Keith Richardson would have made Sleeping Beauty proud.
Richardson, a production foreman for Davis Wire Industries Ltd., was a stellar employee for 17 years. That is why his general manager, Stephen Ward, was slow to accept the mounting reports he received from other employees that Richardson was sleeping on the job. But the complaints kept coming in and Ward, reluctant to confront Richardson with the allegations, decided to take a much more clandestine route to investigate the truth: Ward positioned a hidden video camera in the employee lunchroom and waited for Richardson to make his appearance. Over a period of four days, Ward concluded from the videotapes that Richardson had, in fact, been sleeping and that his “so called” power naps went beyond the 50 minutes he was allotted as a break.
Equipped with the evidence of Richardson’s siestas, the next evening Ward confronted him by walking into the lunchroom and, turning on the lights, startling him awake. It was clear Richardson had been sleeping, yet he refused to admit he was asleep or offer an excuse or apology for his behaviour. Instead, Richardson chose to deflect Ward’s inquiries and suggest the state of affairs was other than what it obviously was. In the court’s words, Richardson lied.
At trial, Richardson argued he was confused when Ward interrogated him about sleeping at work. Again, rather than acknowledge he had slept, Richardson tried to deflect criticism by suggesting it was a rare occurrence and by explaining he had been ill. But the court disagreed. Richardson’s dubious explanations were not capable of belief, it said. Richardson lost his case and his job.
Sleeping on the job may not, by itself, be cause for immediate dismissal. Richardson, however, complicated the problem by lying to his boss where no other explanation would have been credible. Here are four legal tips to keep you out of the courtroom and your career on course:
1. Sleeping on the job is tantamount to theft of an employer’s time. Although Richardson’s dismissal was justified based on his duplicity alone, I am familiar with various cases where employees have been disciplined for sleeping during working hours.
2. If confronted with an allegation, employees are legally required to tell the truth. Courts tend to discredit employees where it is proven a fictitious answer was given in response to an investigation into misconduct.
3. Consider an explanation. Many times, valid explanations are proffered that either justify or mitigate an employee’s conduct. Employers have a reciprocal obligation to consider the context, circumstances and employment history of an employee accused of misconduct. If there is a less severe punishment than termination, employees with no prior disciplinary problems should be given the benefit of the doubt.
4. Take notes immediately after an important occurrence. The court preferred the evidence of Richardson’s manager, partly because he had taken notes of their conversation immediately after it occurred.