What to Do with an Employee with Sleep Apnea

Sleeping On The Job

Having a full night’s rest is a lot more important than many people give it credit for. We recently covered the effects of sleep deprivation and how they can affect performance at work. But one specific sleeping disorder that you may want to give a closer look is sleep apnea.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea involves pauses in breathing while a person is asleep. These can last 10 to 30 seconds and occur many times per night. Muscles relax and the airway narrows, becoming obstructed. As it happens while they’re sleeping, a person may not even know that they have the condition, with others often noticing the symptoms first:

  • Choking or gasping during the night
  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration

Unsurprisingly, these match what sufferers of general sleep deprivation experience, and can have a powerful effect on work — from poor communication with coworkers, to forgetfulness, to a general lower quality of work. And of course, if operating machinery or driving is part of the job, the risk of an accident is markedly higher when the employee isn’t getting enough sleep.

Sleep Apnea: A Disability?

In Canada, sleep apnea may count as a disability. Sufferers may be able to claim disability tax credits. As an employer, if an employee is suffering the effects of sleep deprivation because they’re simply choosing not to get enough sleep, you may be able to educate them on the benefits and consider their performance.

With sleep apnea, it’s not simply a case of the employee choosing to get adequate sleep — but treatment is available. It’s often diagnosed via a sleep study, and there are various changeable factors that contribute to sleep apnea.

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Use of alcohol or sedatives

The condition is also treatable through the use of a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP). These are masks that can be worn while sleeping that gently blow air into the airway, and a doctor can help a sufferer select the right one. These tend to be quite effective, and may be just what the employee needs.

Accommodations for Sleep Apnea in the Workplace

Depending on the severity, employers may be able to implement low-cost accommodations to help their employees suffering sleep apnea. While not as effective as eliminating the problem through CPAP usage or making lifestyle changes, they may be right for some situations.

You should encourage employees to be open about their needs in order to understand what you’re able to do to help them. Changing up their schedule, if they’re shift workers, may be beneficial, as well as giving an extra break or allowing for flexible hours. Work with them to find a solution you can both live with, and the problem can indeed be minimized with potentially little effort on your end.

How to Get Help with Employees with Sleep Apnea

Sometimes, employers are at a loss as to how to proceed. Not every employee is agreeable enough to find appropriate accommodations or abide by the treatment recommendations. Employers may find themselves lacking sufficient information to make decisions, and may worry about what taking disciplinary action means when the employee claims a disability.

In these times, reach out to Independent Medical Examination (IME) experts like Western Medical Assessments. Led by Medical Director Dr. Roger Hodkinson, we’ve handled tens of thousands of cases and help employers obtain clarity — expeditiously. Learn what your options are and get an accurate grasp on the medical issue.

Dr. Hodkinson is always available for a quick, no-obligation chat at +1 780 433 1191. You may also be interesting in learning more about what IMEs do for employers here.

Sleep apnea’s only the start for many employers. Get more information here.