By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Twin Cities man says he lost his job for failing to call in sick to work, while he was hospitalized with COVID-19.

Bob LaBarre admits he’s still not 100% after his bout with the infectious disease last month.

“To be honest with you, with COVID I was not thinking about calling in,” LaBarre said. “I was thinking about breathing.”

He has worked as a robot technician at the medical manufacturer IntriCon Corporation in Arden Hills for the past year.

“I had a headache and kind of a halfway sore throat for about a day, basically,” he said.

Following policy, LaBarre says he notified his employer the day of his symptoms and left the workplace.

“I went and got tested. It came back negative, which allowed me to return to work for about two days. And then I got the rest of the symptoms from COVID and they hit hard, just knocked me out,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t swallow.”

LaBarre went by ambulance to M Health Fairview at the University of Minnesota, where he was hooked up to oxygen, relying on what he learned from a favorite hobby to help him recover.

“If it wasn’t for the scuba diving training I think I would have panicked,” he said.

LaBarre says he last called into work on Oct. 26.

“I was in the emergency room and I called them and said, ‘The battery is dying on my phone, they’re talking about staying here at least one to two days,’” he said.

Three days later, he sent his medical records to IntriCon, only to be given some shocking news.

“We’ve taken that you have resigned because you didn’t call in for three days, and, you know, you’re out of here,” LaBarre said.

IntriCon sent WCCO the following statement:

It is IntriCon’s policy not to disclose information about employment matters. We can advise that IntriCon is deeply committed to the health and safety of its employees, particularly during these unprecedented times. We follow all applicable laws and orders relating to workplace safety and leaves of absence, and closely monitor relevant guidance. We are also an equal opportunity employer that maintains policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

LaBarre is looking at what options he has now.

“I had no clue this would ever happen,” he said.

Employment attorneys told WCCO that employees have COVID-19 protections under both state and federal laws. The virus is a qualified disability under the law.

Here are some resources about COVID-19 and employee rights from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Liz Collin