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IRS Expects To Bring Back Workers In 3 States Starting June 1

By David van den Berg · May 19, 2020, 9:34 PM EDT

The IRS plans to order employees in Kentucky, Texas and Utah who can't telework to return to their worksites starting June 1, Commissioner Chuck Rettig told workers Tuesday, saying the agency would keep pursuing employee safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rettig delivered the news in an email to agency workers. Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS workers, said in a statement that according to the agency, there are about 20,000 IRS employees in the three states. About 9,000 will continue to telework, subjecting 11,000 to the recall, Reardon said.

Reardon said the IRS has informed the union that agency "posts of duty" in those states have been thoroughly disinfected, a comprehensive cleaning schedule is in place and there are sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment for workers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The union leader said the health and safety of returning workers is a priority for the union, which is why it will continue urging the IRS to provide the returning employees with tests and basic medical screenings.

"The IRS made clear that after an initial call for volunteers in certain IRS divisions to return to work, mandatory callbacks were likely," Reardon said. "Such advance notice, however, does not alleviate the anxiety of the IRS frontline employees, who, just like most Americans, recognize that the health crisis has not fully subsided and are worried about protecting themselves and their families."

The directive for some employees to return follows agency workers voluntarily coming back. Earlier this month, Reardon said the union supported an IRS call for additional employees to volunteer to return, but said they needed to feel safe doing so, particularly after a Kansas City, Missouri, worker contracted COVID-19.

Rettig said in his email that over the next several weeks, the agency will continue asking employees whose work isn't portable to return to their posts of duty. The IRS is aware of growing taxpayer needs and an expanding backlog of work at its office and campus locations, he said.

Leaders of IRS business units are evaluating their needs and will make decisions about how many workers are needed in each location to clear out the backlog of work and resume operations safely, according to Rettig.

For workers who can perform their duties at home, the agency's telework policy remains in effect for the foreseeable future so that it can maximize social distancing for people who can't work remotely and need to be at an IRS location, Rettig said in the email.

Posts of duty will be assessed after every shift to ensure appropriate cleaning and supplies and to ensure that social distancing guidelines are met, according to Rettig.

Employees who are sick shouldn't come in and may have to provide documentation if sick leave exceeds three consecutive workdays, Rettig said in the email.

Workers who are in high-risk populations as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may ask for weather and safety leave if they can't telework, he said.

The IRS, while providing Rettig's email, did not respond to a Law360 request for further comment.

--Editing by Neil Cohen.

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