14 December 2021

Returning to the office – BAME risk assessments and the one-to-one process

Jeremy Bedford writes about the impact of the pandemic on BAME members, and what a return to the workplace means for them.

With the ever-changing Covid guidance, and uncertainty around returning to the workplace, our members are understandably worried about what this means for them.

I was off work for a long period of the pandemic following the very sad loss of my mother. I was aware that most staff were working at home.  

When I returned to work, I was concerned. Not just about the attendance management procedures I had already had to challenge whilst I was grieving, but that I might have to leave the house with the threat of Covid. As I was off sick, I had not been given the equipment that most staff had received to work from home.

News and media were highlighting that black and minority groups were very vulnerable to Covid and therefore changes had been made and implemented to protect these groups. I was in that group as I am black, but my management team had not made me aware of any Covid related policies that PCS had negotiated with DWP. The information was on the intranet, but without kit I was unable to access this. 

I spoke to my rep before my return and found that management were not up to date with the detail and did not know about the risk assessments (RA) for BAME staff, or in fact how to carry them out.

Once I understood my rights, I requested a BAME RA. The RA clearly showed concerns that needed to be mitigated. I asked to work from home but was told I had to attend the office as no equipment was immediately available. I applied for paid special leave for the period it took to receive a computer and have it set up at home.

The BAME RA has been used by many DWP staff to allow them to work from home, but there have also been many instances where the process has fallen down. In my case, management and human resources failed to see the impact or the risk I was facing by coming to work on public transport. Where I live had a very high rate of Covid infections, but it was completely disregarded by DWP. The argument was that the office was ‘Covid safe’ and the country was getting back to normal. But public transport was not safe and people were, and still are, dying from the virus.

I cannot write more about the specific detail of my case as it is still being dealt with by PCS, but no matter the outcome, this case will be used to show that policy and procedures work for some but not for others.

Good managers will support black workers, but in many cases black people are not being supported and are in fact suffering potential discrimination at the hands of their managers. Being outside of Covid measures does not mean that those more prone to Covid are safe.