The IRS issued an evacuation notice Friday afternoon that would send nearly all of its employees home on mandatory telework during the coronavirus pandemic.
Beginning March 30, the IRS will direct all employees, “including employees who are currently not teleworking but whose work is portable or can be adapted to work off-site,” to evacuate their workspace and instead work from home or an alternate location.
In an all-staff email obtained by Federal News Network, IRS Human Capital Officer Robin Bailey, Jr. and Deputy IRS Human Capital Officer Kevin McIver said the employees who still have to come into the office to complete non-remote “mission-critical duties” will receive additional guidance from their supervisors.
“By directing employees who can work from home (or an alternate location) to do so, we’re not only decreasing your potential exposure, but also reducing the risk of exposure for those employees who must remain on-site,” Bailey and McIver wrote.
Insight by LookingGlass: Federal technology experts provide insight into how agencies are approaching cybersecurity in the new virtual climate in this exclusive executive briefing.
Evacuated employees who can work remotely but don’t have a telework agreement aren’t required to obtain one, but they’re “strongly encouraged” by the IRS to take its telework training course, according to a list of frequently asked questions asked by employees.
Separate courses are available for bargaining unit employees, non-bargaining employees and managers.
Prior to issuing the evacuation notice, the IRS left telework decision up to supervisors. Front-line employees, pending approval from their managers, could also choose to limit in-person contact through April 30.
Subject to their manager’s approval, IRS employees can choose to limit in-person contacts between now and April 30. These decisions will be approved at the local level, the agency said.
National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said the IRS “appears to be within its legal right to issue this evacuation order,” but added that the mandate would be disruptive for some employees.
“The coronavirus pandemic has altered our lives at work and home in new and often unsettling ways. NTEU is doing all we can to make sure employees are provided with clear information and a full explanation of the shifting nature of the IRS workplace,” Reardon said in a statement.
On Monday, the agency will restrict building access to pick up items like work assignments, mail and supplies, as well as to complete tasks “that must continue during the national emergency and can only be performed on-site.”
“All employees affected by this directive must take their equipment home to be prepared to work from home. Employees who don’t already have their equipment at home, or are not working on March 30, will receive appropriate direction from your supervisor,” the email states.
NTEU, in an internal memo Wednesday, told its members that IRS had briefed the union about its plans to invoke the evacuation notice.
“We know that this evacuation order will cause employees concern, particularly those who have reasonable accommodations or whose homes are not suitable for telework, including the lack of Internet access,” NTEU wrote. “[The Office of Personnel Management’s] guidance on issuing an evacuation order is clear that the order does not relieve agencies of their reasonable accommodation obligations, and the IRS said that it will continue the reasonable accommodation measures at their homes.”
As far as what work is telework-eligible for employees who don’t have an agreement in place, the union cited its labor agreement with the IRS: the work must be portable, the employee must have high-speed internet and the employee must have an alternative space that’s conducive to working.
“Other eligibility criteria will be waived including the following: the employee must be working at IRS for not less than 12 months and have a fully successful or above rating; and must not have been disciplined in the last 12 months for actions that would impact the integrity of the telework program,” NTEU wrote.
The IRS will let individual managers decide what to do in the case of employees who have received “telework-disqualifying discipline” under the Telework Enhancement Act and for employees on a performance improvement plan.
The IRS will grant weather and safety leave to employees if their managers can’t find additional work for them to perform.
“The IRS acknowledged that it has no authority to order employees to purchase high-speed Internet so they can become telework-able,” NTEU wrote.
Citing a March 17 Office of Management and Budget memo, the IRS has the authority to assign work to employees that is different from their usual workflow. Employees in this scenario would receive notification from their supervisor.
“Your manager should give you work assignments as needed to ensure you have work to complete during the time you’re working from home,” the IRS wrote in its FAQ. “You may be assigned any work without consideration to grade, level or title if you have the necessary knowledge and skills to complete assignments.”