Some Internal Revenue Service employees across nine states and commonwealths will be asked to return to the office in June to perform essential work for the agency that cannot be done virtually.
The IRS informed the National Treasury Employees Union and employees via an all-employee newsletter that it plans to hold two more rounds of callbacks in June — offices in Michigan Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee will call back employees on June 15, and offices in California, Indiana, Ohio, Puerto Rico and Oregon will do so June 29.
“Returning employees will be contacted as early as next week, allowing them the necessary time to make personal arrangements like childcare and other important matters,” IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig wrote in the newsletter.
“The health and safety of our employees will always be our top priority. Our facilities staff is working around the clock to ensure the appropriate precautions are taken for the well-being of our employees.”
The offices in those states are not planning to bring back all employees on those dates, but rather those that perform work that can only be done in person. Employees that have already been approved to telework or who have been classified as medically high risk will remain on either remote work or administrative leave status.
The recalls come just before the agency’s tax filing date July 15, which was pushed back from its normal April time frame to accommodate for the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tax returns that are filed through the mail rather than electronically require in-office personnel to process.
“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,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon in the news release.
“Employees remain anxious about the risks posed by taking public transportation, being in enclosed facilities with hundreds of coworkers and whether their work stations will be consistently and properly cleaned and disinfected.”
The agency drew criticism for its first employee recall, which asked workers to return to IRS offices before the agency had acquired sufficient personal protective equipment to outfit those employees.
“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,” Reardon said. “IRS employees are among the more than 105,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19 and we want to prevent any further losses by proceeding with extreme caution."
NTEU has called on the IRS to push the tax filing deadline to Oct. 15, 2020, to ensure that employees remain safe and the agency has ample time to address the backlog of work caused by the pandemic.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.