Finding and keeping a job is important for everyone, but much more difficult for people with epilepsy. Did you know that unemployment rates of people who have uncontrolled seizures has been estimated at 5 times the national average and in some studies, up to 50%! This employment inequity is outrageous! While many factors related to one’s seizures or other personal factors may contribute to under or unemployment, inequality in workplace policies and procedures also exist. The Foundation for People with Epilepsy - FPE under the umbrella of National Epilepsy Coordination Committee is actively involved in the fight for employment and other legal rights for people with epilepsy.
In this and our subsequent series this month we focus on all matters Epilepsy and Employment, beginning with the Employers viewpoint.
Epilepsy can affect employment for a variety of reasons. Many employers are reluctant to hire a person they know has epilepsy, even if the seizures are controlled by medication. If the employee suffers a seizure while at work, they could harm themselves (but rarely others, contrary to popular belief) depending on the nature of the work.
Employers are often unwilling to bear any financial costs that may come from employing a person with epilepsy, i.e. insurance costs, paid sick leave etc. Many people whose seizures are successfully controlled by a medication suffer from a variety of side effects, most notably drowsiness, which may affect job performance.
Many laws prohibit or restrict people with epilepsy from performing certain duties, most notably driving or operating dangerous machinery, thereby lowering the pool of jobs available to people with epilepsy.
People living with Epilepsy are also prohibited from joining the armed forces, though they may work in certain civilian military positions.
What the employer needs to know…
People living with Epilepsy have Equal Employment Opportunities, this is key for any employer to note including other important highlights including;
Asking about Epilepsy: An employer may not ask if a person has epilepsy before they are offered a job. Instead, ask about job qualifications. An employer can ask about a person’s qualifications for a job, for example whether a person has a driver’s license or can work with heavy machinery.
Disclosing Epilepsy: If a person applying for a job discloses that he or she has epilepsy and the potential employer “reasonably believes the applicant will require an accommodation to perform the job because of epilepsy or treatment, the employer may ask if he needs an accommodation and what type.”
Asking for Medical Information: An employer can ask for medical information when performance problems are seen that may be associated with epilepsy or observes symptoms or obtains information that a person’s epilepsy may be causing performance issues.
Confidentiality of Medical Information: An employer cannot tell other employees (co-workers and other managers) about an employee's health condition, even if co-workers witness the person having a seizure in the workplace.
The writer is an ambassador for the National Epilepsy Coordination Committee (NECC)