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I have to return to my place of work (based in UK) to carry out essential jobs after working from home for some weeks. My employer has forwarded around a presentation to those having to go to work, stressing the need for social distancing, and requests that employees clean their desk, mouse, keyboard and phone every day among other things.

The problem is, I haven't seen anyone else wiping their desk at any time, and no one is making a huge effort to stay 2m away from each other. I also don't know if I'm cleaning my desk correctly - should I be using a certain type of cleaner? No detail was provided, and I feel maybe the presentation was just paperwork to cover the employers backs, and that if I raise a complaint nothing will actually be done about it. I don't want to be a jerk or lose my job but I feel concerned. Our HR manager is furloughed so can't be contacted.

What should I do?

  • At the very least, you need to include which country you're in. – Philip Kendall Jun 1 at 10:31
  • @PhilipKendall in UK - have amended question – 5Diraptor Jun 1 at 10:39
  • Why not ask for clarification instead of complaining? Btw this is very company soecific... – Solar Mike Jun 1 at 10:44
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    You may be overreacting. If you have a permanent desk that only you use I'm not sure what benefit you get from cleaning it every day. If you have to move from desk to desk you should wipe everything down when you arrive and what other people do isn't that important. Your company should supply whatever products you need to do this. This may be as simple as having boxes of alcohol infused wipes around the office. The 2m thing seems more important but if there are no meetings in small offices and you are not working shoulder to shoulder at your desk that may be ok too. – Eric Nolan Jun 1 at 11:05
  • @EricNolan Thanks for the comments - I realise I may be overreacting which is why I like the unbiased advice I can get here. I want to make sure I've got a balanced view. – 5Diraptor Jun 1 at 11:27
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Clean your area and interact with your co-workers in a way that makes YOU feel safe

It sounds like your company has provided some guidelines, without any care or concern that they are actually followed. Different people have different level of concerns about the virus, and with that it will be plainly obvious when getting back into the workplace.

I wouldn't start to try and file complaints against these employees, but I'd also not interact with them in a way that makes you feel unsafe. Let them know you take this virus seriously, and you would like to keep your distance unless absolutely necessary. Your co-workers should respect this, and if not it's probably time to talk to someone in your company about how you can get your job done and remain completely safe in these working conditions.

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You could ask your company to make more specific instructions instead of what might be being treated as vague suggestions by some employees.

For example:-

All employees must wipe down their desk, keyboard, mouse and phone when they arrive using the wipes provided in every office.

No meetings with more than four people in the meeting rooms. Where possible all meetings should be done by computer even for people in the office.

No more than four people at a time in the kitchen. Form a queue outside if necessary.

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  • All those examples are useless. Washing your hands when you arrive is probably the only thing that actually matters. Best thing to do is to work from home. – dan-klasson Jun 1 at 15:29
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I feel maybe the presentation was just paperwork to cover the employers backs

Yep sounds like it the gov't has published fairly extensive guidance around the steps employers are supposed to be taking (I linked to the version for offices here since I assume that's the environment you are in but there are others for different workplace types), while the specific measures outlined in the guidance aren't themselves directly spelled out in law there's the usual "duty of care" requirements from the Health & Safety Executive in play - as the linked document states:

As an employer, you also have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety. This means you need to think about the risks they face and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them, recognising you cannot completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19.

I've heard some suggestions that businesses could potentially get in trouble if they haven't done their part!

On the face of it your employer does seem to be taking the barest of box-ticking approaches rather than taking it seriously. Eric Nolan's answer (excellently) points out that a good approach here is to go back to your employer and seek more concrete measures, you could do this via asking for specific "clarifications" from the rather vague guidance you've had so far. You mention that your HR person is currently furloughed but there will be someone who is responsible for this - if you aren't sure who that is then it would be sensible to contact either the person who sent the guidance or your direct manager in the first instance and let them punt it on the chain as required. If they don't have anyone who is responsible for it then it's not a completely crazy idea to volunteer - it's certainly one way to remove any question of you being a "jerk" as you put it if you're volunteering to take the job on yourself.

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I don't know about UK but I'm sure they have similar guidelines as the USA. In the USA, a lot of places have to open up under certain conditions and cleaning practices or else they have to remain closed. Also, nearly every place that has opened they encourage maximizing teleworking. I recommend that you find such guidelines and go with that.

As always, my advice is not to depend on your workplace to provide safety for you. Your safety should be something you should consider and determine. If you are uncomfortable or unaware of what to do, my advice is to use common sense. Just remember, if you're sick with COVID-19, your workplace would not be as kind as the reverse where they get sick, and now you have to pick up the slack.

Also, keep in mind of government phone numbers. Find local guidelines, and if your workplace is not following it, call the government hotline, not your HR department. HR has a lot more potential of covering up their incompetencies rather than fixing them.

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