IRS recalls certain mission-critical employees for tax season

The tax agency is putting distancing measures into place and requiring employees to wear face coverings on the job.

Shutterstock photo ID: photo ID: 245503636 By Mark Van Scyoc Sign outside the Internal Revenue Service building in downtown Washington, DC on December 26, 2014.

The IRS is recalling "mission-critical" employees to job sites to process tax returns and conduct other key business that requires office presence, according to an April 24 email to employees that was released by the House Ways and Means Committee.

The recall includes about 10,000 employees at 10 sites, and their main functions will be opening mail, answering phones and other activities that take place during tax filing season, Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement.

The traditional individual tax filing deadline of April 15 was pushed back to July 15 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

IRS employees will be required to wear face coverings in IRS facilities when in common areas, but they can remove them in private offices or walled cubicles, according to the email. The agency asking employees to bring their own masks for now and mandating that face coverings "be conducive to a professional work environment and not contain any images or text that may be deemed inappropriate or offensive to others."

"Although the IRS is seeking to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves, each IRS facility may not be able to initially procure the PPE for all employees immediately," the email stated.

This did not sit well with Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) and Rep. John Lewis, (D-Ga.) who chairs the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee.

"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," the lawmakers said in a statement. "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 lawmakers were especially concerned given a report from IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to committee staff that 100 agency employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and four have died.

IRS had been operating under an evacuation order that includes mandatory telework for all eligible employees and a "maxiflex" schedule that let employees set their telework hours around caregiving duties at home.

"Because of the global health crisis, thousands of IRS employees are successfully teleworking. There are no immediate plans to pull them from the safety of their homes and NTEU believes they should remain on telework until all state and local stay-at-home orders are lifted and health and safety precautions have been met," Reardon said in a statement.

This article was updated April 27.