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IRS plans to bring some employees back to their offices in June

IRS plans to bring some employees back to their offices in June
© Greg Nash

The IRS plans to bring some employees in Texas, Utah and Kentucky back to the agency's facilities starting June 1 to perform work that cannot be done remotely, the agency's commissioner, Charles Rettig, said in a message to employees Tuesday.

"With employee and taxpayer safety as our primary focus, the IRS continues to carefully monitor and evaluate our readiness to open our facilities for expanded operations of nonportable work, considering specific federal and local guidelines," Rettig said.

"We are also aware of the growing taxpayer needs and an expanding backlog of work at our campus and office locations," he continued. "We will continue to balance these urgent tax administration needs while doing everything possible to protect you and your colleagues."

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About 11,000 employees are subject to the recall, according to the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents IRS employees.

The union said those employees are among 20,000 IRS workers in the three states. The other 9,000 employees in those states are currently teleworking and will continue to work remotely.

"IRS has said that it will only recall the number of employees needed to address the ongoing filing season, while providing a safe physical distance between employees," NTEU President Tony Reardon said in a statement. 

Rettig's message marks a new step in the IRS's process of bringing employees back to its facilities, after the agency directed most people to work remotely in late March.

Last month, the IRS asked 11,000 people to volunteer to return to their offices — with a boost in pay — to perform tasks such as opening mail and processing paper tax returns.

The IRS is tasked with implementing many provisions in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief law that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE signed in March. It's also in the middle of the tax-filing season, which was extended from April 15 to July 15 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Rettig said the agency will continue to call back people who can't do their work remotely over the next several weeks.

"Our business unit leaders are evaluating their needs and will make decisions about how many employees are needed in each location to clear out the backlog of work and safely resume operations," he said.

The commissioner added that employees who are sick should not report to work and that employees in high-risk populations can request weather and safety leave if they can't telework. 

"Health concerns and the safety of our employees remain a top priority as the reopening process continues," Rettig said. "Facilities staff have been working around the clock to ensure the appropriate precautions are taken for the well-being of our employees. They’ve coordinated the cleaning of facilities, provided face coverings and hand sanitizer, and realigned workspace to allow for proper social distancing."

Reardon said that the IRS has indicated to the NTEU that employees will need to use their personal leave if they can't return to work because they have small children and their kids' schools and child care providers are closed.

"NTEU believes that the IRS should do more to provide options for these employees," Reardon said. "They should not be forced to use their personal leave because of circumstances that are beyond their control."

Reardon added that while the IRS had given advance notice that it was likely to require some workers to return to the agency's facilities, that "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."