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IRS Sets New Employee Protections in Virus Response Escalation

March 14, 2020, 8:41 PM

The IRS is allowing more employees to work remotely and providing more flexibility with leave requests in response to the growing Covid-19 threat, according to an internal email obtained by Bloomberg Tax.

The email was sent by IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig Friday evening to employees—hours after the president declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency. The IRS has faced backlash from the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents agency employees, for failing to take quick enough action to protect workers.

“We want you to know that we share your concerns. The senior leadership team and I know first-hand we need to do more to help you,” Rettig’s message said, adding the agency is “stressing flexibility wherever possible.”

Agency employees who are eligible to telework should take their computers and chargers home and work remotely to the extent possible, according to the email. Employees who aren’t telework eligible but are in a high-risk situation should discuss their situation with a manager, Rettig said.

Rettig said he’s also asked managers to approve telework for employees with children at home because of school and daycare closures.

The IRS didn’t return a request to comment further. The agency earlier this month temporarily suspended all nonessential travel. The IRS Office of Chief Counsel previously said it would allow employees to work from home.

The email detailed steps the agency is taking to be more flexible in approving leave requests—particularly for employees who have a high risk of complications from coronavirus.

In addition, the commissioner laid out guidelines for front-line employees to reduce in-person contact with taxpayers and ways in which the agency plans to improve office safety and cleanliness.

This includes expanding guidelines to allow greater access to hand sanitizer and other similar items—an issue NTEU President Tony Reardon raised earlier in the week.

Rettig ended his email by asking employees to “stand together” and hinting at the tax filing and payment extensions the IRS is expected to announce in the coming days. The president’s emergency declaration gave the agency the authority it needed to move forward with those actions.

“We will be called to deliver important tax relief to the nation in the days ahead,” Rettig said. “This relief will be critical to the well-being of our nation’s taxpayers.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Allyson Versprille in Washington at aversprille@bloombergtax.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Patrick Ambrosio at pambrosio@bloombergtax.com; Colleen Murphy at cmurphy@bloombergtax.com

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