BHS staff risk firing if they travel to high-risk COVID states

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PITTSFIELD — In an internal memo to staff last week in response to new state travel restrictions, Berkshire Health Systems said that workers risk losing paid leave time or being fired if they travel to a state where the coronavirus rapidly is spreading.

The memo, written by Patrick Borek, vice president of human resources, said that the company needs to keep staff levels up during the pandemic while also ensuring deserved and needed time off for employees.

The automatic 14-day quarantine, and testing unavailability elsewhere, could make it hard for employees to return to work immediately after a vacation, Borek said.

"Adding quarantine days onto approved vacation time presents coverage challenges for patient care and jeopardizes other employees' ability to take time off," he said.

The company will work with staff who have to travel for an emergency, or who found themselves in a high-risk state when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker's edict was announced, Borek added.

The memo came in response to Baker's July 24 travel order to keep Massachusetts sealed off from a virus that is spreading fast in most of the country.

Effective Saturday, visitors to the state, or residents who have traveled to a state considered high risk, must automatically quarantine for 14 days upon return or undergo testing for the virus.

Borek noted that recent COVID-19 cases in the Berkshires were traced to travel to some of those states outside the Northeast.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.

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