PA employee sleeps on the job and still collects unemployment

January 27, 2011
By Eric B. Meyer on January 27, 2011 5:00 AM | | Comments

asleep.jpgHi there, Pennsylvania employers. Do you have employees that remind you of the sleeping gentleman in the picture to the right? After the jump, read about a local employee who was fired after getting caught sleeping on the job four times, and still successfully obtained unemployment compensation benefits!

The case is Philadelphia Parking Authority v. UCBR. Here are the facts:

  1. The claimant, who suffered from sleep apnea, worked nights in his company's "money room".
  2. The claimant contends that she told her employer about her sleep apnea.
  3. Claimant fell asleep in the money room on January 7, 15, 18, and 24 of 2009.
  4. Pursuant to a work rule that proscribes sleeping on duty, Claimant was fired.
Based on these facts, the Commonwealth Court determined that the employer had failed to meet its initial burden to prove that Claimant deliberately violated its work rule. Why, you ask?
The record reveals that Claimant's position involved sitting in the money room for hours with nothing to do and that she would get drowsy. Claimant recognized the problem and attempted to address it by informing Employer that she was tiring and asking for additional work to keep her busy and alert. However, with the exception of two small assignments, Employer did not provide her with additional work or take any other action to remedy the situation. Although Claimant fell asleep during her shift, Claimant attempted to resolve her drowsiness problem in a responsible manner that protected the interests of Employer. Considering Claimant's actions in light of all of the circumstances of this case, we conclude that Employer failed to prove that Claimant deliberately or intentionally violated its work rules by sleeping during her shift.

Accordingly, Claimant was allowed to collect u/c benefits.

Bigger picture (and a takeaway for my readers): If an employee advises a supervisor (or HR) that the employee suffers from sleep apnea (or any other disability), the employer should engage in an interactive process, an ongoing dialogue between the employee and employer about possible options for reasonably accommodating the employee's disability. In fact, employers covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (or equivalent state or local law) have a legal obligation to engage in that conversation with employees who advise that they cannot perform their jobs without reasonable accommodation. Or go one step better and affirmatively communicate to employees that the company has a written policy in which it will seek to accommodate employees with disabilities. Addressing these issues up front is smart business as it helps head off potential future disputes and legal claims.

The other option is to let someone with sudden sleep tendencies work an evening shift in a money room.