I love being a lawyer. One "advantage" is that you are always thinking like a lawyer – even when you have two crying and fussy babies in the backseat of your car. This is why the news story on the radio about sleep deprivation caught my attention – as a lawyer and a mom. Apparently, one challenge at university campuses across the nation is the amount of sleep students are getting and how studies show that increasing sleep can improve grades. Which is why, according to the news story, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi students looking to catch some Z's between classes can now reserve a spot inside the University's one sleep pod. Sleep pods (futuristic tubes resembling a cross between an MRI table and a cool suspended lounge chair) are designed to provide 20 minute power naps and are becoming increasingly popular not only on college campuses and airports, but also in workplaces. (Danger, Will Robinson!!)
Ever since scientist David Dinges helped establish the science of napping in the early '80s, short periods of sleep have been shown to improve alertness, memory, motor skills, decision-making, and mood; while also cutting down on stress, carelessness, and even heart disease. There are already several laws and regulations designed to protect against fatigue for certain employees, such as doctors, nurses, and truck drivers. In fact, since 2008, Google has provided employees with sleep or "energy" pods, which block out light and sound, at its headquarters in an effort to promote wellness and increase productivity. A simple web search revealed eleven national manufacturers of such sleep pods, including the "Sleeping Cocoon" and the "Bubble of Silence." Some of these manufacturers claim that offering sleep pods in the workplace, where employees can recharge and re-focus, can lead to a more attentive, alert, and productive workforce. However, do such sleep pods or "quiet" rooms belong in the workplace?
As an employment lawyer and weary of legal traps, the answer is no. While sleep pods are generally designed to hold only one person (thankfully, not designed for hanky panky), what if the employee is assaulted or inappropriately touched by another employee while they are in deep sleep? Is the time break time spent in the sleep pod compensable time under the FLSA which must be paid to the employee? Can you deduct such sleep time so that you don't have to pay overtime? What if you have an employee that abuses his 20 minute time slot or is always found in the sleep pod – does it put you on notice that he may have a medical condition or disability protected by the ADA? Can you fairly discipline employees who sleep on the job and neglect their duties when you are encouraging (or enabling) them by providing a sleep pod at work? What if the employee hurts her back or gets injured on the sleep pod? Can you make sleep pod time part of your wellness plan or offer it as part of intermittent FMLA leave? More and more questions and other legal ramifications began running through my mind as I listened to the news story about sleep pods, which lead me to the conclusion that, for now, sleep pods at work are not a good idea. By the way, can you guess which profession is ranked No. 2 as the most sleep-deprived occupation according to a 2012 CDC National Health Interview Survey? Lawyers came in close second to Home Health Aides (by a difference of only 3 minutes). Maybe, I should rethink my conclusion or at least sleep on it...
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.