What to do when you find an employee sleeping on the job

Tuesday April 5, 2022

You’re returning from a long meeting only to find that an employee is snoozing when they should be working. What should you do?

Once you’re over the shock of finding an employee sleeping on the job, you might be looking for a way to wake them up so that you can ask them what on earth is going on.

Your next steps will be dependent on their role and responsibilities. For example, were they or anyone else in immediate danger due to them being asleep? You’ll need to quickly assess the situation.

If it’s low risk and they are asleep at their computer, don’t be tempted to scare the living daylights out of them. They will likely be scared as soon as they see you and remember where they are. They may also be delirious and/or embarrassed by the situation, making it difficult to get a coherent excuse out of them straight away.

There are many reasons as to why an employee may have fallen asleep at work and you’ll need to find out why. If there is no immediate danger and they are well enough to continue working, fix a place to have a private conversation as soon as possible.

Find out the cause

Even if you think you know the reason as to why an employee is asleep at work, it’s best to not make assumptions. Find out the actual cause. Jumping to conclusions can be problematic and come with a risk of discrimination.

A big night out could well be the reason but there are other factors that can lead to a lack of sleep outside of work.

Problems at home, a restless baby, a medical condition, or prescribed medication can all interfere with a person’s sleep.

Stress can also be a major cause of sleepless nights, meaning that a stressed-out employee is coming to work exhausted. Has their workload increased, or could there be a work-related issue keeping them up at night?

Talking to the employee is the only way to know for certain. Let them know that you are concerned and allow them the opportunity to explain.

This will help you work out what to do next.

Don’t sleep on it – take necessary action

If it’s a first-time offence, a warning may suffice. However, if the conversation reveals that they are struggling, either at home or at work, you should seek to provide the necessary support. This might be through an Employee Assistance Programme which provides confidential counselling; or by making changes to their work.

Do consider if there were any major implications as a result of them falling asleep at work, as you could be dealing with a case of gross misconduct.

If it’s not gross misconduct but you’ve got a repeat offender, this can’t go on and you must follow your disciplinary procedure which could end up with dismissal.

Get reassurance from your local HR Dept

Don’t let people problems keep you up at night. If you’re dealing with a situation involving an employee asleep at work and want reassurance on what to do next, contact us.

Preventing People Problems

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