IRS employees ordered to work from home to avoid coronavirus

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The Internal Revenue Service has asked all of its employees to work from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In an email to staff last Friday, the IRS told all of its staff to begin working from home this week.

“As a result of recent OPM [U.S. Office of Personnel Management] guidance, starting Monday, March 30, 2020, the IRS is directing all employees, including employees who are currently not teleworking but whose work is portable or can be adapted to work off-site, to evacuate the work site and work from home (or an alternate location) — including employees who are not currently on a telework agreement,” said the memo. “All employees affected by this directive must take their equipment home to be prepared to work from home.”

The memo then directed employees to refer to an If/Then chart that shows which employees can be directed to evacuate and the talking points for managers to refer to so they can answer their employees’ questions about this matter.

“Please reiterate with your employees that if they are specifically quarantined, have any flu-like symptoms or are otherwise ill, they should not come into the office for their own safety and the safety of others,” said the memo.

Last week, the IRS closed its Practitioner Priority Service for tax professionals (see our story). It also described the steps on its website it is taking to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. It acknowledged that some of its operations are being curtailed during this period, but it is continuing with mission-critical functions such as accepting tax returns and sending refunds.

"As a federal agency vital to the overall operations of our country, we ask for your personal support, your understanding — and your patience," IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement. "I'm incredibly proud of our employees as we navigate through numerous different challenges in this very rapidly changing environment. Working closely with our partners in the nation's tax community, we will do everything in our power to help."

The IRS has been tasked with sending out the stimulus payments to taxpayers that were approved last week in Congress. Taxpayers are expected to begin receiving payments of at least $1,200 ($2,400 for couples), plus an additional $500 per child. The Treasury is promising to begin making the "economic impact payments" within the next three weeks, but they will go out faster to taxpayers who have been set up for direct deposit of their tax refunds on either their 2018 or 2019 tax returns. Checks sent by mail will take longer to process.

Last week, the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS staff, urged all federal agencies to close buildings with 50 or more employees.

"The half-measures taken so far are not enough because too many government workers are still working in full or nearly full offices," NTEU national president Tony Reardon said in a statement last week. "Closing buildings halts the large gatherings, just as CDC recommends, allows telework to continue and provides weather and safety leave — as opposed to personal leave — for those who have jobs that are not eligible for telework. This is a chance for the government to lead by strictly following the advice of its own public health officials. State and local officials and private companies are all ramping down, and the federal government — where possible — should do the same."

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IRS Coronavirus Tax season