Safety and OSHA News

City to pay $26M because it didn’t let workers nap on their meal breaks

A tired worker is a potentially unsafe worker. So, you’d think it’d be more important to have well rested employees than to be concerned about images of workers sleeping during their meal breaks. 

That’s what you’d think. But it took a multi-million dollar lawsuit for officials in Los Angeles to learn that lesson.

L.A. officials had imposed strict rules regarding what sanitation workers could and couldn’t do on their meal breaks. One of the rules: They couldn’t nap.

Reason: to avoid bad publicity if a resident, business owner or TV news crew witnessed napping workers.

The sanitation workers sued. Just recently, L.A. approved settlement of a class-action lawsuit involving nearly 1,100 sanitation workers to the tune of $26 million.

The settlement will provide each worker an average of $15,000 in lost wages. Lawyers for the drivers get to take home $8.7 million in legal fees.

‘I don’t need a nap, so you don’t need one either’

L.A. City Council had to approve the settlement before it became final. Council voted 9-2 to accept the agreement.

Joe Bascaino, a former police officer, was one of the two councilmen who voted against the settlement.

The LA Times quoted a spokesman for Bascaino regarding the councilman’s vote: “As police officer, he never needed to sleep in his car. As a councilman, he never sleeps in his office.”

The spokesman said the councilman voted in line with what his constituents would want.

Would those constituents want a sleep-deprived sanitation truck driver to crash into a crowd of people, resulting in fatalities and subsequent costly lawsuits against the city? That certainly wouldn’t contribute to public safety.

Not all sleep-deprived workers are party animals who stayed out late the night before. There are any number of reasons for missed sleep, including:

  • taking care of a sick child or elderly parent overnight
  • dealing with undiagnosed sleep apnea, or
  • being kept awake by body aches or pains.

No one should underestimate what could be gained by a short nap during a 30-minute meal break. Research shows even 20-minute naps can improve alertness, and therefore worker safety.

And the worker would still have 10 minutes left over to grab a quick bite to eat.

What do you think about allowing workers to nap on their breaks? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. What I do on my unpaid lunch break is my business. I can go off property to a lunch, run errands to the bank or drug store, or read a book. And yes, if I decide to take a 20 minute nap, that is not something that the company should be able to dictate. I do understand the company’s concern about napping in public view and the possible negative brand equity that comes along with that. Perhaps instead of banning the nap, the company sets some parameters – they must be concealed from public view? There are opportunities for the company and the employees to come together, put all their concerns out on the table, and agree on a solution that satisfies both sides. Unfortunately, the company chose to implement the restrictive policy against its employees, inflaming the issue and building walls instead of bridges. Do it “with” them, not “to” them and adherence to the policies will be achieved without having to involve the court system.

  2. 8.7 Million in legal fees? really. The lawyers are the real winners here.

  3. The big problem I see is whether or not the sleeper will wake up after 20 minutes. I can see 20 minutes stretching into 40 to 50 minutes and maybe even more. I agree that a 20 minute nap is refreshing and can recharge a person for the afternoon, but do you have to assign somebody to go wake everybody up? As a supervisor I would find this to be unacceptable, How do you keep the nap to 20 minutes?

  4. I would assume that the sanitation worker would be paid for the meal period if not allowed to nap. Absent that, the workers may have had a claim under the FLSA. If the workers are on paid time, then I expect LA should be able to determine what they would do. None of that equates to safety. Often sanitation workers are working by 6am and have to hustle to complete their routes during their alloted shifts. Sure, there may be a negative impression if a worker naps in the truck, but it is an easy thing to explain and Management should speak up and defend both the workers and the decision to allow naps. This just smacks of political cowardice.

  5. Joey Lynn says:

    I think an even bigger question here is “why don’t these drivers have a designated place to break, to cool off, eat, sleep, play dominoes …or whatever?” This would not only satisfy the image concerns but also the worker’s NEEDS. I’m sure they’re being looked at as “just drivers or an undeserving blue collar worker” in the eye of the LA Officials and are expected to break wherever they end up at their designated lunch time. The LA Times quoted a spokesman for Bascaino regarding the councilman’s vote: “As police officer, he never needed to sleep in his car. As a councilman, he never sleeps in his office.” Surely these positions Biscaino held afford the comfort of breakrooms, coffee, free breakfast donuts, air conditioning…among other things. I bet if the script was flipped, these decision makers would be pitchin’ a fit and they’d be demanding a breakroom and the time allowance to make it back to the truck lot, assuming that’s where they’d have the breakroom

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