Sleeping on the Job

An employee fired for sleeping on the job won her unemployment claim recently after convincing the court that she was not at fault for having fallen asleep at work,

The employee was a “money room technician,’ whose duties involved counting money at a city parking garage. Working a shift that began in the late afternoon and ended at midnight, the employee spent a lot of time alone in a “counting room,” doing nothing. She requested additional Work so that she could avoid becoming drowsy and falling asleep, but her supervisors did not give her tasks to fill her time.

The employee suffered from diabetes and sleep apnea; she claimed that she had advised her supervisors that her sleep apnea sometimes caused her to fall asleep without her realizing it. After hearing complaints from other employees that the employee was sleeping on the job, a supervisor found the employee asleep in the counting room and fired her.

In the unemployment compensation hearings, the Supervisors denied that the employee had ever complained about medical conditions that could cause her to fall asleep. The hearing officer found that the employee was more credible. The employee testified that she had repeatedly asked for more work so that she would not “konk out,” sitting alone in the counting room for lengthy periods. She also claimed that when asking for more work, she was specific about her problems with sleep apnea.

The appellate court agreed with the hearing officer and found that the employee was not guilty of willful misconduct that could justify a denial of unemployment compensation. The court found that an employer seeking to avoid paying unemployment compensation must prove that the employee had been aware of a work rule and violated it intentionally and deliberately. In the case of the sleeping employee, the court ruled that the city parking garage did not prove that the employee’s conduct was willful.  In addition the court found that “physical illness can constitute good cause” for an employee’s failure to follow a workplace rule.  Employees with health problems cannot systematically violate workplace rules and collect unemployment.  But where an employee shows legitimate reasons that add up to “good cause”, the employee shows legitimate reasons that add up to “good cause,” the employee may be entitled to unemployment compensation after being fired for breaking workplace rules. 

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