Nearly half of IRS employees who have tested positive for the Coronavirus since the pandemic began had been in an IRS office shortly before, says an IG report which however did not examine whether they contracted it there and/or actually spread it there.
Of some 3,400 employees who tested positive in total through February of this year, 45 percent had been in an IRS facility within the prior 14 days, said the report, one of a series from IGs of various agencies on pandemic-related issues in the federal workplace. It said the IRS health and safety policies and practices generally align with national guidance and best practices.
Like many agencies, the IRS closed many facilities last spring after the pandemic was declared, although unlike others it moved relatively quickly to reopen some on a limited basis, due to the need to process tax returns and other forms submitted on paper that could not be processed remotely.
“Overall, the transmission risk has increased with the reopenings and mission-essential employees returning to work on-site. Nonetheless, the majority of employees who reported testing positive for COVID-19 over the one-year period are those who have not been in the office within 14 days and are either teleworking or are on weather and safety leave,” it said.
Infection rates followed the general national pattern, first declining as restrictions were imposed, then rising again in the summer as some were eased, and then rising to even higher levels around the turn of the year before declining in February.
In a separate report, the IG noted that also like many other agencies, the IRS greatly increased its use of telework as a response to the pandemic. However it also used paid “weather and safety leave” to a much greater extent than did most other agencies because its facility closings prevented employees from reporting to where their work needed to be done. At the peak late last March some 35,000 employees, nearly half the agency’s workforce, was in that status although the number had fallen to about 6,800 by the end of September.