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IRS to Order Thousands of Employees to Return June 1 (1)

May 19, 2020, 9:40 PMUpdated: May 19, 2020, 10:48 PM

The IRS expects to require thousands of employees in Kentucky, Texas, and Utah to return to their worksites beginning June 1. The action moves beyond the agency’s earlier call for volunteers to staff offices amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency previously offered incentive pay to employees who were willing to voluntarily return to their offices to perform tasks including opening mail, processing paper tax returns, and taking phone calls. The latest action, which will continue to focus on employees with jobs that can’t be performed from home, comes as states begin to ease closures and stay-at-home orders.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig in an email to employees late Tuesday noted an expanding backlog of work that the agency needs to sort through. “We will continue to balance these urgent tax administration needs while doing everything possible to protect you and your colleagues,” he said.

Certain employees, including those at a higher risk of serious health complications from Covid-19 and those who can work from home won’t be subject to the latest recall, which will affect about 11,000 employees in the three states, according to the National Treasury Employees Union. The NTEU represents IRS employees.

The union’s national president, Tony Reardon, in a statement Tuesday said the NTEU will closely monitor the IRS’s compliance with safety measures as it brings workers back.

The agency’s late April call for volunteers drew backlash from some Democratic lawmakers because it came before the agency had enough protective gear for all the affected workers.

Rettig in his email Tuesday said facilities staff “have been working around the clock” to ensure appropriate safety precautions are being taken. They have coordinated cleanings, provided face coverings and hand sanitizer, and realigned work spaces to allow for proper social distancing, he said.

The IRS will assess each worksite after every shift to make sure supplies are stocked and the proper safeguards are in place, he added.

Rules for Returning

Employees should remain in their current work situations—whether teleworking or on weather and safety leave—until told otherwise by a manager, Rettig said. Those who can perform their duties from home should continue to telework.

Rettig said during a virtual conference last week that about 54,000 of the agency’s approximately 80,000 employees were working from home.

The IRS will monitor state and local guidelines as it enters into this next phase of reopening, according to the agency’s email.

Managers will recall workers who can’t do their jobs from home if a state or local municipality is open, Rettig said. In areas that remain closed, business units will assess the need for volunteers to perform high-priority tasks on-site. In some situations, employees may be required to return to work if there aren’t enough volunteers, he said.

Employees who are ill shouldn’t report for duty. They may be required to provide medical documentation if sick leave exceeds three consecutive workdays. Employees at high risk for severe illness from Covid-19 under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines may request weather and safety leave if they can’t telework, the agency said.

Reardon urged the IRS to provide virus testing and basic medical screenings for employees who must report to work, pointing to a recent incident in Kansas City, Mo., in which an employee tested positive for Covid-19 days after voluntarily returning to the office.

“The health and safety of the IRS employees returning to work is a top priority for NTEU,” he said.

(Adds details from IRS email and comments from NTEU beginning in fourth paragraph. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Allyson Versprille in Washington at aversprille@bloombergtax.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Patrick Ambrosio at pambrosio@bloombergtax.com; Kathy Larsen at klarsen@bloombergtax.com