The union representing thousands of IRS workers warn that furloughed employees may not be able to return to work next week when taxpayers start filing their tax returns and seek refunds on their 2018 taxes. 

 

Under their contract, IRS employees who are asked to work during a government shutdown can claim financial hardship, allowing them to remain furloughed. It's unclear how many IRS workers have asked for the exemption, but the union said Wednesday its members are experiencing "real hardship" as the shutdown enters its fifth week

The IRS recalled tens of thousands of furloughed workers earlier this month as tax season kicks off Jan. 28. Trump administration officials have vowed that tax refunds will go out on time, but the record shutdown -- 33 days as of Wednesday -- has caused financial stress for many IRS workers, the union said. That raises questions about whether processing of returns and refunds will be slowed when filing begins on Monday. 

"After a month with no pay, real hardship does exist for IRS employees including not having the money needed to get back and forth to work or to pay for the child care necessary to return to work right now," Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch. The NTEU represents about 70,000 IRS workers. 

The IRS said it is continuing its recall of furloughed workers, but declined further comment. "The IRS is continuing its work in preparation for next week's filing season," it said in a statement. "We continue to assess the situation at this time."

Hardship Exemption

 

The agreement between the IRS and the NTEU covers work policies during government shutdowns. The contract notes that most IRS employees will be furloughed, but those who are asked to work without pay can request a hardship exemption.

"The employer will consider an employee's request not to work due to a hardship," the contract stipulates.

While the NTEU didn't disclose how many IRS workers have applied for exemptions, hundreds have received them, according to the Washington Post. To be sure, that's a small number compared with the thousands of workers who have been recalled, yet it's unclear whether more workers may claim the exemption if the shutdown continues. 

"The longer employees go without pay, more face financial hardships," Reardon said. "NTEU does not support employees using it as a form of protest, but we do support people using it for true financial hardship."