According to data from the National institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, some 40 million people in the United States suffer from long-term sleep disorders every year with an additional 20 million people experiencing occasional sleep problems. And while just getting a good night’s sleep is hard enough for those who fall under this category, getting through a hard day’s work as safely as possible may pose another issue entirely.
Any sleep disorder, at any level, can create a serious safety hazard in and out of the workplace. The question that employers have to ask, however, is where do they fit on the spectrum of liability when something goes wrong. Employer liability related to injuries suffered by someone with known sleeping disorders may put companies in a tough legal position. So, how does this all factor in to Workers’ compensation insurance?
Fatigue on the Job
According to the National Safety Council, more than 40 percent of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. This affects them in many ways, including work performance and the ability to be awake and alert during their work hours.
Holding employers legally responsible for playing a role of any kind in worker liability isn’t a new concept. The conversation around truckers with sleep apnea, for example, has brought to light the potential for liability to be rested on their employers instead of on them, especially if something goes wrong behind the wheel, and especially in an industry where professionals are required to drive up to 12 hours or more every day.
Back in 2016, the NSC put out a survey focusing on sleep deprived employees who said they had difficulty thinking clearly and making the right decisions while on the job. Most respondents were found to have any one of the number of leading risk factors for fatigue including working second or third shifts, getting less than seven hours of sleep, commuting to work longer than 30 minutes one way, or having less than 12 hours off between shifts.
Across the U.S., most courts have held that an employer is not completely liable for injuries sustained in a sleep-related incident that occurred while an employee was commuting to work or from work. However, some courts are expanding to include liability for employers where special hazard exceptions are present. These are predicated on the idea that an employer exposes an employee to a preventable risk if they require their employees to work unusually long hours.
Claiming Workers’ Comp Benefits
Claiming workers’ compensation can vary from state to state in the U.S. In California, for example, in 2013, the state passed a series of laws that introduced many different limitations that prevent workers from claiming permanent disability as a result of a sleep disorder. However, workers are still able to claim workers’ comp benefits if they have sleep struggles or insomnia caused by their job. Under California’s workers’ compensation laws, employees can still claim benefits since their sleep disorder can be a compensable consequence of their workplace injury.
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