A new survey of frontline federal employees found that most who have been working remotely during the novel coronavirus pandemic do not feel safe about returning to their traditional office, while those who have not been able to telework are concerned their agencies are not taking enough safety precautions.
The American Federation of Government Employees surveyed nearly 2,200 union members from across the federal government from August 5-August 12, of which 56% reported that they were working remotely due to the pandemic.
For employees who have been teleworking, 79.2% said that they would not feel safe if asked to return to their normal worksite, although more than half of respondents—53.2%—said their agency still had not communicated its plan for returning employees to offices. And although 50.9% said management has begun recalling at least some employees, only 33.1% of teleworkers said they were confident that their agency would bring employees back safely.
Among respondents who have been working on-site, 73.1% said they don’t believe their agency is taking precautions needed to protect them from COVID-19 exposure. Although 69.8% said their agency has a coronavirus workplace safety plan in place, only 29.7% said they believe the agency is following best practices for workers’ health and safety.
For employees who are required to wear protective equipment like N95 masks, gloves and sterilized gowns, only 56.2% of respondents said their employer has a sufficient supply.
A positive finding in the survey was that most employees, teleworking and on-site, do not currently have issues in securing child or dependent care. Only 29.3% of on-site workers said they have had difficulty with child care, compared to 27.7% of teleworking respondents.
Access to mental health care appears to be patchy, both for on-site and teleworking employees. While 59% of respondents who have been working remotely said their agency has offered or made available mental and emotional health services, that figure fell to 45.6% for those who continue to work on-site.
AFGE National President Everett Kelley said the survey shows that agencies need to do more to protect employees, and to communicate better how they are doing so.
“Whether they are working remotely or on-site, federal employees believe their workplaces are unsafe and that their agencies are not doing enough to protect them,” Kelley said. “For months, our members have repeatedly called on the administration to include federal employees in decision-making around pandemic protocols to ensure agencies understand the needs of front-line workers, but our concerns have fallen on deaf ears.”