Fedweek

Assurance of properly functioning ventilation systems, notifications about potential COVID-19 exposure of colleagues, protections against retaliation for employees who report safety concerns and disinfecting of workspaces were cited as the top safety steps that teleworking employees of the Consumer Product Safety Commission want to see in place before a wider recall to their regular workplaces.

The report constitutes one of the first broad assessments of employee concerns as federal agencies consider recalling more employees, and for more days a week, to their official duty stations.

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Large majorities of the more than 300 employees who responded to a survey by the agency’s IG said those steps were “must haves” for them to feel safe in returning, well above steps such as mandatory vaccinations, contact tracing and training in the use of personal protective equipment.

The survey further yielded highly divided responses to a question asking if they would feel safe returning to their regular duty stations if the agency said it is safe to do so—32.4 percent said yes, 31.1 said no and 36.5 percent said they were unsure. There were differences according to where employees work, with 63.3 percent of field/port employees answering yes, compared with 35.9 percent of lab employees and 23.9 percent of headquarters employees.

Said the IG: “These responses indicate a relatively high degree of uncertainty about returning among staff. This was most prominent among headquarters’ staff, where nearly half of those surveyed had not returned to their RDS even once. A higher proportion of field/port staff have already returned to their RDS; therefore, we hypothesize that safety concerns regarding a return to RDS may dissipate once employees actually return to their RDS and become familiar with the safety changes implemented.”

It added that “staff who have returned to their RDS on a more regular basis appear to be more comfortable with the idea of returning to work than those who have not returned. This suggests that as staff gain experience at their regular worksites they may become more comfortable.”

Other surveys conducted by agency IGs have focused more on issues such as satisfaction with technical support for telework, the quality of agency communications with employees and their views of the impact on their productivity. The IG at the CPSC had produced one of those earlier reports, showing that in a previous survey, nearly all employees said they were as productive or more productive under the maximum telework policy.

In the new report, 82 percent said their view of telework is more favorable than it was at the time of the earlier survey, compared with 2 percent who said it is less favorable. Sixty-one respondents said they would prefer to telework full-time, while only seven said they prefer to work full-time in the office, with the overall average being a desire to work in the office three days biweekly.

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