Published 11th September 2020
It was announced today that the DWP Leeds office was investigated for failure to comply with the Covid-secure guidelines and was issued with a Notice of Contravention.
We understand that a whistleblower raised workplace concerns about the office the HSE conducted a Safety inspection at the Government office on 27 August 2020. As a whistleblower, that employee should now be protected from any detriment. We’ve written a blog about whistle-blower protection, here.
In terms of the office, it was found that the DWP was not taking enough precautions in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. CCTV footage shows 5 members of staff gathered around a computer in the office. The line manager was giving instructions to the group of staff gathered around the desk; therefore, it was found that management had failed to ensure social distancing measures were being followed.
The whistle-blower had been working from home and when he returned to work, he was concerned for his health and safety in the workplace environment. The whistle-blower went onto say the office was so big that it was difficult to monitor, but other staff members were nervous to return. He believes the office is not yet safe enough to go back to work.
The report provided from the inspection stated the office was failing to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of the employees by not implementing or maintaining the necessary measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The office is currently at 50% capacity which the inspector commented on by saying these numbers were too ambitious and unrealistic, as such capacity leads to the risk of congestion within the office space and could therefore cause difficulties in maintaining social distancing.
The office had designated walkways showing two-way travel, which in places were only one metre wide. Stairwells were also designated as two-way walkways however did not appear to be 2 metres wide. The office had small tables and benches which lacked signage to say out of use.
This story really demonstrates the risks of failing to be Covid-secure; the DWP office itself has been confirmed to have had at least 2 cases of coronavirus. We previously shared a blog on how to ensure a workplace is Covid-secure.
It’s also significant when we think about the return to work; it’s clear that employees can be obliged to return to the office, but only when the workplace is safe and there are no underlying conditions which limits the employee’s ability to do so. But, in cases like this, where the workplace isn’t safe, employees are completely within their rights to refuse to return. Jodie recently did an interview with Stylist magazine where she discussed employees’ rights when returning to work.
Sound familiar? How can we help?
If you are an employee who has concerns about the safety of the workplace, please get in touch. We will be able to help you and ensure that you can whistleblow without causing any detriment to yourself as a result.
If you have been dismissed as a result of raising concerns about health and safety, or any other concerns, we may also be able to help you with a claim for automatic unfair dismissal.
By Deborah Norbury and Alicia Collinson