IRS Recalls 10,000 Employees, Directs Them to Bring Their Own PPE to Work

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

April 28, 2020

The IRS is returning 10,000 employees back to their physical offices this week, and those employees will have to bring their own personal protective equipment (PPE). In a memo, the agency stated that effective April 27, 2020, it would be recalling certain employees in "mission-critical functions" to handle work that must be conducted onsite.

All individuals are required to wear cloth face coverings while in IRS facilities and workspaces. But while the IRS said it is seeking to procure masks and gloves, it acknowledged that acquiring PPE for all employees immediately was very unlikely. Thus, the employees are required to bring personal face coverings for their nose and mouth area when they come to work. Those face coverings can be fashioned from common household materials, such as:

  • Clean t-shirts; or
  • Bandanas.

The IRS is hustling these employees back to address a work backlog related to tax filing season, including handling tax documents, taking taxpayer phone calls and opening correspondence. The agency's Human Capital Officer said in the memo, "An employee who fails to adhere to the requirements may be required to return home until such time as the employee adheres to these requirements."

But in a joint statement, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis called it "completely irresponsible" of the IRS to demand that its workers obtain their own protective equipment, calling that the federal government's responsibility.

"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… with the mandated equipment in hand," said Neal and Lewis.

In all, 100 IRS employees reportedly have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and four have died to the virus.

"As long as local, state and federal public health experts agree that sheltering at home is helping to minimize the spread of the coronavirus and save lives, we believe the federal government should maintain its policy of maximum telework and administrative leave to keep its workforce safe," said National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon.