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Epilepsy in the Workplace

For many people living with epilepsy, there are questions and concerns around finding and maintaining employment. Most people want to be hired because they have skills, knowledge, and capabilities to contribute. That should always be the starting point in a job or career search. A major consideration that people confront is whether or not to disclose epilepsy to an employer or a potential employer.

Who Do You Tell?

Whether or not to tell your employer or co-workers, that you have epilepsy is a common concern. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this question. The decision whether or not to disclose will depend on factors such as the type of seizures you have and the need for assistance, the frequency of your seizures, and the type of work you do. If your seizures, or your medication, could affect your abilities, or the safety of yourself or other employees, then the epilepsy should be disclosed.

A general rule with respect to disclosure, according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission is:
  1. If the disability or condition is going to affect job performance, it should be disclosed (i.e. to allow for reasonable accommodation).
  2. If the disability or condition does NOT affect job performance, it does not have to be disclosed.
Informing others that you have epilepsy does not have to happen on your first day of work - unless you feel a seizure could occur at any time. The disclosure could occur over a period of time, or be restricted to one or two individuals. If co-workers have been told about the epilepsy, and what to do in the event of a seizure, they will probably be less afraid and surprised if a seizure does happen.
Knowledge about epilepsy varies a great deal from one person to the next. Be prepared to provide information about epilepsy and more specifically, about your condition.
  • Contact the Canadian or Provincial Human Rights Commission in your area for further information about your rights and obligations as an employee/employer in employing someone with a condition such as epilepsy.
  • The Epilepsy Association of Calgary can provide in-person or printed material to any work-place if desired, and this can make all the difference. When people are prepared to assist with a seizure, there is usually less fear.
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If you are considering disclosure of epilepsy, the following provided by The Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota Training and Placement Services may be of assistance.

Tips to Disclosing Epilepsy to an Employer

  1. Be honest, straight forward and factual. Disclose epilepsy if it affects the job; don't worry about disclosing it if it does not affect job abilities or the safety of yourself or other employees.
  2. Use your best judgement in educating employers. Some employers are knowledgeable about epilepsy, but many are not. Be prepared to give employers information about epilepsy, or let them know where they can find out more.
  3. Be aware of any special accommodations you will need to do the job.
  4. Be brief - don't dwell on epilepsy. Try not to build it into a major point of discussion.
  5. Be knowledgeable about your epilepsy. Inform employers about your level of seizure control, medications, auras, first aid, recovery and seizure precipitants.
  6. Be enthusiastic and assertive in emphasizing your skills, abilities, ideas and assets.
  7. Talk with assurance.
  8. Know your rights as a person with a disability.
  9. Be positive, honest and specific.
  10. Relate your disclosure comments to the job and your performance. Be realistic about how epilepsy may affect your work.
  11. If possible, relate positive work experience and performance.
  12. Inform the employer if your physician has made any job restrictions, or recommendations on what type of work to avoid.
  13. At the end of the interview, ask if there is anything else they need to know.
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Disclosure of Epilepsy to an Employer

(Adapted from the National Spokesman, December 1984)

Time of Disclosure Advantages Disadvantages
During an interview
  • honesty, peace of mind
  • possibility of discrimination and disqualification
When the job is offered but before beginning work
  • honesty
  • opportunity to discuss in person reduces risk of discrimination
  • risk that focus may be on epilepsy rather than ability to do job
After you start
  • opportunity to prove yourself on the job prior to disclosure
  • opportunity to provide relevant information
  • fear that a seizure may occur
  • fear of discrimination
  • fear that peers will be unable to respond
After a seizure on the job
  • opportunity to prove yourself first
  • opportunity to educate others
  • fear of discrimination
  • fear that perception of others will change
  • fear of misunderstanding by others
Never
  •  employer cannot discriminate as long as seizure does not occur
  • risk of discrimination if a seizure occurs
  • fear that a seizure may occur
  • safety concerns

The above are guidelines, intended for raising awareness and promoting discussion. Along with advantages and disadvantages are consequences and issues. What might they be? If you were the employer/employee how would you deal with the issues and consequences that may arise? What factors would you base your decision on? Why?
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Additional Resources

If you are in need of any additional information about epilepsy in the workplace there are a number of resources available. Your local Epilepsy Association can provide detailed information, and may provide worksite education on a variety of employment related concerns including first aid procedures. In addition, the following agencies can also be utilized: Consult your local listings for the offices nearest you.
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