sleeping employee

Hi-- We have a situation where an employee is often falling asleep at his desk--it is happening with increasing frequency, a few times per week.  Due to the rather embarasing nature of addressing this issue, the manager hasn't yet spoken to the employee (though he's seen it first hand). He's looking to me for assistance on how to go about it.

Obviously it won't be comfortable, but I know we need to convey that it's not behavior we can allow, and that we expect the employee to stop. (As per our progressive discipline policy, it would only be a verbal warning in the first instance that we address it.)  In case the employee claims that what's happening is due to some sort of medical condition, I'd like to prepare my manager for that as well. For example, I've heard that narcolepsy is considered a disability under the ADA.

Does anyone else have experience with this issue?


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  • It may be caused by medication or illness as you say, and if so, then you will need to figure out some accommodation.  In any event, the supervisor should broach the subject of the falling asleep at his desk as soon as possible.  The longer it is allowed to go on, the more you are sending the message that the behavior is fine.

    We didn't have a sleeper, but we did have someone who would clip their toe nails at their desk. Trust me, sleeping on the job is not nearly as embarassing and should be discussed as soon as possible.

  • Sleeping on the job is not embarrasing, there are a lot worse things.  If the employee brings up a medical condition, then the employee needs to bring you documentation from the doctor.  I would not take this as word of mouth.

    And yes, I have experience with this.  I have had both situations: one employee decided that maybe they should get more sleep at home and another employee who I had to terminate. Neither of which brought up a medical condition. In addition, my husband and son both have sleep apneia which can be dealt with medically to prevent sleeping on the job. 

    In all my years of HR, I have only known of one person who actually had narcolepsy and for the most part it is also medically controlled.

    If the employee does have a medical condition, you may have to work with the employee while the doctor figures out how to control it, but that should be a temporary situation. 

  • Start your meeting with the magic question.

    "Is there anything about your current situation I should know about that could be affecting your work performance?"

    If they say, "Yes," then there are a lot of places this could go. 

    If they simply say, "No," then continue with, "Are you aware that you have been seen falling asleep at your desk with increasing frequency lately?"

    From there, it has a lot of places that it can go.

    If you stick to this route, you aren't violating anything.  How you handle what comes next is a separate issue.

  • I'm curious to hear how this turned out for you.  I have a similar situation.  This department was restructured in February.  I was added to the managerial staff and the previous two managers are still involved.  They had conversations with this employee about falling asleep at his desk prior to my involvement.  I have some documentation of those conversations.  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


    Since I’ve been around, there have been three separate instances of him falling asleep that I know of.  There apparently has been others, but I have not been informed in order to document or discuss.  The first time that I heard of him falling asleep, I had a conversation with him.  He said that yes, it’s true.  He had a terrible night the previous night, was fighting sleep all day long and did doze off at his desk.  I told him that I couldn’t have him doing that and that in the future, he should let me know and take a walk, step outside or get something to drink (like water or coffee).  I also asked if there were environmental changes I could make for him; he offered none.  He then said that he sometimes has trouble sleeping at night and that this was not the first time he’s fallen asleep at his desk.  He apologized and said he understood what I was saying.


    The next time, he fell asleep in my office!  Not three feet away from me.  He was working on one of the other computers in my room.  I woke him up.  He offered no real explanation or apology.  He finished his work and left the office.


    Now, after this second time, I could have kicked my rear for not immediately writing him up.  I felt that I had let too much time go by and decided that if it happened again, action would be taken.  Well, it happened today.  This time it was at his desk.  I stopped to make a copy and there he was, snoozing away.  I said his name a few times to wake him.


    I need to write him up.  What kind of terms do I set? 


    Any help would be appreciated.


  • A lot depends on why you think he's falling asleep.

    1. Illegal drugs?
    2. Alcohol?
    3. Legal drugs?
    4. Illness?
    5. Disability?
    6. Irresponsible behavior?

    If you think he's a person with a disability or that he might be a person with a disability, leaping to written discipline without further discussion would be a mistake.  Moreover, keep in mind that every manager and supervisor with your company is a representative of the Company.  If this person has told any of them that he's narcoleptic, for example, then it's the same as if he had told you.  You should check around.  The NLRB recently expanded the definition of a supervisor, too, which has dire consequences for the scope of who can be told something and have that constitute "notification of the Company" for purposes of ADA and FMLA.  Granted, NLRB only interpreted NLRA as it is actually written, but it is a sea change in who we may think of as a supervisor.  The NLRB definition is referred to in non-NLRA employment cases all the time.

  • I have a question along the same lines.  Is sleep apnea considered to under ADA?

  • I have a question along the same lines.  Does Sleep Apnea fall under ADA?
  • ADA is about the magnitude of the impairment, not the impairment itself.  You can have ADHD that is covered and ADHD that is not.


    See counsel for anything in the grey.

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