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How to deal with employees sleeping on duty

This post is also available in: Afrikaans

by Christo Bester, LWO Employers Organisation

Employees who sleep on duty is an annoying problem for any employer. Fatigue can influence an employee’s coordination and reaction speed and in the end influence the productivity of the whole undertaking negatively.

By sleeping on duty an employee exposes him-/herself, co-workers, as well as the employer to risks

The duties and responsibility of the employee are directly tied to this risk regarding the (possible) results of this transgression, as well as the impact of the misdemeanour on the employee/employer relationship of trust. The employer has a responsibility to create a safe working environment for all employees. For that reason this transgression should be dealt with in terms of the disciplinary code and procedure.

Determining if the employee is “sleeping”

Sleeping on duty normally occurs by accident when an employee involuntarily dozes off without the purpose of sleeping, but because it can also happen expressly where an employee hides with the purpose of sleeping. Some may even make a temporary bed with material found in the working environment. Any misconduct that occurs expressly is always regarded as a serious misdemeanour.

Should the employer suspect that an employee is sleeping on duty, it is of crucial importance for the employer to confirm that the employee has been sleeping by taking the following steps:

  • Ensure that there is a witness who can also observe the behaviour of the employee;
  • Make notes of the behaviour and appearance of the employee. Also ask witnesses to make notes of their observations. It is important to do it in writing;
  • Investigate whether the employee is sleeping by observing the following:

–   Is the employee conscious?;

–   In which position is the employee?;

–   Is the employee making any noises, e.g. is he/she snoring?; and

–   Undertake a full observation of all additional physical factors which indicate that the person is really sleeping.

  • Try to get the employee’s attention by doing the following:

–   Talk to the employee and call her/him by his/her name;

–   Knock on the door or make other sounds, such as to clap your hands;

–   Lightly shake the employee by the shoulder or nudge him/her in the back; and

–   Repeat these steps until the employee reacts.

The employer must record all the above actions in writing and/or take photographs or other picture material. It is important that the people making the images also appear as witnesses should a disciplinary hearing be held to decide on further steps.

Disciplinary code

Although sleeping on duty is a clear transgression, it is important for every employer to have a fitting and up to date disciplinary code to deal with transgressions and applicable sanctions (punishment). Clear and distinct rules in the workplace limit conflict, friction and misunderstandings, and result in a structured environment receptive for growth. The disciplinary code serves as a guideline regarding rules with applicable sanctions, but every case must be judged on merit.

Complying with labour legislation is not negotiable and deviating from labour law conditions creates immense risks for the employer’s business. It is wise to manage the situation pro-actively and ensure that your farm is protected.

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