IRS Asks More Workers To Return Amid Pandemic, Union Says

By Dylan Moroses
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Law360 (May 7, 2020, 4:43 PM EDT) -- The IRS is asking more employees to volunteer to return to work on site with incentive pay as the agency begins to reopen offices that were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the union representing agency employees said Thursday.

The National Treasury Employees' Union supports the Internal Revenue Service's call for additional employees to volunteer to return to work during the pandemic, NTEU President Tony Reardon said in a statement. Nevertheless, he added, they should feel safe enough to do so, especially after an agency employee contracted the illness in Kansas City

IRS employees who volunteer to return to work should have sufficient personal protective equipment such as masks and hand sanitizer readily available, and additional steps should be taken to clean office spaces, Reardon said.

"We will continue to work with the IRS to find the right balance between delivering a tax-filing season and keeping federal employees safe," Reardon said.

He added that the union would continue to urge the agency to extend the filing deadline even further, from July 15 to Oct. 15.

The IRS didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reardon said that ensuring employees' safety is even more critical after an IRS employee in Kansas City last week contracted COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

According to a Facebook post by the local NTEU chapter in Kansas City, the IRS campus there will be closed until May 12 to ensure the space is properly cleaned, and then employees will be able to return on a limited basis.

Last week, the IRS told the NTEU it had secured enough face masks for agency employees who volunteered to return to work. The agency also reported that there are few enough returning workers that they can comply with physical distancing standards, Reardon said.

Reardon previously said that state and local orders requiring people to stay home should be lifted and that other conditions should be met before federal employees returned to their offices.

The union's conditions for bringing back workers also included proof of thorough cleaning of sites, adequate supplies of sanitizers and disinfectants, a policy of voluntary maximum telework, work spaces that provide for physical distancing, procedures for taking employees' temperatures before they enter buildings and permitting and providing the use of cloth face coverings.

In March, the IRS extended the April tax filing deadline to July 15 to account for hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The agency also took steps in March to temporarily suspend some tax enforcement efforts and generally not begin new audits or collection efforts until July 15.

Additionally, the IRS shuttered all its service centers and Taxpayer Assistance Centers and is holding mail. The IRS has also directed much of its workforce to telework and suspended some enforcement actions.

--Additional reporting by Joshua Rosenberg and David van den Berg. Editing by Vincent Sherry. 

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