The consequences of sleeping on the job vary in seriousness depending on the industry. A customer service rep who falls asleep might awaken to an irritated boss and a few disgruntled customers, but an air traffic controller or safety inspector who falls asleep, for example, can cause serious -- and sometimes fatal -- accidents. To keep productivity high and liabilities low, tired employees should be encouraged to take a short nap before their shift and/or during scheduled breaks.
Deciding on a penalty for someone found sleeping on the job, in some cases, depends on the type of sleeping that occurred. For example, an employee who fell asleep for five or ten minutes in the middle of their duties might receive a lighter penalty than someone who intentionally decided to nap for an indeterminable period of time during their shift. Penalties can include a verbal or written warning, suspension of pay for a predetermined period of time, probation or firing. Employees who have jobs that require them to stay awake to ensure the safety of others might face legal -- and even lethal -- consequences for falling asleep. For example, United States guards who fall asleep during wartime can face the death penalty.
Sometimes employees fall asleep as a result of medical or physical conditions, such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea, tiredness from working double shifts, inadequate sleep at night, or as a side-effect from pain medication. Bosses tend to be more understanding if they are made aware of the condition before the employee falls asleep. That way they can take precautions that won’t affect productivity, like giving workers more space in between shifts, extended breaks for resting off the clock or medical leave until the condition is under control.
To keep from having to decide penalties on a case by case basis, employers should consider implementing a “no-sleeping” policy for which the penalties and consequences are clearly explained upon hiring. This will provide an incentive for employees to come to work well rested and alert, and to be upfront with employers on days when they don’t feel able to perform to the best of their ability.
Employers can prevent employees from falling asleep by making allowances for short naps during the work day. According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, allowing employees a rest period -- even as short as 26 minutes per day -- can boost alertness and productivity. Government Executive magazine reports that some companies, such as Nike, Google and British Airways, provide napping stations for their employees.
Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.