Asleep On The Job?

Valerie M. Roach

When the stress of modern life piles up, it may be tempting for an employee to catch a few zz’s on the job, especially on the night shift when it seems that no one else is around. But sleeping on the job when the worker should have been performing duties is a serious matter, and may even lead to a termination for misconduct and denial of unemployment benefits to the worker.

At this point, a chorus of tired employees is probably screaming, “But I was sick! I stayed up all night with a crying baby! I just worked a double shift!”

Granted, sleepiness can overcome anyone at times, and not every case of “sleeping on the job” is misconduct. For example, merely dozing off for a moment at the computer, unless it happens repeatedly and after warnings, will most likely not be deemed “misconduct.” But it is almost certainly “misconduct” when the night janitor curls up on a couch in the break room if he thinks no one is around.

The key to when sleeping on the job is misconduct and when it is not rests in whether the employee’s action was knowing and deliberate, but it may be a surprise to employees to learn that falling asleep after taking pain medication for a legitimate purpose and falling asleep during a day shift after a sleepless night have both been deemed misconduct which supports denial of unemployment benefits after termination. The reason for this is that the employee could have avoided sleeping on duty in both cases by staying home and taking a sick day.

What’s a tired employee to do? First, get enough rest to do the job well. Don’t assume that just because no supervisor is near it’s okay to take a quick nap. And if it seems impossible to keep the eyes open because of illness or fatigue don’t take a chance. Call in sick if it’s possible to do so.

Employment attorneys Walsh & Roach LLP advise clients in Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Monterey, Salinas and the surrounding areas on issues related to unemployment benefits. Call 831-728-3500.

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