OGDEN — As Utah lets up on restrictions aimed at keeping the coronavirus’ spread in check, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is calling employees back to work in Ogden.
Unlike calls earlier this month for volunteers, this time workers are pretty much obliged to return if contacted by their supervisors — although there are exceptions. Early last April, the agency directed IRS workers deemed nonessential to stay off the job to guard against the coronavirus.
“The IRS has the right to call employees back to work and you must report to work when directed by your supervisor,” reads an announcement on the matter posted Tuesday on Facebook by the union representing Ogden-area workers, Chapter 67 of the National Treasury Employees Union.
Plans to start the callbacks — applicable only to IRS employees in Utah, Kentucky and Texas — come as many states and locales ease restrictions meant to help curb the spread of COVID-19. The move also comes as work and income tax returns sent in by the public pile up. Those workers who are called back are to report on June 1.
Officials, while mindful of safety considerations, “are also aware of the growing taxpayer needs and an expanding backlog of work at our campus and office locations. We will continue to balance these urgent tax administration needs while doing everything possible to protect you and your colleagues,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in an email to workers provided to the Standard-Examiner by the IRS.
Still, Tony Reardon, national president of the NTEU, said some are uneasy.
“The IRS made clear that after an initial call for volunteers in certain IRS divisions to return to work, mandatory call backs were likely,” Reardon said in a statement. “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.”
The IRS is the largest employer in the Ogden area, with around 5,000 workers, so the change is likely to be felt by many here. In all, around 20,000 IRS employees work in the three states where workers are subject to recall, with 9,000 of them already working from home. “The remaining 11,000 employees are subject to the recall,” Reardon said, while those working at home will continue to do so.
Utah, Texas and Kentucky weren’t picked at random to start obliging workers to get back on the job.
“According to the agency, it is starting with these three states based on its assessment of each state’s current reopening status and the need to complete filing season work while ensuring employee safety,” said the NTEU statement posted by Chapter 67.
Indeed, the pressure is apparently mounting to process returns and handle other work that has been neglected as workers have remained off the job.
“IRS facilities have received millions of pieces of correspondence which contain payments, tax returns, ID theft claims and requests for assistance from taxpayers. These hundreds of thousands of pieces of correspondence have been left unopened due to the ongoing IRS evacuation order limiting access to IRS buildings,” reads a statement earlier this month from the Professional Managers Association, which represents IRS managers.
That, in turn, has caused some grumbling among taxpayers wondering about the status of their paper returns.
There are no immediate plans to call back workers from other states, and the newest hires here will get called back first, according to the Chapter 67 statement. Sick employees and those considered at higher-risk of contracting COVID-19 won’t have to return.
Rettig said crews have been cleaning IRS facilities in preparation for the return of workers. The agency has also rounded up face coverings and hand sanitizer and reconfigured work spaces to allow for social distancing.
“We will share more details on specific actions as we finalize our plans, but rest assured we will meet and where possible exceed the (Centers for Disease Control) safety guidelines,” Rettig said.
Still, Reardon said NTEU reps will closely monitor cleanliness at IRS facilities. The union urges the IRS “to provide COVID-19 testing and basic medical screenings for those who must report to work,” Reardon said, noting concern sparked after an employee at an IRS office in Kansas City, Missouri, tested positive for the virus.