Getting paid to sleep? It seems too good to be true. But it’s no joke.
Depending on where you sleep, and whether you have obligations as part of being at that place while you sleep, you may well be working while catching your z’s.
How can sleeping be work?
It has to do with the definition of “work”.
Normally, we understand work to refer to what we do when we are being paid to perform tasks. You have to be awake and active to perform those tasks. That’s why “sleeping on the job” is usually frowned upon.
But another way of thinking about work emphasises what you give up when you agree to be someone else’s employee.
When you’re working, you can’t just do what you like. You can’t expect to go out fishing or go to the movies during “work time”. Instead, you sign up to make your employer’s interests more important than your own for a limited time. Essentially, you trade your freedom for pay.
So if your employer asks you to sleep somewhere other than your own bed, and not only that, attend to duties that may arise during your usual sleeping hours, that is a significant loss of freedom.
Further, your employer benefits by having you there to respond to emergencies if and when they arise (even if you sleep through part of that time).
The above factors that feed into this view of what work is, can be reduced to an equation that looks like this:
Loss of freedom + potential responsibilities + benefit to your employer = work
To the extent that each of the above three factors are present, it is more likely you will be treated as working, even though you may in fact be sleeping.
So for example, a carer sleeping over in a residence for clients with disabilities and a house matron sleeping over in a boarding house for girls have both been regarded by the courts to be working while they slept.
What should you get paid for sleeping at work?
Whether you are working or not is probably not the most important question, though. The real issue is: what should you be paid for the time you spend asleep?
An employer might be happy to treat you as working provided they can pay you less for your time spent sleeping than for when you are awake and active.
In the past, employers have taken this approach by paying a flat rate or an “overnight allowance” that was less than what you would have earned had you not been allowed to sleep during that time.
That means hourly paid employees must receive at least $15.25 for every hour they are on duty, whether they are asleep or awake.
Working versus being on call
The situation is different if you are merely “on call”.
If you are on call, you may be sleeping some of that time. But there are usually far fewer restrictions on your personal freedom.
While on call you may be able to do whatever you like, wherever you like, until such time as you get a work request. You may be sleeping in your own home, playing golf, or watching TV.
That is very different to a carer who must sleep in the employer’s premises and cannot leave in case they must to respond to a need that arises on-site.
The greater freedom of being on call means that a key factor in the equation outlined above is missing, and you are unlikely to be treated as working while sleeping.
That means your employer does not have to pay you the minimum wage for each hour you are on call.
However, you must be fairly compensated for making yourself available to work, though the payment could be at a flat rate or a one-off “on-call allowance”.
It really is possible for you to be paid while you sleep.
The catch is that to do so, you must agree to having your freedom restricted. And the degree to which your freedom is affected will determine what you must be paid.
If the restrictions are significant, requiring you to sleep somewhere other than in your own bed and respond to issues on-site as they arise, then you must be paid the minimum wage.
Alternatively, you may be on call, and though you will not be regarded as working while you sleep necessarily, you must be reasonably compensated.