The Internal Revenue Service said it was going to begin recalling some of its essential employees to the office today.
“Effective April 27, 2020, the IRS will be recalling certain employees in mission-critical functions to handle work that must be conducted onsite. We are thankful for these employees that are coming back to their worksite to conduct the critical work for the IRS as well as the country,” the IRS wrote in a recent email.
The Wall Street Journal reported that this number of employees is in the thousands and that the agency was not requiring the employees to return to the office.
“…the IRS said it has requested several thousand workers to return with incentive pay but isn’t requiring anyone to come back,” wrote the WSJ.
CNN reported that IRS employees who report back to work at the office will receive at least a 10% increase in their base salaries for the next four weeks and those reporting to work in mailrooms will get a 25% increase because of being deemed at higher risk.
Protecting Employee Health and Saftey
The IRS said in the email that “the health and safety of our employees remains our highest priority.” Therefore, it was requiring the employees to wear face coverings as per Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
The IRS said it was working to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for its employees such as masks and gloves. Obviously, however, these products are in high demand right now, so the agency may not be able to secure PPE for all locations right away.
In the interim, the IRS said that it was requiring employees who return to work at the office to bring their own face masks and that “An employee who fails to adhere to the requirements in the memo may be required to return home until such time the employee adheres to these requirements.” The agency said these requirements are to ensure the health and safety of all of its employees.
This statement, however, was not without controversy. A couple of Congressmen caught wind of it and immediately issued a statemetment condemning the IRS for requiring employees to supply their own face masks.
Congressmen Richard Neal (D-MA) and John Lewis (D-GA) said in a statement issued over the weekend:
We understand better than nearly anyone in Congress that the IRS is of essential importance to the federal government and to our nation. It is understandable that in carrying out its mission during a crisis, the agency would require some employees to report back to work during perilous times. However, it is completely irresponsible and unethical for the IRS to demand those workers obtain their own protective equipment — this is the responsibility of the federal government to its workers. The agency is expecting entirely too much of employees who are likely distraught over the health risks returning to work presents for themselves and for their families, as well as the potential repercussions they could face if they do not clock in on Monday with the mandated equipment in-hand.
We find the IRS’s demands of these workers especially troubling given that earlier this week, Commissioner Rettig informed congressional staff that 100 IRS employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and four of the agency’s employees have died due to the virus. The IRS should not require any employees it deems essential to report to work until it is able to provide those individuals with the protective equipment they are required to wear.
Recent legislation requiring the IRS to issue coronavirus stimulus payments to tens of millions of Americans has kept the agency busier than usual. It will now have to grapple with protecting employee safety along with handling a higher than usual workload.
As of April 17, the IRS had issued 88.1 million stimulus payments to taxpayers and said it expects more than 150 million payments in total to be sent out.
IRS Secures Purchase of Safety Equipment for Returning Employees
Update 4/28/2020 4:18 PM EST
Professional Manager’s Association president Chad Hooper said in a statement issued April 28 that the IRS has been able to secure safety equipment for the agency employees returning to work.
While the initial email from the IRS Human Capital Office noted that the Service may not be able to provide all workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the IRS informed PMA late Friday that the Service was able to work with a contractor to obtain a supply of 3-ply surgical masks, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer for the employees returning to work. Given the supply chain issues and hundreds of locations from which the IRS operates, it will likely take additional time and efforts to ensure every facility is properly stocked with PPE. By allowing employees to bring their own PPE, [IRS] Commissioner Rettig is ensuring that those willing to come to work are protected either with their own equipment or equipment provided.