IRS to bring as many as 11K employees back to work in reopening states

Nearly two months into the IRS maximizing telework for its employees, the agency will bring back its second wave of staff next month.

The National Treasury Employees Union said the agency looks to bring as many as 11,000 employees in Texas, Utah and Kentucky back to the office on June 1.

NTEU estimates 20,000 IRS employees work in those three states, and 9,000 of them are teleworking and will remain working remotely.

The IRS last month asked as many as 11,000 employees to return to work at 10 agency campuses across the country last month, offering pay incentives for those who volunteered.

However, the Professional Management Association, which represents IRS supervisors, said earlier this month that full cadre of employees hadn’t returned as requested, which led agency officials to consider bringing back more employees.

The IRS, according to NTEU President Tony Reardon, will ask employees to return to the office “in reverse order of seniority,” and that employees with health conditions that put them at high risk will remain on weather and safety leave.

“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 in a statement Tuesday. “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.”

Reardon said the union has urged the IRS to accommodate employees who have young children at home because of school closures. The agency, he said, has indicated that employees with small children must use their personal leave if they’re unable to report back to work.

Meanwhile, the IRS will only recall as many employees as it needs to address the ongoing filing season, and has taken measures to ensure returning staff can practice social distancing on the job.

“We have been in regular contact with IRS officials about the safest way to reopen facilities to do essential work related to the ongoing tax filing season. To that end, the IRS has informed us that the IRS posts of duty in those states have been thoroughly disinfected, a comprehensive cleaning schedule is in place, and there are adequate supplies of personal protective equipment readily available to returning employees,” Reardon said.

NTEU representatives in each facility, he added, will keep track of compliance with these measures and alert management with their concerns.

IRS facilities have varied in their workplace flexibility during the pandemic. Some sites have hired new employees and walked them through the onboarding process virtually, while employees in other facilities have been unable to forward calls from their office phones because of legacy systems.

In an email to employees, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said the agency has looked at reopening facilities in states and cities where government officials have eased stay-at-home orders and other pandemic restrictions.

As states reopen, Rettig said the agency will assess bringing back employees while following guidance from the Office of Management and Budget.

In reopened states and cities, managers will recall employees whose work cannot be done remotely, while employees with portable work will continue teleworking to ensure safety through social distancing

In states and cities that remain closed, Rettig said business units will assess the need for volunteers to return to the office to perform “mission-critical, non-portable work,” and may need to recall employees to support the agency mission if it doesn’t get enough volunteers.

“As we begin this next phase, please remember you need to remain in your current work situation, whether teleworking or on weather and safety leave, until you hear otherwise from your manager,” Rettig said.

The IRS’ mandatory telework policy remains in effect, Rettig said, and employees able to telework should continue to do so “for the foreseeable future so we can maximize social distancing for those with nonportable work who need to be in the workplace.”

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