By the Numbers: How to Handle Employees Caught Sleeping on the Job

By Carolyn A. Pellegrini

This picture was recently circulated to among the bloggers with a challenge: turn this picture into a blog entry.

After dispelling all rumors that the picture was of me (obviously I would not perpetrate the fire hazard that the power strip in the background is creating), I decided to accept the challenge.

To most employers, the response to the picture is easy: “You’re fired!” But that doesn’t make for a good blog post, and it certainly doesn’t make sense under the employment laws.

Taking it step by step

First, the employer should examine whether other employees have been observed sleeping on the job.

If the employee in our picture is not the first to count sheep at work, the employer should treat the pictured employee the same way it treated the other nappers. For example, if past nappers received written reprimands rather than termination, our sleeper should also receive a written reprimand.

Next, the employer needs to meet with the employee to ensure there’s no underlying disability.

Let’s assume that the employer learns that the employee suffers from narcolepsy. It is highly likely that narcolepsy is a disability and, if the employee can perform her job with or without a reasonable accommodation for her narcolepsy, she is protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). If that is the case, then the employer should not fire her and should engage in the interactive process to determine how to reasonably accommodate her disability.

Let’s now assume that during a meeting with the employer, Sleeping Beauty reveals that she was sleeping on the job because she was hung over and is an alcoholic. What now?

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The keys: consistency, communication

‘Alcoholism is often considered a disability under the ADA, meaning the employee has a right to a reasonable accommodation and the employer has the obligation to provide one. The ADA states, however, that an employer may hold an employee who is an alcoholic to the same standards to which it holds other employees.

Simply stated, we’re back to our original analysis: How has the employer disciplined employees for similar misconduct in the past?

The take-away is this: consistency and communication. Employers need to address misconduct in a consistent manner – similar crimes should result in similar punishment.

Employers also need to communicate with their employees – by having a simple conversation, employers may find out important information that could help them avoid an ADA claim.

This was originally published on Montgomery McCracken’s Employment Law Matters blog.

Carolyn A. Pellegrini is an associate in Montgomery McCracken's Labor and Employment Practice. Her law practice concentrates on employment litigation. She also serves as an editor of the firm's Employment Law Matters blog, which covers the many unique and challenging legal issues that employers face, as well as new decisions and laws, best practices and trends in the workplace. Contact her at a cpellegrini@mmwr.com.

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6 Comments on “By the Numbers: How to Handle Employees Caught Sleeping on the Job

  1. Napping at work can be healthy. I think this view is dated and comes from the days that we all worked on industrial production lines. Many of us are now knowledge workers – the mind needs to be fed, rested and nurtured to produce great results year after year. When will companies and consultants start measuring results instead of compliance and conformity? Nap rooms are now common place in multi-billion-dollar corporations. Here’s a fortune article on it: http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/08/18/why-companies-are-cozying-up-to-napping-at-work/

    My answer? Ask her why she’s so tired? See if she will trade 30 minutes of her 60 minute lunch break for a nap each day and measure her RESULTS.

    1. Are other similar employees allowed paid breaks throughout the day, example smoke breaks, 15 min x twice daily? Why is some unproductive time viewed as acceptable while other unproductive time is viewed as unacceptable. Smoking breaks totaling 30 minutes & sleeping for 30 minutes…ultimately the same paid unproductive time.

  2. How do we know this is even during the day? I’ve had to pull some all-nighters at the office? Perhaps she worked until 4 AM and decided to nap there rather than go home.

  3. It’s normal in contract security especially when 11-13 an hour is all they get paid.

  4. I was cought laying down during the working hours. But the supervisor who cought me was new she didt knows my name she will not recognise me.but am afraid if she report me .but thier is camera CCTV. I have work with the company 7 years now without any warning later.am afraid now what should I do or say .if they invite me for investigation .can any one advice me what to say ?

  5. back when they made real men you could work all day without sleeping on your employers dime. To me if your getting paid to be at work and not working you are stealing. Would you hire a gardener and pay him to sleep on your own money? Do you go to a restaurant and wait for your food because the cook is sleeping? come on people , you go to work to get paid, give your employer an honest day’s work.

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