Banning sleeping on the job? Some companies have a lot of nerve.

QI work for an airline that has just instituted a new rule that an employee caught sleeping during lunch and breaks will be terminated. We all work in customer service or as baggage handlers on the airport ramps. We are not paid for the 30-minute lunch breaks, but we are paid for the 15-minute breaks. And sometimes, depending on operational needs, the lunch and break periods are lumped together into one 45-minute segment. Sometimes a few of us will nap during the lunch break. Now they're saying we can't do this. We are very unhappy about this rule. Do we have any recourse?

ABill Kershner, a Berwyn, Pa., lawyer who represents employers in labor disputes, said he thinks that while this airline has control of the time and can set the rules when employees are on their breaks because they are being paid, it likely has overstepped its authority to control them on their lunch time, when they are not being paid.

The Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, said airline work rules vary from one carrier to another. They depend to some extent on what workers' unions have negotiated, although the worker in this case is employed at a nonunion airline.

"Absent any safety issues or the ability to recover from a nap [to resume work promptly after lunch], I really think the employer is reaching here," Kershner said. "They'd be hard-pressed to say you can't grab a few Z's."

He said these airline workers could be out of their managers' sight "if they go down the concourse to eat" or just sit somewhere and doze. "It's their own time."

Kershner said that if the workers napped in the confines of a back work area during their lunch break and some emergency occurred, such as a baggage carousel jamming, "they could be every bit as available if someone tapped them on the shoulder" to wake them up as if they were just eating. "If they don't have to be at their work stations or on call [during this unpaid time], I don't see how the employer can say you can't do what you want to," whether that be eating, shopping, chatting or napping.

-- Kenneth Bredemeier

E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at bredemeier@washpost.com. Discuss workplace issues with him at 11 a.m. Wednesday at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.