The IRS is requiring some of its workforce to get back to their jobs after having been evacuated at the end of March due to the coronavirus pandemic, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said Tuesday.
The first phase will begin with non-teleworking employees in three states — Texas, Utah and Kentucky — who’ve been told to report to work June 1.
Going forward, employees who can’t work remotely will be recalled in states and localities where coronavirus-related restrictions have been relaxed, Rettig said in an email to employees Tuesday, which also laid out safety procedures the agency intends to implement. In regions that remain “closed,” managers will “assess the need for volunteers to return to the office to perform mission-critical, non-portable work.”
“In some situations, depending on the response from volunteers, we may need to recall employees to support the mission,” Rettig added.
The mandatory recalls follows a request for volunteers over recent weeks as the IRS began slowly starting to resume more normal operations under federal and local health and safety guidelines.
The agency faces a July 15 deadline for tax filing and Rettig cited “an expanding backlog of work at our office and campus locations.” It has also been processing millions of economic stimulus payments and implementing tax provisions of coronavirus response packages passed by Congress.
Some tax preparers and others in the industry have urged the IRS to further extend the tax filing deadline, which was originally April 15. But Rettig said last week there are no plans to do that.
“Over the next several weeks, we will continue to ask employees whose work is not portable to return to their posts of duty,” Rettig said. “Our business unit leaders are evaluating their needs and will make decisions about how many employees are needed in each location to clear out the backlog of work and safely resume operations.”
There are about 20,000 employees in the first three states, said National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon, in a statement. Some 11,000 of them are subject to the recall, while the other 9,000 will remain on telework.
Rettig said the IRS is balancing urgent tax administration needs while doing everything possible to protect staff. He said the agency “will meet and where possible exceed the CDC’s safety guidelines” and that facilities’ staff have “coordinated the cleaning of facilities, provided face coverings and hand sanitizer, and realigned workspace to allow for proper social distancing.”
For the voluntary return launched in April, the agency initially told employees to bring face coverings from home. It temporarily re-closed a facility in Kansas City earlier this month after a worker tested positive for Covid-19.
Reardon said the IRS should provide testing and basic medical screenings for those required to return to offices.
“The IRS has also informed us that employees are being called back in reverse order of seniority and that those with existing health conditions that put them at high risk will be allowed to continue to remain at home on weather and safety leave,” Reardon said.
However, he said employees who have to care for children will be required to use personal leave if they can’t return.
For those who can perform their duties at home, Rettig said the agency’s mandatory telework policy would continue to apply to them for the foreseeable future to maximize social distancing for those who need to be in the workplace.