My Boss Fired Me for Sleeping

Last Updated Aug 18, 2010 3:03 PM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I was just curious if you can be fired for having a sleeping disorder that causes mild narcolepsy? I disclosed to my district manager that once I became tired (after a 10-12 hours work shift) it could happen. He was already upset that he heard that I was falling asleep at work. I had explained to him that I was off the clock out of uniform and was sitting in the office chair about to go home and I just leaned back and closed my eyes for a few seconds and an employee thought I was sleeping but I hadn't been.
Being I was a manager I felt that I would be entitled to just rest my eyes for a few seconds but I guess not. His reply was if I ever was caught sleeping again I would be fired and I wasn't worried, About two weeks later he came in handed me my last check and said once "I heard you were sleeping on the job during a meeting." None of which was true and I had no option; he wanted to believe them over me and I feel I was wrongfully fired. It was a few years ago but I feel I'm still entitled to damages!
Your district manager was a jerk and probably still is a jerk today.

But you need to let this go. Anything that happened "a few years ago" needs to be forgotten about. And if you can't forget about it, then at least stop striving to remember. What do I mean by that? Don't talk about it, dwell on it, or let it be the cause for any of your current day problems. Because even if you successfully sue the company and win, you will have allowed this jerk to control your life for years. And I do mean years, as no lawsuit will be taken care of in days or weeks or even months. Chances are, because of the time lapse, even if you could have received damages, it's too late. Let.It.Go.

Now that we've discussed the reality of your present day life, let's discuss what should have happened.

There are protections for people with all sorts of disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here is the definition of who qualifies for this protection:

Employment discrimination is prohibited against "qualified individuals with disabilities." This includes applicants for employment and employees. An individual is considered to have a "disability" if s/he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Persons discriminated against because they have a known association or relationship with an individual with a disability also are protected.
So, does your case of "mild narcolepsy" qualify? I have no idea, but I suspect if you're able to work 10-12 hour shifts with no accommodations it probably doesn't. But, I'm not willing to make a diagnosis and pronouncement via an e-mail. (I'm not willing to make a diagnosis at all, seeing how I'm not a medical doctor.) The Job Accommodation Network has some thoughts on accommodations for people with sleep disorders. I would recommend you check them out for ideas for your specific condition.

If you have a disorder that qualifies, then you should have made a formal request for an accommodation. The ADA requires only "reasonable" accommodations. Being allowed to rest for a few minutes off the clock at the end of your shift certainly would be reasonable. (Unless there's something going on in your workplace that would prohibit that, but I can't think of anything that would.) Asking to be able to take an hour nap in the middle of your shift would probably not be reasonable. But, you need to make a request.

You also need to make sure you do your job an do it well. I suspect your termination wasn't so much about you "resting your eyes" after a shift, but that you were grating on your boss's nerves in some other way. People tend to be extremely accommodating for people they like and not so much for people they don't like. This also is something you bring up after you already have the job and not during the job interview.

Be honest with your boss and your company and seek treatment. I wouldn't expect a company to accommodate my health problem if I wasn't willing to do whatever I could to alleviate it myself.

I'm sorry you ended up with a bad boss and had a bad outcome, but don't dwell on it, be armed with information for the next time, and move on with your life.

Photo by Gemsling, Flickr cc 2.0