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Can we ask employees what to do on their lunch break (or any other unpaid break)?

Question: We have discovered an employee has been sleeping during lunch breaks. Can we ask employees not to sleep in the office during their lunch break (or any other unpaid break)?

Answer from Kelley, PHR: It depends. Generally, employees can use unpaid breaks as they see fit. However, if the employee sleeping is affecting their work, disrupting others, or otherwise negatively impacting the business, you could (and should) address those issues. For example, if the employee is sleeping at the front desk where customers can see them, you could tell them not to nap there. If they’re routinely late returning to work, you could discipline them for their tardiness. But if the naps aren’t affecting their work or disrupting the workplace, it may not be worth addressing at all. Research suggests that a “10- to 30-minute power nap” can improve a person’s mood, alertness, and focus.

If you raise the issue with the employee, we recommend that your first step be to ask why they are sleeping during the day. They may have a good reason. If it’s related to a disability, you are required to engage in the interactive process and will need to allow the employee to nap somewhere as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, unless it creates an undue hardship or direct threat, or another effective accommodation is available.

This Q&A does not constitute legal advice and does not address state or local law.

Kelley has experience in human resources focused in Payroll and Benefits Administration and Employee Relations for small businesses. She graduated from Columbia Southern University with a Bachelor of Science in Business and Human Resources. In her free time, Kelley enjoys physical fitness, traveling to new places and spending time outdoors in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains with family.

Legal Disclaimer: OTP is not engaged in the practice of law. The content on this post should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a licensed attorney. OTP cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to its receipt.


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