CONCORD, N.C. (WJZY) — A North Carolina father says a mistake got him fired right before Thanksgiving.
For six years, Mario Quispe says he painted model trains for Lionel. Now, the father of five is out of work.
“I would have never thought in a million years something like that would happen,” he said.
Quispe was fired this week, records show, because he broke company policy by forgetting to get a doctor’s note clearing him to return to work after testing negative for COVID-19.
“Of course that’s my fault,” he said. “But I didn’t think forgetting that would cost me my job. A job I had for six years.”
After calling in sick last week, he was tested for COVID. The results came back negative, according to medical records. Feeling better, he says he told human resources he would be back to work on Monday. Shortly after arriving, however, he was told to leave.
The company needed a doctor’s note submitted ahead of time.
“I came in with my mask. I came in with a document saying I don’t have COVID-19,” he said. “I came in knowing I don’t have any symptoms.”
On Monday he got a note from FastMed Urgent Care clearing him to return to work, citing his negative test result. The next day he was fired. His termination records say by returning to work without permission, Quispe broke safety protocol, violated a policy he signed, and had put “his co-workers health at risk.”
“When they said I put the lives of other people at risk that really stung right there,” said Quispe, who says he “never” remembers being told to submit a doctor’s note before coming back.
The CEO of Lionel Trains Howard Hitchcock said he can’t comment on personnel matters but spoke generally about the company’s policies.
“Lionel has developed a COVID-19 policy that has been clearly communicated to all of our employees and that all of our employees have agreed to abide by,” Hitchcock said in a statement to NewsNation affilate WJZY. “The intent of that policy is to ensure that the health, safety and well-being of our entire team remains our highest priority in these unusual times.”
It is a costly lesson for Quispe who is now urging others to get permission to return to work in writing.
“Don’t just think just because you have a negative result that you can go back to work,” he said “Because that’s definitely not the case.”
NC Department of Labor Response
“With respect to termination, North Carolina is an “at will” state, which means an employer can terminate an employee for any reason and/or no reason at all without consequence, unless it is in violation of an employee’s rights under existing state or federal anti-discrimination laws.”
NC Health & Human Services Response
“Per CDC guidance:
Sick employees should follow steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Employees should not return to work until they meet the criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a healthcare provider.
Employers should not require a sick employee to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or healthcare provider’s note to return to work. Employees with COVID-19 who have stayed home can stop home isolation and return to work when they have met one of the sets of criteria found here.”