Sleeping on Duty


Although it may seem unthinkable as a business owner, you could one day find an employee having a nap during working hours.

As bizarre at that sounds, it’s not uncommon—but it can be for a variety of reasons.

What, then, can your business do if a staff member is sleeping on the job? We explain your various options below.

Sleeping on duty: A brief history

Taking a nap while at work has a long and storied history. It was common for police officers in New York to take a power-nap until recent history.

It’s unusual these days, but over in Japan there’s a more common practice called inemuri—this means present while sleeping. It’s thought of as total dedication to work.

So that means if someone has stayed so late they’re exhausted, it’s an excusable action to take some rest. It’s a common sight in Tokyo, for example, to see businessman catching a power-nap in peculiar locations.

Obviously, in the west, most businesses usually don’t have such an outlook. It’s generally thought of as negative—bad for business. And if an employee does sleep while at work, it can lead to disciplinary action.

How to deal with sleeping at work

You should consider various factors if you find an employee napping. It’s important to approach the matter carefully, even if you’re angry as you think they’re wasting company time:

  • Is the occasion a one-off or is it happening regularly?
  • The implications of sleeping at work—is it a serious issue?
  • Does the member of staff have a health condition?
  • Are you allowing your employees to rest properly?

The final point is particularly important as there are sleeping at work laws: The Working Time Regulations 1998 state you must allow your workforce the correct amount of legal breaks.

After you take the above into consideration, you should act in the appropriate manner.

For example, if an employee is hungover and decides to sleep during working hours—and this turns into a regular occurrence—then you should look to take the proper action.

There are more occasions when a worker sleeping on the job is a serious issue. But it’s important to note this is much different than if a staff member is burnt out and suffering from stress-induced insomnia. Or they have a medical condition such as a sleep disorder.

You can investigate an occurrence by speaking to the employee directly. You can consider sleeping on the job as an act of gross misconduct.

If it occurs, then an incident report for sleeping while on duty can establish the reason. After this, your business can take the following actions:

  • Provide a verbal warning.
  • Provide a written warning.
  • Take disciplinary action.
  • Terminate their contract.

Disciplinary actions you can take

At first, it’s a good idea to provide a sleeping on the job warning letter. This can be a simple and short note to document the employee’s actions.

It should act as sufficient motivation for the individual to take measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again. At this stage, if the employee has a medical condition, you can offer help and potential adjustments to make the situation less stressful.

But if the behaviour continues and is due to lifestyle choices, then sleeping on the job disciplinary action is your next course of action.

As it’s an act of gross misconduct, you can mark the behaviour as serious insubordination—or you can take actions such as suspending the employee or terminating their contract.

If you decide to take that step, then you’ll require a termination letter for sleeping on the job. For that, you can refer to our summary dismissal letter guide.

How to avoid sleep at work

Of course, one of the best option available to you is ensuring this doesn’t happen to begin with.

Although it’s natural for all professionals to feel tired from time to time—especially towards the end of a busy working week—there are actions you can take to promote an alert workforce.

Many employees will turn to caffeine if they’re feeling sleepy. But there are various other options available to you.

You can encourage employees to stay alert and healthy. The following provide corrective action for sleeping on the job—and can prevent it:

  • Allow mental stimulation: If staff members can listen to music while working, that can help keep them focussed on their task.
  • Encourage physical activity: Suggest your employees go for a walk during a lunch break to get some fresh air. This can be invigorating and help them fight off fatigue.
  • Make your workplace bright: Have plenty of windows—this is particularly important in an office. If you have a dark working environment, it can guarantee drowsiness.
  • Have healthy snacks: Encourage staff to eat healthier foods that provide them with natural energy. Wholesome foods such as fruit and nuts provide nutrition that can boost energy levels.
  • Have plenty of water: If employees stay hydrated, it stops the productivity killer that is dehydration. It ruins concentration levels, so consider introducing water coolers etc.
  • Actively encourage napping: Have an area where employees can nap in your working environment. As little as 10 minutes can provide your employee with the energy boost they need to return to work feeling refreshed.

Another essential activity is getting a good night’s rest. Sleep is all-important as it allows us to fully recharge.

Stressed employees, such as those struggling with unrealistic workloads, can enter a phase of burnout and insomnia.

As such, you should always monitor your workloads to ensure you provide a good work-life balance.

You can consider perks such as flexible schedules and remote working to encourage a better standard of life.

Looking for more help?

Do you have an employee who keeps nodding off while on duty? Get in touch and we’ll talk you through your available options: 0808 198 7938.

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