To sleep, perchance to sue

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in The Savvy Office Manager

They snooze, you lose—if you wake them up.

Just recently, the City of Los Angeles agreed to cough up $26 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by garbage truck drivers who said they were illegally banned from using their lunch breaks to catch up on some Z’s.

Like sheep hurdling a fence, nearly 1,100 of the city’s sanitation workers joined in on the litigation, according to a Los Angeles Times report. And had the city not settled, the damages could have hit an eye-opening $40 million, a councilman said.

The city said it banned the nap times because it feared the bad publicity it would get if taxpayers caught wind of the dozing workers. Well, you know how fast a smartphone shot can spread the news.

The drivers’ lawyers said the city, by limiting workers' mealtime activities, had essentially robbed them of their meal breaks, the Associated Press reported. The city’s rules "controlled where they could go, what they could do, who they could eat with, all sorts of things," said attorney Matthew Taylor, who represented the drivers.

A similar case landed in court several years ago. An employee at the Dallas Cowboys offices wanted to spend his lunch break urging his co-workers to join his church. The Cowboys had a policy that banned religious solicitations at work.

The employee sued, saying that since he wasn’t allowed to do whatever he wanted during his meal break, he wasn’t truly relieved of work, and therefore was due overtime pay. Not so, said the court. Some break-time activities can be banned, such as distribution of nonwork information and material. Just be careful that your banning doesn’t violate National Labor Relations Act rules protecting employees’ organizing rights.

Had the employee chosen to close his eyes on his lunch break instead of trying to open others’, he’d have a viable case.

If your organization offers lunch breaks (it’s not federally mandated that you do), and an employee wants to use them to nap, let him.

We’re a tired bunch. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems. At that rate, there are likely more than a handful of workers who wobble into your workplace puffy-eyed, irritable and semi-productive.

It might be beneficial to your company to allow your workers to catch up on their sleep during their lunch breaks.

It might be beneficial for your sleep, too. Lawsuits can pack one hell of a nightmare.

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