the moment.
These changes are as follows:
The Clinically Extremely Vulnerable Group
This Group may include:
- have had an organ transplant
- are having chemotherapy or antibody treatment for cancer, including immunotherapy
- are having an intense course of radiotherapy (radical radiotherapy) for lung cancer
- are having targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system (such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors)
- have blood or bone marrow cancer (such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma)
- have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant in the past 6 months, or are still taking immunosuppressant medicine
- have been told by a doctor they have a severe lung condition (such as cystic fibrosis, severe asthma or severe COPD)
- have a condition that means they have a very high risk of getting infections (such as SCID or sickle cell)
- are taking medicine that makes them much more likely to get infections (such as high doses of steroids or immunosuppressant medicine)
- have a serious heart condition and are pregnant
Any member (or member of their household) who falls within this Group will have received a letter
from the NHS in March 2020, informing them to shield completely until further notice.
Any member suffering from any of the conditions above or who has someone in their household
suffering from the conditions will not be considered for a return to the workplace if their usual role is
covered by the Phase 1 definition until 1 August at the earliest.
The Clinically Vulnerable Group
This Group may include:
- are 70 or older
- have a lung condition that’s not severe (such as asthma, COPD, emphysema or bronchitis)
- have heart disease (such as heart failure)
- have diabetes
- have chronic kidney disease
- have liver disease (such as hepatitis)
- have a condition affecting the brain or nerves (such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy)
- have a condition that means they have a high risk of getting infections
- are taking medicine that can affect the immune system (such as low doses of steroids)
- are very obese (a BMI of 40 or above)
- are pregnant – see advice about pregnancy and coronavirus
Any member suffering from one of these conditions (or who has someone in their household who suffers from one of these conditions) and whose role is covered by the Phase 1 definition is now eligible to return to the workplace if they wish.
Members covered by this definition will receive contact from managers to discuss a range of possibilities with them. Some of our members are very keen to return to the workplace but others, rightly, have significant concerns around their own, and their loved ones, health.
The Home Office are clear that none of our members in this group can be compelled to return to the workplace at present. If anyone falls into the category above, the first step should be a conversation covering health and wellbeing, workplace readiness and the role proposed with your line manager.
If any member is uncertain or worried about returning to the workplace, they can continue to work from home undertaking work that will be allocated to them centrally (it could be Home Office or OGD work). Initially this will be temporary work and members in receipt of allowances will continue to receive them for the period involved.
PCS will continue to support all members in these cohorts, whatever their decision regarding a return to the workplace. If you are at all worried or have further concerns please contact your Branch Officials in the first instance.
Other Covid19 issues
PCS has contributed significantly at a national level in discussions around the provision of PPE and screens, the Directorate Safe Systems of Work and the Coronavirus Hub Frequently Asked Questions which can be found on Horizon and which cover amongst other issues, Special Leave, Sick Leave and Annual Leave. We continue to have an input into the revisions of these documents.
The Home Office has recently published a draft Return To Work Protocol. PCS has had substantial input into the document, which includes processes to be followed in making the Home Office Estate ‘Covid secure’. We have to continued to lobby for the 5 tests set by PCS to ensure a completely safe environment for the return to the workplace to be met and fully addressed in this Protocol.
These tests are as follows:
- No wider return until communities are safe
- Workplaces must only be for essential work
- Workplaces must be safe places
- Staff must be individually assessed
- Outbreaks must be controlled.
These processes include building readiness issues, such as desk spacing, lift occupancy, entry/exit points, enhanced cleaning regimes and ventilation as well as advice regarding risk assessments and occupancy levels.
PCS is also aware of members concerns within the BAME community over the impact of Covid-19 and have pressed the Home Office to ensure individual risk assessments take place and for the Home Office to demonstrate their duty of care to staff.
PCS Branch Officials are aware of these protocols, so if there are any concerns and queries please direct them to your local Branch in the first instance
The Home Office has confirmed that wherever practicable it will seek to maintain the 2m gap as its social distancing norm. PCS has lobbied hard for this measure. Sadly, daily infection and death rates from the pandemic remain significant and we continue to argue that as many control measures (such as the 2m social distancing gap) as possible should remain in place to mitigate against the transmission of the virus.
On a similar note, please be aware that the Home Office Face Coverings Policy has now been published. This Policy allows members to wear their own face coverings whilst at work in areas where PPE (such as surgical masks) is not mandated.
PCS continues to work to support and protect its members during this pandemic. Please continue to take care.
PCS Assistant Group Secretary
Home Office Group