Companies often must go to great lengths to accommodate employees with disabilities. But does that obligation go as far as letting someone nap at work?
In one recent case, an employee was fired after dozing off during duty.
His job: flight instructor for Southwest Airlines. Frequently he would fall asleep while giving lectures. The problems continued for about a year and a half before he was terminated.
The employee suffered from sleep apnea and couldn’t control when he fell asleep. He told his manager the problems would be limited if his shift was changed — but that would have required other employees to work longer, so no change was made.
He also argued that he could work just fine despite his condition. But the company wouldn’t take any chances — after all, his job was to make sure pilots could do their jobs safely. So, with no other options, the company fired him.
He sued, claiming Southwest fired him because of his disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Accommodating sleeping disorders
Who won the case?
Answer: the company.
The court ruled it would’ve been unreasonable for the company to continue having an employee with a sleep disorder train its pilots on how to stay safe. Since he couldn’t perform the essential functions of his job — and no reasonable accommodation seemed to be available — the company was right in firing him.
Note: ADA suits are always case-specific. A condition that prevents employees from performing one job may not have the same result in others.
In some positions, allowing an employee the chance to take short rest periods may be a reasonable accommodation for a sleeping disorder.
Cite: Grubb v. Southwest Airlines