From time to time we hear from employers who are frustrated that their employee has fell asleep at work. Often in the staff room but occasionally when working. As you can imagine when working with children this can be very serious.
Over the years we’ve had everything from ‘Betty fell asleep on the baby room floor moments after arriving one morning’ to ‘Fred was found to have fell asleep whilst he was in the cinema with the children he was meant to be supervising’.
So why does this happen and what can we do?
Some employees may take medication which makes them drowsy. If you are expected to reveal medication you have been prescribed then it is important that you tell your doctor what you do for a living before they prescribe, they may then advise to take the medication at night or prescribe an alternative.
Some employees might be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol in which case they should suspended and taken home rather than allowed to drive.
Some employees will have conditions which impact their sleep. For example the endometriois can cause tremedous pain which wakes the employee at night from sleep meaning they are sleep deprived. Sleep apnea is often treated by a oxygen mask and this can result in poor sleep. Diabetes and other disabilities can also impact sleep. Conditions may mean they are depressed and/or anxious and this can lead to insomnia.
The employee might be transitioning or in menopause. Night sweats break sleep and insomnia and failing to stay asleep is a common side effect of peri-menopause and menopause.
Some employees don’t sleep at night (no, not for that reason!)
It is not uncommon for an employer to discover when they speak to their employee that they are not getting 8 hours, or anything like it. You will hear everything from the extreme that they are ‘sofa surfing’ (i.e. have been made to leave home) to they game until the early hours with friends over the internet.
Some employees will have caring responsibilities meaning they are sleeping at elderly relatives before coming to work and handing over to a relative or day carer. Some people are nocturnal and prefer to be night owls. That can be a conflict where they work during the day.
In terms of what you can do:
- Speak to the employee and find out what is the root cause of the issue.
- Speak informally before formal capability action where performance is the issue, investigate before disciplinary action.
- Consider whether you should refer to OH or seek permission to write to GP or consultant?
- Agree a performance improvement plan where applicable.
- If a disability is the cause, can a reasonable adjustment be found?
- Can an Employee Assistance programme (EAP) support the employee with the cause of the lack of sleep? For example gaming can be an addiction and can need professional advice to resolve.
- Is the employee fit to be at work, remember we should be ‘fit, ready and able’ to work if we haven’t slept we are unlikely to be fit to work.
- Consider the health and safety. If you are aware someone is operating without sleep are they safe?
- Seek HR advice on your options.
If we can offer any assistance in managing employees who are not sleeping at night call us on 01527 909436.