NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Manhattan chef is suing his former employer, claiming he was not allowed adequate time off while his wife was dying.

As CBS 2’s John Slattery reported, Robert Esselborn says he was fired from his chef’s job when he wanted to take time off to care for his dying wife.

“It’s horrible. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to do that, have to go through that,” he said.

Esselborn was married to his wife Barbara for 16 years before she died on Dec. 24, 2013 — the day after he lost his job.

He worked as a night chef at Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo, working for chef Anthony Paris, who won the reality TV show “Chopped” in 2010, Slattery reported.

Esselborn says on Dec. 15 his wife, who had contracted a strep infection, suffered organ failure, and then a stroke.

At first, he said his boss was sympathetic to time off, but after four days wanted to know when he was coming back.

With his wife in critical condition, the father of two said he’d reassess after Jan. 1.

On Dec. 23, however, several emails were exchanged, resulting in Paris writing, “We cannot wait until January 1, 2014 for you to reassess your situation. We will take this email as your resignation letter.”

“And I get an email that says ‘clean your locker out,’ on top of all this stuff. Who in their right mind would do something like that?” Esselborn said.

That same day his wife was removed from life support. She died the following day.

“I had to tell my two sons their mother passed away, and that’s the hardest thing,” Esselborn said.

Esselborn’s attorney says the hours worked qualified the chef for unpaid leave under the Family Medical and Leave Act, which allows for unpaid leave up to 12 months if an employee works 1250 hours a year.

At the Crosby Street Hotel, Paris was not available and calls to the hotel were not returned.

Esselborn says he wanted sympathy and compassion under the law, but will now seek it in court.

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