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Here's How to Properly Handle an Employee Sleeping on the Job

How to Handle an Employee Sleeping on the Job
Unless proven beyond doubt that an employee is a shirker, sleeping on the job can happen because of several reasons. Find out how to handle an employee who is sleeping on the job, and the ways to introduce changes that will help the employee overcome this behavior.
Rohini Mohan
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
Did You Know?
Every year, around 40 million Americans are diagnosed with some form of chronic sleep disorder!
Sleeping on the job or while on duty is considered to be a severe form of misconduct in several fields of work, and is treated as a ground for initiating disciplinary action or immediate termination from the job. For military personnel, pilots, air traffic controllers, bus drivers, police officers, and security guards, the act of dozing off while on duty can endanger the lives of the very people they were hired to safeguard.

That being said, there is a growing trend among some organizations, that have allotted 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 such allotted office siestas are not permitted by the employer, then certain steps must be taken by the management to help the employee deal with the problem. This Workspirited write-up gives some guidelines on handling an employee sleeping on the job.
Ways to Prevent an Employee from Sleeping at Work
Verbal Warnings
Boss shouting employee
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 work-space to discuss an important 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 office policy.

Take the employee's past performances into consideration, and evaluate whether he/she is likely to shirk and waste time. In case the employee has proved to be productive and efficient, do not lose your temper and speak rudely. A defaulting employee is entitled to a verbal warning before any legal action can be taken. Therefore, present your verbal warning after having found out the exact cause. You must also mention the consequences of repeating this inappropriate behavior.
Providing Help in Case of a Sleep Disorder
Manager comforting employee
Be prepared to come across situations wherein, the employee may claim that he/she has been experiencing trouble while sleeping at nights, or has been undergoing immense stress at work or at home. In such cases, the manager must broach the issue with more sensitivity and try to offer assistance. The employee may need to seek medical help in order to find out whether a sleep disorder may be causing the sleep disturbances. It may also be possible that the employee simply needs a few days off from work, so as to gather his/her thoughts, rest, and recuperate.

Here too, the manager must consider the work ethics and performance of the employee in question, and thereafter decide the next course of action. The employee may be directed to a recommended medical professional or sleep therapist. In case the office has a gym, the employee can be given permission to work out or meditate for 20 - 30 minutes during the allotted break time, or given short breaks throughout the day.
Taking Illness and Medications into Consideration
Coworker sleeping
An employee may have inadvertently fallen asleep at work because of being ill or weak from a recent sickness. In case an employee is found asleep, it is the manager's responsibility to find out whether or not the employee is feeling fit enough to work for the rest of the day. Prescription drugs can also make people sleepy and lethargic. Nonetheless, make sure that the causes for falling asleep are not because of a hangover, drinking alcohol, or using illicit drugs at the office premise.
Medical Proof from Employee
If at all an employee claims that he/she is suffering from some form of sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy, empathize but do not accept this justification at face value. Politely request the employee to provide medical proof which specifically states that the individual is suffering from a sleeping disorder. If the sleeping disorder does exist, the manager will need to take measures to accommodate the employee and help him or her stay awake at the workplace.
Steps to Accommodate a Sleepy Employee
➜ The manager may consider changing the shift timings, if the employee has been showing signs of fatigue, fighting to stay awake, or showing up late to work because of oversleeping. The employee must be consulted before introducing such a change, so as to know whether the proposed time of work is conducive or not.

➜ The employee's workplace can be shifted to a more well-lit and ventilated area, where there is more natural light pouring into the room. This will help the employee feel more fresh and active.

➜ Encourage the employee to drink plenty of water, green tea, or coffee, and stay hydrated, so as to avoid feeling tired all the time.

➜ Allow the employee to listen to music on headphones or have access to white noise, which can help him stay awake.

➜ Introduce smaller deadlines and collect work reports after every few hours, so as to help the employee stay alert and treat the work at hand on priority basis.

➜ Instruments such as Doze Alert can be given to such employees, so that every time their head droops because of sleeping, a mild alarm will set off in their ears.

➜ As long as the work is submitted at the desired time, such an employee can also be asked to work from home and given flexible working hours, as long as that fits within company policy.
If all the aforementioned means to assist the employee fail, the employee must be given an official written warning, which specifically orders to refrain from sleeping on the job. Of course, if everything fails, the employee must be made to leave the job, so that his behavior does not set a bad example for the other co-workers in the organization.