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TL;DR

Do I have an ethical obligation to report myself to my manager for falling asleep on the job (in a remote work situation?) It is not intentional but it is unfortunately happening; the drowsiness is a medication side effect. I’m wondering if I’ve committed a serious offense (or even a crime) and have an ethical obligation to report myself.

More details

I have bipolar disorder. I finally found a medication that treats my manic episodes (periods of high mood along with other symptoms). However this medication also causes drowsiness as a side effect.

At my previous remote work job (which I started soon after beginning this medication), I would attend my morning stand-up meeting and then fall asleep at my desk for a solid 2 hours, because of the drowsiness-inducing effects of the medication. Despite feeling bad about falling asleep during regular work hours, I counted that time that I was sleeping as time worked. I could have tried to work later in the day to make up for time sleeping at the beginning of the day, but it didn’t seem very doable because there was no one to collaborate with when I got stuck. After 9 months of working at the job, I felt guilty and admitted to to my manager that I was counting hours that I was sleeping at my desk as hours worked, on my time sheet. She contacted a company ethics committee, which met with me and told me that I had committed timecard fraud. And they fired me.

As I was looking for a new job, a recruiter asked me about my experience at my last company and encouraged me to downplay the reason it ended, and told me if I ever fell asleep at this job, to just work later in the day to make up for it. I interviewed for the job, received an offer, and accepted it (it is my current job).

Sad as it seems, I have fallen into the same rut at this new job. I’ve had the job for a year. I have attended morning stand-up meetings and then gone back to sleep for a couple hours (this time actually going back to bed instead of sleeping at my desk like I did at my last job). I had good intentions of working later in the day to make up for it, and for a while I did, but then I stopped. It is difficult for me to stay motivated when I have no one to ask questions to.

I am now entering a phase where more output will be expected of me (I work in software and for a while I have been maintaining existing code but now I will be doing that in addition to writing new code). I’m wondering if I will be able to keep up.

Also, like at my last job, I feel guilty again that I have been sleeping on the job. And I’m wondering if I should admit it like last time. However I know that didn’t end well. There were consequences. Because of that, I’m considering just making a new effort to keep track of time carefully and work later as needed. And be diligent about it this time. However the perfectionist in me wonders if I should not be running away from consequences if they are “fair”. Seems like we teach kids that there are consequences for every action but then as adults sometimes we try to run away from them.

When I talk about this with family members and friends I get mixed responses. My dad tells me that ethics aren’t as black and white as they talk about in Sunday school (we have a religious background). One of my siblings points out that I have some anxiety or even OCD and suggests that maybe I shouldn’t base my response to this situation based on those instincts.

I have a friend who suggests I just focus on moving forward and give myself grace. She also suggested I could ask for a “reasonable accommodation” in the form of a schedule that allows for a nap during regular work hours.

If I focus on moving forward, and I’m successful, then my company gets to keep me and that does seem like a win.

What is the right thing for me to do, all things considered? Admit sleeping in the job, or leave it behind me and move forward with a solid plan?

EDIT: In answer to some comments/answers, I have talked with my doctor about addressing the medication side effects. The medication causing the drowsiness is an antipsychotic. It’s a medication that is supposed to treat symptoms of psychosis, which can occur in people with bipolar or schizophrenia. First we tried getting off the antipsychotic causing the drowsiness (using a long-term tapering process) while staying on a mood stabilizer medication. When I did that the symptoms returned. Then later we tried a different antipsychotic. When I did that, I started experiencing sleeplessness (difficulties staying asleep at night…) That was a major symptom I struggled before taking medication… it seems like the current medication just works a little too well at keeping me asleep. it’s hard to find the right balance. The next thing my doctor and I talked about is trying a lower dose of the same antipsychotic. The thing is that it treats the psychotic symptoms really well. While on it I’ve never had the terrible symptoms I had before starting medication.

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    Have you talked to your GP about the effects the drug are having on your ability to work? Why are you so heavily reliant on other individuals being available to perform your job functions? Your issues are not falling sleep during working hours it’s counting those hours and suggesting you worked during that time. Plenty of people who work from home, deal with issues at home, but most certainly DO NOT put count that time towards their working hours. Yes; Certifying your timesheet to include your nap time most certainly is considered fraud or even theft from the company.
    – Donald
    Aug 28, 2023 at 6:47
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    Can't you sleep at night ? Or do your meditation stuff earlier/at a time that does not make you fall asleep during work hours ? Aug 28, 2023 at 7:00
  • You mention a projected higher workload. Are you currently struggling to keep up with tasks due to the naps, or is it currently fine? If you are available as expected of you, and getting your tasks done, I see no ethical issue with doing it while sleeping two hours, browsing stackexchange for two hours, or staring at your screen for two hours. If not, then there is indeed an ethical issue. Aug 28, 2023 at 14:11
  • Have you considered trying taking the medication at a different time (e.g. in the afternoon, or a few hours before going to bed)? Aug 29, 2023 at 8:59
  • It is difficult for me to stay motivated when I have no one to ask questions to. --> As a SW Eng. myself I know that most of my work requires speaking with others, but there are tasks, like code reviewing, watching records from meetings I couldn't join, being update with bureaucracy (like filling time-sheets, writing meeting summaries) and so on that are better done alone, IMHO. Have you tried doing these sort of tasks latter to compensate for you nap-hours when your teammates are not around anymore?
    – gmauch
    Aug 29, 2023 at 11:45

7 Answers 7

42

To sum up this rather lengthy post, as it will make providing the answer easier.

  • You are sleeping through 1/4th of your working day
  • You continue to put that time on your timesheet as working hours
  • You do not make up for this time at end of the day either
  • The current company doesn't know that any of the above is happening
  • You already got summarily fired from previous company for timesheet fraud after doing exactly the above.

And now you are asking:

What is the right thing for me to do, all things considered? Admit sleeping in the job, or leave it behind me and move forward with a solid plan?

The right thing was to tell the company right out of the bat that you may need a 2 hour nap in the morning and work out with them on reasonable accommodations. This is something that almost certainly could've been easily worked out, in the end somehow everything is happening despite you missing the two hours now. This is not something you disclose before being hired (usually in 1st world countries, but local laws may vary) but day 1 is usually the best time to get all that sorted out.

Now your situation is extremely more complicated and that's out of your own failings on multiple levels. And while falling asleep is hardly your fault, the following lies and billing your nap time as work time is squarely and entirely on you. You need to understand and embrace it, there's no really good excuse for doing so anymore, especially not after being fired for exactly that. Can't claim that you didn't know, at least not to yourself even if you could lie to others about it.

So the right thing to do now would be to come clean and hope for clemency. It may happen, it may not, no one knows, but you are the one in the wrong here in this whole situation. Cannot even claim ignorance anymore, you were fired previously for doing exactly that.

So with that sorted, let's get to the meat of your question, which is not about what is the right thing to do but:

How to get out of this mess in a way that won't get me marked as some sort of a cheat, and also lets me keep the job.

You will have to come clean about your medical condition and the whole situation.

You will want to do this directly with HR, or whomever is doing the HR in the company. When coming out I would avoid being specific about how long it was happening, instead keep it vague, something along the lines of "for a while now, with the mix of new meds, I struggled to stay awake in the morning, sometimes falling asleep. I'm sorry that I didn't raise it asap, but I wanted to confirm it's the meds, not just me not getting enough sleep." and then take it from there.

At all cost avoid admitting the full truth, stick to being vague, do not give dates, and focus on how can we work it out going forward. Feel free to use "I don't feel comfortable discussing this" as a way to deflect questions.

It's a bit sleazy but it should work. Ultimately it lets you come out clean, but also controls the damage and with the right words and honesty behind it it may just work out for you.

Most importantly going forward you have to stay honest about this situation, whether with this or future employers, as this really didn't have to be so complicated.

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    Depending on the OP's location, there might be medical waivers for this sort of thing. In the USA, you can apply for Intermittent FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). This does two things: 1) it protects your job by documenting a legitimate medical issue directly impacting your job performance; 2) it might give you and your employer the excuse necessary to let you take naps during the day. Maybe you only get paid for 6 of 8 hours, or your workday is 10 hours long (8 hours of work + 2 hour nap). It could give the OP grounds to determine an alternate work schedule. Aug 28, 2023 at 14:59
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    Two of those statements seem to contradict each other a little bit… coming clean about the whole situation vs. not admitting the full truth.
    – Scott
    Aug 28, 2023 at 17:33
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    As I put in the answer, the right thing is not the one I advise for practical reasons - it's likely going to get your fired, again, for the same reason as before. But that's also the right thing to do. And yes, the pragmatic part of the answer is not coming completely clean, it's sleazy, but that puts you on at least a path forward without lying about it anymore. Doing the right thing tends to end up being expensive. I'll also note from the other side, when you find someone do stuff like this, it's not the act that's so damming, it's the breach of trust that tends to sink it. @Scott
    – Aida Paul
    Aug 28, 2023 at 17:50
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    Coming completely clean is not even ethical: you will just put your company in a difficult situation where they can't do anything but fire you even if they did not wanted to do so. Doing so will also show them you absolutely don't want to make things actually work or improve the situation, which is frankly insulting.
    – agemO
    Aug 29, 2023 at 12:36
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    It is both insulting and inaccurate to refer to someone who can't stay awake because of strong anti-psychotic medication as "taking a nap" this is an outrageously poor answer Aug 30, 2023 at 3:36
18

I'm going to disagree slightly with TP's answer:

If you are being paid by the hour, then yes, you need to discuss this with management. They may be able to take some of it out of your sick time or vacation time, or may just cut you some slack if your productivity is high enough during the hours you are awake. If you can eat while working, you may be able to use your lunch break to nap. You may be able to call it "flex time" and make up the hours later in the day. But you can't bill nap time as hours worked without some such arrangement.

If you are on salary, you should still discuss this with your manager, but they have more options. They can decide that what they are really paying you for is productivity, and that if you are still getting the job done well (including being responsive when they need you), when you get that done doesn't matter so much. If you can accomplish in fewer hours at the desk everything that you did in a full day, or at least enough to get a "meets or exceeds requirements" perform rating, that may be good enough for now.

Having been through two periods of medical exhaustion myself (severe depression, and heart attack recovery), I want to offer some coping strategies even though you didn't ask for them:

  1. Try doing meetings while standing. Or try taking detailed minutes during meetings. Either may help you stay focused. Getting up and moving around a few times during the day can also help maintain overall alertness.

  2. Try shortening those naps. Set an alarm. A half hour may be all you really need. And as noted above, you can nap on your lunch break and eat at your desk...

  3. Make sure you are getting enough sleep overnight. That probably won't eliminate meeting fatigue but it will help with (2).

  4. If not medically inappropriate (ask your doctor), caffeine before the meeting can help. Try not to caffeinate in the several hours before bedtime.

  5. Have you spoken to your doctors about this? They may be able to adjust medications. In my case, we were able to reduce one which tends to cause drowsiness while increasing another which tends to be "activating", reducing side effects overall and improving my ability to stay alert through meetings.

  6. On antidepressants, there's a notable difference between "it's helping" and "hey, I finally had a day when I felt good again", which seems to be a combination of dosage and time. It may take some work and adjustment, but it can get better.

9

First and foremost, have you tried scheduling your dosage so that the extreme drowsiness occurs at a more convenient time? Maybe wake up at 4am or 5am, take the meds, and go back to sleep.

Do you have an ethical obligation to turn yourself in for sleeping? Well, we all gotta eat but in general we do have an ethical obligation to not commit timecard fraud. The amount of time I've seen pissed away on YouTube/Facebook at work makes your nap laughable.

Overall, you should talk to your doctor about this issue first. Based on their recommendations you can make a case for health-related accommodations with your employer; I hope they respect medical issues.

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Can’t you change your contract to (officially!) work fewer hours for a corresponding decrease in salary? Of course you’ll earn less, but at the same time you wouldn’t be committing fraud.

Depending on in which country you are working you might also be eligible for (paid) sick leave, early retirement or some other option.

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This answer is highly dependent on where you work, but many countries offer a medical waiver of sorts that give you some legal protections for your job, and justification to create an alternate work schedule if necessary. Or just some understanding and patience.

Most of the answers so far focus on what you can change and control. Those are good suggestions. Certainly you should try coping with this drowsiness, but it seems like you've been trying to cope for a long time. This issue caused you to get fired, and the potential for that thing happening at your current job is pretty high.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the USA grants you legal protections for your job. If you do not live in the USA, whichever country you live or work in might have such protections under a different name. Find what this is in your country and apply for it.

Legal protections like FMLA not only protect your job, but can give you some flexibility in your schedule. Perhaps you can work 8 hours per day, just not 8 hours in a row. You could work with HR to formulate an alternative work schedule that allows for a one or two hour nap in the afternoon in exchange for a longer work day. Medical leave does not necessarily need to be all day. FMLA can be "intermittent". You can take parts of a day off for appointments or things like drowsiness.

You will need to work with HR and your doctor to fill out the required paperwork. Be honest and clearly state to all parties involved what your challenges are. No use in hiding this anymore. Hiding your medical condition and the side effects are doing more harm than good.

As for your current situation, get your medical waiver paperwork in order first, which will likely include contacting HR. Explain the situation honestly. Most people and organizations will be much more understanding once they know a legitimate medical condition is the root cause rather than laziness or fraud.

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  • One has to claim leave in order to be protected by the FMLA. Certifying a timecard, after taking a 2-hour nap during the work week, is theft and is NOT protected by FMLA. The author is in a tricky spot, they have essentially lied on their timecard this entire time, the time to have come forward about the side effects has passed.
    – Donald
    Aug 28, 2023 at 17:07
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    @Donald, the OP might not have known about something like FMLA. Just starting that process (or one like it) reframes the whole conversation. That's the point of my answer. This is not a "nap", it is a medical condition. And the OP needs to document this somehow, which includes being honest about things in the past. Aug 28, 2023 at 17:10
  • I personally don't buy it. The author attempted to make up the hours, that were lost due to the nap, for a period of time. The author stopped due to not being motivated to do so. I have my doubts taking 2 hours every single day would even be eligible under FMLA.
    – Donald
    Aug 28, 2023 at 17:22
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    @Donald: this is not about a nap. It's about the underlying medical condition. The OP needs to work with a doctor and HR on this. Aug 28, 2023 at 17:41
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It is a cultural issue. Taking a nap during work hours is something that is cherished by many people all over the world.

What ever you do next, first off all don't incriminate yourself in front of your employer. They will not reward you for your honesty, that should be obvious to you by now.

Your wellbeing comes first! If you are tired, take a nap, you will be more productive afterwards.

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    Are you from a country in which napping during work hours is commonly done? And if so, could you add in your answer other cultural expectations behind this (e.g. during lunch hours)? In such a culture would you also be expected to adjust your work schedule accordingly (e.g. if you take a 1 hour nap, then does it mean you should come in 30 min. earlier and leave 30 min. later to compensate).
    – Brandin
    Aug 28, 2023 at 12:24
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    For me the quesiton here is, is it in your culture that people take 2 hours of work, count this time as work and tell no one about it despite being expected to be working by their manager and coworkers? I don't know culture like that, so very keen to learn.
    – Aida Paul
    Aug 28, 2023 at 12:36
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    @Brandin do you adjust your work schedule according to the time you spent on the toilet? Aug 28, 2023 at 14:42
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    @TymoteuszPaul: That is an issue indeed, but a minor one. The fact that OP has to take heavy medication is an extenuating circumstance. Aug 28, 2023 at 14:43
  • @WorkingHard_Guy - Lying on a time card is a minor issue? The author was fired for the exact behavior they describe once already. By filling out that timesheet, and claiming they were working for those hours, they essentially were stealing from the company. It appears they don't have enough time, excluding the hours they are taking a nap, to complete the amount of work that is expected. They solution of course is to work additional hours, in order to make up those missing hours, and only after doing so talk to their manager about working additional hours outside of their normal schedule.
    – Donald
    Aug 28, 2023 at 17:12
-9

Contrary to popular belief the exact wording the ninth commandment is not "Thou shall not lie" but "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour". Therefore this commandment only specifically forbids lying in court. So lying in other situations is not by definition wrong.

In an ideal world maybe everybody would speak the truth all the time (even that would be debatable). However in the real world you just have to lie/omit the truth sometimes to protect yourself, just like everybody else.

Back to your particular situation, admitting without being asked that you sleep a part of the workday is a very stupid idea. Don't do it, nothing good can come of it. Even if your manager suspects it, saying it without being asked might force him/her to action which when unspoken would be unnecessary.

You didn't mention any criticism you received in your new job, so your performance so far might not need be all that bad. I think the only thing you should thinking about right now is how are going to keep up with the increased expectations you are anticipating.

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    This answer is wrong on so many levels -- factually, medically, religiously, and morally. Aug 28, 2023 at 15:44
  • I guess the commandment also only applies to people living in numbers 3 and 7 on my street? What about across the street? Are the people in number 6 still counted as neighbours? This is like a crossover episode between Suits and Christianity.
    – nvoigt
    Aug 29, 2023 at 6:29
  • Also, a correct timesheet is something required by law in my juristiction. So falsifying a timesheet is not just a little white lie to a private person.
    – nvoigt
    Aug 29, 2023 at 6:31

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