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Sleeping while on duty

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Sleeping while on duty

A security guard sleeping on duty

Sleeping while on duty or sleeping on the job refers to falling asleep while on the time clock or equivalent, or else while responsible for performing some active or passive job duty. While in some jobs, this is a minor transgression or not even worthy of sanctioning, in other workplaces, this is considered gross misconduct and may be grounds for disciplinary action, including possible termination of employment.[1][2] In other types of work, such as firefighting or live-in caregiving, sleeping at least part of the shift may be a part of the paid work time. While some employees who sleep while on duty in violation do so intentionally and hope not to get caught, others intend in good faith to stay awake, and accidentally doze.

Sleeping while on duty is such an important issue that it is addressed in the employee handbook in some workplaces.[3] Concerns that employers have may include the lack of productivity, the unprofessional appearance, and danger that may occur when the employee's duties involve watching to prevent a hazardous situation.[4] In some occupations, such as pilots, truck and bus drivers, or those operating heavy machinery, falling asleep while on duty could put lives in danger.


The frequency of sleeping while on duty that occurs varies depending on the time of day. Daytime employees are more likely to take short naps, while graveyard shift workers have a higher likelihood of sleeping for a large portion of their shift, sometimes intentionally.

A survey by the National Sleep Foundation has found that 30% of participants have admitted to sleeping while on duty.[5][6] More than 90% of Americans have experienced a problem at work because of a poor night's sleep. One in four admit to shirking duties on the job for the same reason, either calling in sick or napping during work hours.[7]


Employers have varying views of sleeping while on duty. Some companies have instituted policies to allow employees to take napping breaks during the workday in order to improve productivity[8] while others are strict when dealing with employees who sleep while on duty and use high-tech means, such as video surveillance, to catch their employees who may be sleeping on the job. Those who are caught in violation may face disciplinary action such as suspension or firing.

Some employees sleep, nap, or take a power-nap only during their allotted break time at work. This may or may not be permitted, depending on the employer's policies. Some employers may prohibit sleeping, even during unpaid break time, for various reasons, such as the unprofessional appearance of a sleeping employee, the need for an employee to be available during an emergency, or legal regulations. Employees who may endanger others by sleeping on the job may face more serious consequences, such as legal sanctions. For example, airline pilots risk loss of their licenses.

In some industries and work cultures sleeping at work is permitted and even encouraged. Such work cultures typically have flexible schedules, and variant work loads with extremely demanding periods where employees feel unable to spend time commuting. In such environments it is common for employers to provide makeshift sleeping materials for employees, such as a couch and/or inflatable mattress and blankets. This practice is particularly common in start-ups.[9] and during political campaigns. In those work cultures sleeping in the office is seen as evidence of dedication.

In 1968, New York police officers admitted that sleeping while on duty was customary.[10]

Notable incidents

Airline pilots

  • February 2008 – the pilots on a go! airline flight were suspended during an investigation when it was suspected they fell asleep mid-flight from Honolulu, Hawaii to Hilo, Hawaii, resulting in their overshooting Hilo Airport by 15 miles before turning around to land safely.[11]

Air traffic controllers

  • October 2007 – four Italian air traffic controllers were suspended after they were caught asleep while on duty.[12]
  • March 2011 – the lone night shift air traffic controller at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport fell asleep on duty. During the period he was asleep two airliners landed uneventfully.[13] In the weeks that followed, there were other similar incidents and it was revealed that other lone air traffic controllers on duty fell asleep in the towers. This led to the resignation of United States air traffic chief Hank Krakowski and a new policy being set requiring two controllers to be on duty at all times.[14]

Bus drivers

  • March 2011 – a tour bus driver crashed while returning from a casino in Connecticut to New York City. Fifteen people were killed and many others injured.[15] Though the driver, who was found to be sober, denied sleeping, a survivor who witnessed the crash reported that he was speeding and sleeping.[16]

Police officers/security guards

  • December 1947 – a Washington, D.C. police officer was fined $75 for sleeping while on duty.[17]
  • October 2007 – a CBS news story revealed nearly a dozen security guards at a nuclear power plant who were videotaped sleeping while on duty.[18]
  • December 2009 – The New York Post published a photo of a prison guard sleeping next to an inmate at the Rikers Island penitentiary. The photo was allegedly captured on the cell phone camera of another guard. Both guards were disciplined for this action, the sleeping guard for sleeping and the guard who took the photo for violating a prison policy forbidding cell phones while on duty. The inmate was not identified.[19]


See also


  1. ^ Where do all the paperclips go- and ... - Google Books
  2. ^ Streetwise restaurant management: a ... - Google Books
  3. ^ Effectively managing troublesome ... - Google Books
  4. ^ Create your own employee handbook: a ... - Google Books
  5. ^ On Hiring: Sleeping on the Job -
  6. ^
  7. ^ Tempur-Pedic 2009 Wellness Survey
  8. ^ Psychology Today: Sleeping on the Job
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ FAA wants to know if go! pilots fell asleep
  12. ^ Italian air traffic controllers suspended for sleeping on duty: Luton Airport News Stories
  13. ^ NTSB: Air traffic controller fell asleep, leaving planes on their own
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ The Raw Story | Video shows nuclear plant guards sleeping on the job
  19. ^
  20. ^
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