At least three IRS employees have tested positive for Covid-19 at the agency’s Austin campus, according to the union that represents those workers.
The development comes as many of the thousands of employees who have been asked to return to offices in several states are already anxious and facing a heavy workload.
The agency confirmed in an email Tuesday that employees working in three separate buildings had recently tested positive for the virus—one of them last week. In these cases the IRS has kept the buildings open but has temporarily closed off the areas where the infected employees work so the spaces can be cleaned, the agency said.
“There are some concerns that the closures did not happen as quickly as they should have,” Tony Reardon, the national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS employees, said in a statement.
The agency on June 1 brought thousands of workers back to facilities in Kentucky, Texas, and Utah. This week it called back employees in Georgia, Michigan, Tennessee, and Missouri. Four more states and one U.S. territory—California, Indiana, Ohio, Oregon, and Puerto Rico—will follow suit at the end of the month.
Eddie Walker, president of the NTEU Chapter 247 in Austin, said the latest batch of positive Covid-19 tests is exacerbating employees’ concerns.
“Everybody is very much on pins and needles,” he said.
Austin has more than one local NTEU chapter and the employees Walker represents don’t work in the buildings that have been affected so far. But “it’s probably a matter of time before it spreads to somebody in our buildings,” Walker said.
Reardon said the NTEU is working with local management officials to make sure all of the affected areas are deep-cleaned. The union is also helping notify employees of potential contact with the individuals who tested positive.
The IRS said it has several safety protocols in place to protect employees, including social distancing, and signs and markings in many hallways and elevators. The agency said it also requires employees to use face masks in common areas and takes additional steps to clean and disinfect any affected area when an employee tests positive for the virus.
NTEU has previously asked the IRS to take these measures a step further by employing on-site testing and temperature checks, and using contact-tracing methods to identify people who may have been exposed to infected individuals.
In his latest statement, Reardon renewed calls for the IRS to push the already-extended tax filing season back again to October from July—a change that would take some pressure off of the agency’s workers.
“IRS employees shouldn’t have to risk their lives to come to work, which is why NTEU since March has called for an extension of the tax filing season to Oct. 15,” he said.