Sleeping on Duty

Sleeping while on duty can be a ground for dismissing an employee from his/her position. Sleeping on duty can be defined as falling asleep by an employee during his/her duty hours. In some workplaces, this is considered an act of gross misconduct and may result in disciplinary action which could lead to termination of employment. Sleeping while on duty can be intentional or accidental.
Sleeping while on duty is given importance and should be mentioned in the company’s employee code of conduct. Sleeping on duty may adversely affect productivity, it may also be dangerous in cases where an employee’s duty is to watch and prevent a hazardous situation or safeguard people or property. It also projects an unprofessional appearance and therefore leads to the disrepute of the company name.
Employers have different views on sleeping while on duty. Some employers are lenient and allow employees through a policy to take napping breaks during their workday/shift in order to improve productivity. Other employers are stricter and use high-tech means, such as video surveillance, motion sensors, GPS clocking or by taking pictures to catch employees who may be sleeping while on duty.
That being said, there is a growing trend among some organizations that have allowed a nap time for their employees, so as to help them cope with stress and lethargy. A power-nap seems to help employees become more alert, energetic, and productive, while working. If due to the nature of the workplace or the employee’s capacity such allotted office “siestas” are not permitted by the employer, then certain steps must be taken by management.
Here are some guidelines on handling an employee sleeping on duty:
The first time you notice or are made aware of an employee nodding off, you must not jump to any conclusions. Do not label the employee as irresponsible or use harsh language. Merely request the employee to meet you at your office to discuss the matter. Thereafter, broach the issue by asking the employee the reason for having fallen asleep while at work. Make a record of this conversation and the reason behind breaking the company policy.
Take the employee’s past misconducts into consideration and whether the sleeping on duty was intentional or accidental, evaluate whether he/she is likely to repeat the offence and if the trust relationship is still intact.
A defaulting employee is entitled to a disciplinary inquiry and if found guilty may be served with a warning or even dismissed if the incident was found to be severe. Therefore, present your findings to the chairman of the inquiry after having found out the exact cause. It will also be in the company’s best interest to mention the consequences of a repeat of this inappropriate behavior.
In Tanker Services (Pty) Ltd v Magudulela, the employee was dismissed for being under the influence of alcohol. The court held that an employee is ‘under the influence of alcohol’ if he is unable to perform the task entrusted to him with the skill expected of a sober person. If employees are charged with being ‘under the influence’, evidence must be led to prove that their faculties were impaired to the extent that they were incapable of working properly.