Law360 (June 4, 2020, 5:23 PM EDT) -- The Internal Revenue Service plans to reopen operations in eight states and Puerto Rico in June that had been shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig told employees in an internal email provided Thursday to Law360.
IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig sent a letter to agency employees Wednesday with plans to reopen operations in eight more states and Puerto Rico. (AP)
Rettig's email comes during the week employees started returning to work at offices in Kentucky, Texas and Utah.
"We will continue to focus on nonportable work," he said. "For those who can perform their duties at home, our mandatory telework policy remains in effect for the foreseeable future to maximize social distancing."
The agency will contact returning workers as soon as next week to allow time to make child care and other personal arrangements, Rettig said.
The IRS told Law360 that the reopening of offices in Georgia, Michigan, Missouri and Tennessee includes 51 offices with just more than 15,000 employees. Of those, 8,500 can telework and the remaining can be recalled to perform non-portable work, the agency said.
The reopening starting June 29 in California, Oregon, Indiana, Ohio, and Puerto Rico includes 79 offices with about 13,000 total employees, the IRS said. Of those, 7,000 can telework and the remainder can be recalled to perform work that isn't portable, the agency said.
The commissioner reminded workers that if they're experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, they shouldn't come to work and may have to provide documentation if their sick leave exceeds three consecutive workdays.
Rettig also said workers in high-risk groups, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can request weather and safety leave if they can't telework. Every duty post will be studied after each shift to ensure appropriate cleaning, supplies and social distancing guidelines are met.
In a Thursday statement, the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal employees in 33 agencies and departments, including the IRS, said the reopening plan Rettig announced includes large campuses in Atlanta and Kansas City, Missouri, and Fresno, California.
The union also said it is waiting to get information from the IRS on how many employees it plans to call back for each location and business division. The union also wants an update on cleaning protocols and supplies of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and masks, though workers can bring their own masks, the statement said.
"We understand that the IRS has a backlog of important work that cannot be done remotely and they need to restart systems as soon as possible, but our concerns about the coronavirus pandemic have not changed," Tony Reardon, the union's national president, said in the statement. "This week's return of workers in three states, in addition to those who have already volunteered to return, will test the safety of the IRS' recall plans."
Chad Hooper, president of the Professional Managers Association, which represents agency managers, declined to comment.
Just more than 19,000 employees began returning to work this week at offices in Kentucky, Texas and Utah, with 9,000 eligible for telework, the IRS said Thursday. Other agency workers had already started coming back to work on a voluntary basis.
In March, the IRS ordered all workers who could telework to do so in order to reduce exposure to the coronavirus. In April, Sunita Lough, the agency's deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, said on a webcast that all of the agency's service centers were closed as a result of shelter-in-place orders because of the pandemic.
--Editing by Neil Cohen.
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