Who needs sleep? Healthy workers

  • Exhausted woman sleeping at work

    Exhausted woman sleeping at work

Updated 7/30/2018 7:51 AM

Q: My employer is offering a voluntary sleep health program through an outside vendor, including professional sleep testing at no charge. What do you see as the pluses and minuses of an employer having access to this medical information?

A: In a system where most people get health care coverage through employers, it's natural to be concerned about how much access employers have to our intimate medical details. (I'll assume you're not in a state or industry, such as transportation, where worker fatigue prevention measures are legally required.)


Fortunately, various federal laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protect personal medical information obtained via an employer wellness program. Strict marketplace standards also ensure that "there really is a firewall between the vendor that performs the testing" and the employer, says Gary Kushner, president of Michigan-based HR consulting and benefits administration firm Kushner & Co. Your employer may be told whether you participated, but not detailed test results.

So why would your employer foot the bill for hundreds or thousands of dollars in sleep tests for results it won't even see? Probably because it realizes that a healthy business means having a healthy workforce. Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the harm caused by sleep deprivation and related disorders, and the CDC estimates that one-third of adults get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night.

So if you suffer from fatigue or bruised kidneys from a partner fed up with your snoring, consider taking advantage of your employer's offer -- and, in Kushner's words, "rest assured" that the results will be protected.

Q: I work retail. Sometimes it is impossible to get eight hours of sleep between shifts because I am required to stay through closing and be back before opening time the next day. I feel it is unfair to put myself and others in danger by driving while tired. Is there anything to do other than resign?

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A: Unfortunately, as with "just-in-time" and other unpredictable scheduling practices, no federal laws prevent employers from requiring back-to-back closing and opening shifts -- aka "clopening." Before you give up and resign, try explaining to your employer that your schedule is affecting your ability to commute safely, and ask about alternative arrangements. The site sleepeducation.org has additional tips on minimizing "shift work disorder," including taking public transportation and optimizing whatever sleep time you get. And don't rule out the occasional bathroom-stall power nap during breaks.

Thanks to Paula Brantner, senior adviser for Workplace Fairness.

• Ask Karla Miller about your work dramas and traumas by emailing wpmagazine@washpost.com.

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