COVID-19: Return to office put on hold

Generation 2004 continues to closely monitor the developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on our institution and our working conditions. In the last two weeks we have had two meetings with DG HR to discuss all the issues related to the pandemic and the way forward. Generation 2004 stated that the return should only happen when the pandemic situation improved: when there was a lower possibility of contagion. We found it very strange that we should be moving to phase 2 (originally planned for 1 October) under these circumstances. While it came as a surprise, we welcome the decision of the administration to put our return to the office on hold. For the moment, teleworking remains the norm.

The rules announced on 8 September 2020: Commission Decision on Specific Health and Safety Rules for the Commission Sites of Brussels and Luxembourg, remain applicable for the exceptional presence in the office.

Under no circumstances should management ask staff to go to the office, and they should definitely not rush the return or organise the rotation of presence in the office at the level of the entire unit, as was the case in DG FISMA. DG FISMA seemed to be pushing for a return to the office ahead of any official date and going completely against the principle of social distancing.

What are the current rules and what are the rules for when you are present in the office?

TELEWORKING:

Teleworking will remain the norm for most colleagues. Colleagues considered to be at risk should under no circumstance come to the office. Nothing changes for essential staff, as their presence must be ensured.

PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT AND MEASURES

Keeping social distance is still the norm and a keeping the number of staff on site low is a necessity for this.

Wearing a facemask will be compulsory everywhere, except when sitting and not speaking. Masks and gels will be available at the entrance of each building.

The Medical Protocol has been updated in line with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) guidance and the criteria threshold for being considered at risk/vulnerable is therefore extended to include those who are 60 years old and above.

Body-temperature checks will be performed at the entrance of most buildings. If someone’s temperature is more than 37 ⁰C, the cameras will signal it. If the person has a temperature of 37.7 ⁰C or above, that person will have to complete a form. If the person is retested 30 minutes later and the result is good, the person can enter.

MISSIONS

Only essential trips (‘missions’) will be allowed. The jobholders can refuse to go if it is to a risk zone. The risk assessment must be done before the mission is organised.

EXTERNAL VISITORS

Visitors from other institutions will be allowed. However, only essential meetings with external visitors can be granted, upon a request for authorization.

VACCINATION

The flu vaccination will be made available to staff. As 9 000 people expressed their interest, the Commission ordered 11 000 vaccine doses to cater for all possible requests. The flu vaccination campaign will have to be in line with national recommendations and is to be launched around 21 October 2020.

As regards a COVID-19 vaccine, the Commission and DG SANTE are in contact with five companies that are developing one. Any such vaccine will not be obligatory but available as a priority for at risk/vulnerable colleagues.

TRACING APP

A mobile phone application for reporting COVID-19 cases will soon be made available by PMO. Its use will not be compulsory. However, it can help tracing when a person falls sick. Generation 2004 remarked that clear guidance on the new rules should be provided to managers in order to avoid any uneven application, as was the case, for example, of teleworking from outside the place of employment this summer.

Also, we insisted on the need to ensure maximum flexibility in this period in order to take into account the different situations of colleagues, e.g. those with children, those needing to use public transport to come to the office or those who might have experienced psychological difficulties during the lock-down and are still recovering, to name but a few cases.

We reiterated the request for a special leave for parents where schools or classes are closed, or a new lockdown is enforced in the place of employment.

We also underlined the need to allow colleagues whose families are in another Member State imposing mandatory quarantine to be able to telework from there for the quarantine period, as mandatory quarantine is in fact a restriction to the freedom of movement. This measure is now necessary as the option to telework from outside the place of employment ended on 15 September.

As the number of burnout cases has significantly increased in the last months, we have asked for more details and actions to tackle the pandemic-associated psychosocial risks.

For more information on our coverage of the COVID-19 crisis, see here all our articles on the matter.

If you have questions on any issues, do not hesitate to contact us!

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