PORTLAND, Maine — People all over Maine are being called back to their offices in the coming weeks after being out of the office due to COVID-19. Some are ready to go, others are a little nervous, and some fear for their lives.
That is leading to some strained conversations between employers and their employees.
Randi Kirshbaum, a DJ and manager at WPOR and WCLZ radio in Portland for 38 years, is out of a job because she refuses to go back to the office. Kirshbaum, like so many of us, has been working from home doing her job on-air and in her management position for the past six weeks.
Kirshbaum said it was going great and that things were running smoothly. Her employer, Saga Communications out of Michigan, decided that it needed what senior Vice President Chris Forgy called "leadership in the building", and on Monday, told Kirshbaum that if she did not go back to the office, she would be terminated, as per an agreement they signed prior to Kirshbaum beginning to work from home. Kirshbaum said her doctor says she needs to continue working from home to reduce her exposure to COVID-19.
Kirshbaum's mother died from Pulmonary Fibrosis, a disease for which Kirshbaum says she is genetically predisposed. She has a one in three chance of getting it. The disease is triggered by a serious respiratory virus.
"If I get COVID-19, there is a very good chance that it would trigger pulmonary fibrosis, and I would have two to five years to live," Kirshbaum told NEWS CENTER Maine.
To limit exposure, Kirshbaum and her husband Ken Christian have been in quarantine, getting groceries curbside, and visiting with their adult children through windows.
Forgy says he and his company believe it is, "virtually impossible to lead a team from someplace other than where your team is. So we had no choice but to lay her off." Though he went on to say that by violating an agreement to come back when asked, Kirshbaum was "self-terminated."
Kirshbaum says she was not laid off because the company had no intention of bringing her back. It did agree to pay her health insurance for six months.
"Because I am considered high risk, I have special protection under the American with Disabilities Act, and they need to give me an accommodation."
Asked if she plans to file suit, Kirshbaum says she has had contact with several attorneys who would like to take the case, "but right now I'm just numb."
She regrets not being allowed to say goodbye to her listeners. "I'd like to thank them for being there. There is so much you can do for the community with the platform of radio, and I have been so blessed to be able to do that."
"I just wish I had made it to June 1st, so I could have celebrated my 50th anniversary in radio. I'm sorry it's ending this way, but I have no regrets about my career."
At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus
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