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Home Wrong behaviour Misconduct Sleeping while on duty: Severity and sanction

Sleeping while on duty: Severity and sanction

Peter McDermott

Few things are as enjoyable or relaxing as a nap when you know you're supposed to be doing something important. However, sleeping while on duty can be grounds for dismissal – just imagine an air traffic controller falling asleep at his desk - this is a dereliction of duty. After all, if you're sleeping, you're negligent as you didn't take the proper precautions to get enough rest to ensure you don't arrive for duty fatigued. How should you treat employees who fall asleep while on duty?

Falling asleep on duty is usually accidental as employees drift off or doze without premeditation. However, some employees have been known to sneak off to an out-of-the-way, or difficult-to-access, location to sleep or even arrange their office furniture or surroundings into a makeshift bed. If this is the case, you're dealing with premeditation which may constitute gross misconduct.

Sleeping on duty is a serious matter

Sleeping on duty should be addressed in your company's disciplinary code and procedure. Apart from adversely affecting productivity, it may also be dangerous in circumstances where the offender's duty is to be alert and prevent hazardous situations, or to protect people or property. It also projects an unprofessional appearance and blackens the company's name.

Employers have different views concerning sleeping on duty

Some are lenient and have even adopted a formal power-nap policy to try and improve productivity. Others are strict and employ high-tech means, such as video surveillance and constant supervision, to weed out offenders. It is a growing trend among certain organisations to allow their employees a formal nap time to counteract stress and lethargy. These power naps seem to help employees to be more:

  • Alert,
  • Energetic, and
  • Productive.

However, there is no guideline in law directing employers to institute such policies and employers who don't allow 'siesta' time are expected to act against offenders. That being said, an employer should always first conduct an investigation to determine the true facts of each matter.

Whether the offence was intentional or unintentional, it remains an act of misconduct, subject to a disciplinary inquiry. If the incident or its potential fall-out is found to be severe and the employee is found guilty at such an inquiry an offender may earn a formal warning or even be dismissed.

Peter Mcdermott

Peter did a Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech), Human Resources Management and Services at Technikon Witwatersrand (1994-1998) and an Advanced Diploma – Labour Law, Law at University of Johannesburg (2001-2002).

He joined Labour Net in 1997 and was a consultant there until 2000, and has been a director and shareholder in Invictus Outsourcing Solutions since November 2001.

Peter has gained extensive knowledge and experience over the past 17 years in dealing with various Human Resources (HR) and Industrial Relations (IR) matters, including but not limited to :

  • Bargaining Council
  • Black Economic Empowerment (BEE)
  • CCMA
  • Contracts of Employment
  • Corporate Law
  • Disciplinary Procedures
  • Dismissals
  • Dispute Resolutions
  • Employment Equity (EE)
  • HR Policies and Procedures
  • Labour Court
  • Labour Relations
  • Negotiations
  • Performance Management
  • Personnel Management
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Retrenchments
  • Skills Development (SD)
  • Strikes
  • Talent Management
  • Trade Unions