Workers at the Internal Revenue Service offices in Fresno were told that all buildings will close at noon Friday and stay closed until further notice during the coronavirus outbreak.
In an email to IRS employees, Craig Stevens, the senior commissioner’s representative for Fresno, said that employees are expected to work from home or another location if they have the proper technology or when the technology is in place.
Until then, Stevens wrote, “the employee may be granted an equivalent amount of weather and safety leave (i.e., the weather or other safety-related condition could not be reasonably anticipated by the employee, and he/she is unable to perform productive work at the telework site.)”
Tax Return Deadline Pushed Back to July 15
The regional IRS center, which processes tax returns, employs about 5,000 people.
Stevens said that employees should direct questions to their managers.
The shutdown came after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the federal income tax filing date had been pushed back from April 15, to July 15.
Workers Cited Unhealthy Conditions
Before the Fresno closure, employees there expressed concerns about working conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many of my team members are experiencing heightened anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic being declared a national emergency, with the number of cases rising daily,” an employee who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisals for speaking told GV Wire Thursday.
“Many of our friends and family are now quarantined in their homes as society has taken on the practice of social distancing yet we are still required to show up to work. There is zero possibility of social distancing at work. We share desks and equipment, and there is no cleaning or sanitizing of work stations between shifts. Unless an employee brings his or her own sanitizing wipes, the IRS does not provide that.”
The same employee said the building is infested with rats.
“Numerous signs throughout the work areas warn employees not to eat in the work areas due to an active rat problem,” she said. “Just a week ago I heard a lady in another pod screech multiple times, to which my team lead responded, ‘sounds like we have a friend visiting.’ None of us new hires understood what he meant, until he explained that the ‘friend’ was a rat. Needless to say, we were a bit freaked out.”
IRS Employees Elsewhere Sought Closures
On Monday, the website govexec.com reported that the National Treasury Employees Union had “called on the federal government to close all federal buildings across the country that house at least 50 employees, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations to end all large gatherings.”
And, on Wednesday, The Texas Tribune reported that IRS employees “sandwiched in cubicles” in the Austin office, said they were worried about unsafe working conditions in the face of the pandemic.
Noting that many of Austin’s IRS workers were elderly with underlying health issues, one employee said, it was like being “in a nursing home on a cruise ship — the IRS Princess.”
Two Princess Cruises ships experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, prompting Carnival Corporation to suspend operations of the Princess Cruises line of ships on March 12.