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Question: We have an employee with a documented health issue that is treated with medication that makes her drowsy. Recently she was found passed out at work and we would like to know what steps we can take to protect her and the safety of our other employees.

Answer: Based upon the fact that you found her passed out on the premises, you should question the employee as to what happened. If she does not know, file a workers’ compensation claim to protect the company in this matter. If she said that her medication made her drowsy and she just was resting, then there would be no need for a workers’ compensation investigation. The employee should be required to obtain a physician’s release to work as a response to a job description, and if not available, corrective action should be initiated, as it is never acceptable to sleep while clocked in on the job, especially if there is no medical concern involved.

Our next recommendation is that the employee be provided a job description, which outlines responsibilities, tasks and physical requirements, and advised that it is critical, based on her prior condition and this incident, that she meet with her physician and provide a statement outlining what she can and cannot do after the physician has reviewed the job description to ensure both her safety and the safety of others while on the job. If the physician already provided such a document, it is then appropriate to provide the job description to the physician along with a memorandum stating that the release to return to work is insufficient given recent incidents, and you are requesting that the physician review the attached job description to determine if there are any restrictions to be considered further. If in fact, you found the employee sleeping while on the job, it would be appropriate to initiate progressive discipline, advising the employee that regardless of extenuating circumstances, sleeping while clocked in is unacceptable.

Her illness may be provided protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and it would be appropriate to consider what can be provided to support her until such time that she has recovered as defined by a physician and determined reasonable by the company. Obtaining a physician’s statement that truly defines what can and cannot be reasonably accomplished to release the employee to work should provide further guidance on this matter. However, if the medication is extending side effects causing an altered state, risking the safety of the employee while on the job, this is a matter for the employee to discuss with the physician. It may be as simple as altering the time of administration. If an Employee Assistance Program is available, it may be beneficial to also explore that option for additional resources and support for the employee, such as medication cost saving alternatives or otherwise. Counseling with your legal advisor may also be prudent considering the many factors involved to mitigate any risk.