The sleep debate: Should you be paying your staff to sleep more?

by Victoria Bruce18 Apr 2016
An American CEO recently made global news headlines after implementing an innovative program where he paid his employees up to US$500 a year to get more sleep.
While research highlights the crucial link between sleep and employee productivity, Australian employers should take care before attempting to recreate such a program in their workplaces, says one employment lawyer.
Requesting your employees to get more sleep could be seen as an invasion of their private lives and even be classed as discrimination, says Hannah Ellis, Principal at The Workplace employment lawyers, particularly when financial rewards are concerned.
While employers should create a healthy workplace culture where employees are encouraged to sleep more in order to enhance their productivity and performance at work, paying your staff to sleep could have unwanted legal consequences, Ellis says.
“There are risks involved in the event that the employer awards an employee in some way for getting what they consider to be “enough sleep”,” she told HC Online.
Ellis says employers that impose standards on employees which attract a monetary benefit put themselves at risk of discrimination and adverse action claims.
Employers should be aware that these standards cannot be met by certain categories of employees, such as those who have medical conditions, are pregnant or have caring responsibilities, which might prevent them from achieving the “standard” night’s sleep.
“For example, an employee who has a young child is less likely to have a full and undisturbed seven-hour sleep compared to an employee without a young child,” she says.
“Another example is that an employee may have an illness (that amounts to a disability under Disability Discrimination legislation) that may prevent them from getting enough sleep every day.”
They might also face backlash from employees who cannot maintain the required sleep period, as employees may claim this is due to heavy workloads.
“Employees may allege that this is solely because they are spending too much time at work or are expected to keep working after hours and that the employer is not doing enough to monitor workloads,” Ellis says.
Ellis says some common difficulties employers who want to implement sleep programs would face include the perception of what is considered ‘enough sleep’.
“Not everyone is the same and this means that not everyone requires a solid seven hours of sleep every day,” she says.
“Another person may require less than seven hours of sleep in a day and be as equally as productive.”
Employers should expect some pushback from employees who would consider such a program an unnecessary imposition into their private lives.
She reminds HR professionals that any information obtained from employees is kept confidential and appropriate safeguards should be in place to protect this information.
Employers should also be mindful of the possibility of someone else, for example, the employee’s spouse, wearing the sleep monitoring device, thus leading to false rewards.
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