Working with Epilepsy

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Barriers

As much as I would like to say discrimination does not exist; it does. It is part of human nature to analyze and judge effectively, but it is not part of human nature to ignorance as a form of judgement.

Epilepsy can be scary. It is scares employers, teachers, friends, family, coworkers, and those who bare the diagnosis themselves. It is the unknown of when the next seizure will strike or the unknown of what the root cause is. It is the unknown of how the future will forever be impacted.

There are discrimination laws put into place by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Epilepsy does fall under the protection of the ADA; but some places can find loopholes. When they find these loopholes they do not bother to ever ask the person “how does this effect you? How does this effect your work?” They start making assumptions, then base decisions upon these assumptions. My main goal today is to help those who may be new to epilepsy or do not know where they stand under the ADA when it comes to employment.


The Interview

Working with Epilepsy can be a challenge. First question that tends to pop into one’s mind is “am I allowed to work? Should I work?” While we would love to answer that question for ourselves, we do still need to seek an expert opinion. Talk to your neurologist and see if you are cleared for work first and foremost. As much as we love to be independent and make our own choices, we need to make sure we are safe and we are able to keep others around us safe. Also, this documentation that you are cleared for work protects you – an employer cannot use the excuse “well I do not think you are fit to work” based on you having seizures when your specialist says otherwise.

Next question most people have is “when do I tell them?” This can get tricky but if you understand your rights under the ADA, it gets a little easier. When you are applying for a job, an employer “may not ask questions about the applicant’s medical condition or require to have a medical examination before it makes a conditional job offer.” What does this mean exactly? They cannot ask you about epilepsy, if you have seizures, frequency seizures, or if you are on prescription drugs during the interview process. They CAN ask you if you have driver’s license or if you can operate machinery and that portion you must answer truthfully. As for anything else, the employer at that point would be crossing boundaries with the ADA. Before accepting a job offer, you still do not have to disclose the fact that you have Epilepsy or a seizure disorder. ADA does not require those with disabilities to voluntarily disclose their disability UNLESS they will need reasonable accommodations during the interview.  Also, an employer cannot ask questions about your Epilepsy if you have voluntarily disclosed it. They cannot as about treatment either, but the employer CAN ask if you need an accommodation.


After the Job Offer

“What if I start working and realize it is too much and did not request accommodations?” You may request reasonable accommodation after becoming an employee as long as they are made aware of your condition. Now once you have accepted the job offer, they may ask you questions about your Epilepsy,  but since you now have the job, if any repercussions occur it will fall under discrimination. Although, it will not be considered discrimination if you cannot perform the job you were hired to do due to you condition or pose as a direct threat to health or safety of self or others that cannot be reduced or eliminated through accommodations. Employers may not disclose anything about your medical condition or accommodations to other employees either, as this is a breach of confidentiality.

“What exactly are reasonable accommodations?” Some accommodations listed may include: adjustments to work schedules, extra breaks, checklist to assist in remembering tasks, permission to brings a service animal to work, place to rest after a seizure, reassignment to a vacant position if the employee can no longer perform the original job, and so on. Do know than an employer may request a documentation stating that the employee has epilepsy and that accommodations need to be made. Also note that an employer does not have to provide these accommodations if doing so will cause hardship to the company (difficult to do or expensive). Now things here can become grey and it is a fine line to walk upon. If the employer decides it cannot meet the accommodation, they may choose an easier or less costly accommodation as long as the employee needs are met.


My Experience

I have not let Epilepsy stop me from working as my Epilepsy is also not severe enough to keep me out of work. Everyone will have a different experience with Epilepsy and the workplace due to severity, frequency, and type of seizures – but we all still consider the same questions of when to tell. For me personally, I do not require accommodations for work. Do I qualify? Yes. But I do not feel my job is impaired by my condition. Due to this, I decided to withhold the fact I have Epilepsy upon the interview and pre-empolyment process. Once I was officially offered the job and had agreed to take the job, I told health services when I went for my health screening. They asked if I needed accommodations, I said no and I have not heard anything about it since. They were really nice about everything and appreciated the fact that I told them. Since it is on my file, in the event that I ever needed accommodations, I would be able to have them. Ironically enough where I go for my neurologist and where I work is in the same place and under the same company. So if anything was to ever happen, everything possibly needed is already there.

A rule of thumb that I use is if they do not ask, they do not need to know unless it is putting someone else or myself in direct harm. I always tell employers after accepting an offer due to the event if, by chance, I had a seizure at work, they would not panic (this has not happened yet thankfully). I have been dealing with this condition for 5 years so I have a good handle on how this will effect me and my neurologist also has confidence in my knowledge of my condition.

It can be scary to tell you employer, as not everyone will be kind. Telling coworkers is another issue. I have told coworkers in the past and have gotten ridiculed over it so it takes me a while before I find someone I can tell. It is good to have at least one person who knows that works with you, if not then wear a medical ID bracelet/necklace as a precautionary measure. Although, have confidence in knowing you ARE protected and do not be afraid to fight for your rights. You define Epilepsy.


All information was gathered from the following sites, also feel free to visit them to learn more

←For those in the U.K. seeking information→

You may also call the Epilepsy Foundation’s Toll-free Helpline and ask any questions at:

1-800-332-1000
(en Español 1-866-748-8008)

Calls are answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.