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Minor sleep problems don’t a disability make

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Does your office look like the set for the latest sleep-medication commercial? You know, the one where employees drag themselves to work while their dreams come to visit them. These days it seems almost everyone is a bit sleep deprived.

But don’t let bleary-eyed employees make excuses for tardiness. The fact  is, while insomnia can be a disability under the ADA, very few cases are severe enough to qualify as a disability. That’s because so many people have sleep problems that it’s practically the norm. Even a diagnosed case of insomnia may not be enough to classify an employee as disabled.

Recent case: Bob Nadler claimed he had suffered from insomnia since 1988 and had undergone numerous sleep studies. He constantly came in late and tired, and asked his employer to modify his hours so he could continue arriving outside the regular schedule.

But Nadler’s medical records showed that he slept as much as 7.5 hours per night, with an average of 5.5 to 6.5 hours. That’s not far off the average person’s sleep pattern, and certainly not enough to qualify as a disability. Thus, Nadler’s insomnia didn’t substantially impair the major life function of sleeping, and he wasn’t disabled. The court dismissed his case. (Nadler v. Harvey, No. 06-12692, 11th Cir., 2007)

Final note: Employees can’t use sleeping medications as an excuse for late arrivals, either. 

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