Don’t automatically pull the termination trigger if an employee nods off at his desk. If the heavy-eyed worker mentions a health issue that could be causing the sleepiness, you may need to accommodate it as a qualifying ADA disability. That situation is often raised when employees take medications that, as a side effect, cause drowsiness.
Recent case: During a JP Morgan Chase training session, one of the account executives kept nodding off. The employee said he was jet-lagged but later admitted to his boss that he has HIV and his medications sometimes make him sleepy.
Days later, he was fired for sleeping on the job. He sued, alleging disability discrimination and failure to accommodate. The bank argued that it wasn’t obligated to put up with sleeping, even if a disability was the cause.
The court disagreed. It said each case must be considered on its own merits. While people in highly safety-sensitive jobs may pose a serious risk if they fall asleep, the same isn’t true for desk jobs. So the bank should have considered whether it could accommodate occasional sleepiness due to the disability. (Halsey v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, No. 08-01335, ND CA, 2009)
Final note: In certain situations, of course, you must tolerate no amount of nodding off—regardless of the cause. You can’t have a dozing heavy-machine operator or surgeon. But accommodations are possible in most situations.
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