Can I Fire An Employee For Sleeping On The Job?
In general, a California employer can fire an employee at any time, with or without a reason. There are, of course, several critical exceptions. Notably, an employer cannot fire an employee based on certain legally protected categories, including a disability. But that presumes that the employer knew the employee had a disability in the first place.
Basically, it is up to the employee to come to their supervisor or another managerial representative and thereby inform the employer of a disability. If the employee requires a reasonable accommodation to do their job, the employer must then engage in a good-faith interactive process to find such an accommodation. An employer is not required to agree to any accommodation that would impose an “undue hardship” on the business. Nor is the employer required to alter the “essential job duties” of the employee’s position.
Jury Rules for Employer in Disability Discrimination Lawsuit
In a recent decision from the California Second District Court of Appeal, Snoeck v. Exaktime Innovations, Inc., the evidence raised an interesting question: Can an employer fire an employee for sleeping on the job? The answer might seem obvious, but it still required a trial, judgment and appeal to reach a conclusion.
The defendant in this case is a company that sells software. The defendant hired the plaintiff to work as a sales representative. This meant the plaintiff’s main job was to call potential clients during the workday, to verbally sell the company’s products and services.
About two years into the plaintiff’s employment, the plaintiff’s supervisor started noticing that he was sleeping on the job. The plaintiff had apparently been diagnosed with sleep apnea around this time, but he never disclosed this fact to the supervisor or anyone else at the company.
After giving the plaintiff two verbal warnings, the defendant’s chief financial officer (CFO) decided to terminate the plaintiff’s employment. After speaking with the plaintiff, however, the CFO decided instead to give him a 60-day leave of absence, which the plaintiff accepted. When the leave expired and the plaintiff requested an extension, the defendant then made the final decision to end his employment.
The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendant for disability discrimination. A jury returned a verdict for the defendant on all but one allegation (failure to engage in the interactive process). Dissatisfied, the plaintiff appealed the verdict to the Second District.
The appellate court, however, saw no reason to second-guess the jury’s analysis. The Second District noted that the evidence “did not compel a finding” that the defendant ever knew about the plaintiff’s alleged disability (his sleep apnea), much less that its decision to offer him leave was discriminatory. More to the point, the employer’s ultimate decision to fire the plaintiff was not discriminatory. Indeed, even if the defendant was aware of the plaintiff’s disability, his falling asleep on the job clearly “prevented him from performing his essential job functions,” thus absolving the employer of any liability for discrimination.
Speak with a California Employment Attorney Today
All California employers need to be mindful of their obligations to accommodate employees who inform them of a disability that may affect their ability to perform their job. At the same time, employers are not obligated to make unreasonable accommodations for employees who simply cannot do their job at all. If you need legal advice or representation from a qualified Riverside County & Coachella Valley employment lawyer for employers, contact the Law Office of Karen J. Sloat, APCtoday.