Epilepsy in the Workplace
Finding a job, keeping it and excelling at it is a challenge for just about every single person in the world. Except for maybe whoever dresses up as Harvey the Hound. He gets to go to every game and everyone loves him. That seems like a pretty easy gig.
But aside from that, the workplace can be tough – and especially so for people with epilepsy. It’s not just a challenge, it’s integral to offering the ability to be a self-sufficient, contributing member of the community.
Fear, ignorance and plain old misinformation can often create significant difficulties in the workplace for people with epilepsy – with potentially devastating consequences, such as job loss. To make matters worse, that level of stress can increase seizure frequency.
It shouldn’t be that way. And it doesn’t have to be.
Education Sessions for Workplaces
Our in-person education sessions help workplaces and coworkers understand epilepsy, answer questions, and highlight the importance of creating a supportive, safe environment.
Sessions ranging from 45 to 180 minutes are provided free of charge and cover the basics of epilepsy, seizure recognition, and first aid.
Who To Tell?
Whether you’ve got an interview for your dream job or you’ve already been working for a while, you’ll eventually find yourself wondering: should I tell them about my condition? Obviously, you’re a great employee and a valuable member of the team, but there people out there who still don’t quite understand epilepsy. It’s a tough conversation, but we’re here to help.
Do you have to tell anyone? The Canadian Human Rights Commission has advice:
- If the disability or condition is going to affect job performance, it should be disclosed (i.e. to allow for reasonable accommodation).
- If the disability or condition does NOT affect job performance, it does not have to be disclosed.
But your decision will probably be a little more complicated than that. It will depend on factors like the type of seizures you have, their frequency, the type of work you do and your need for assistance. If your seizures or your medication could affect your ability or the safety of you and your coworkers, then we agree with the Canadian Human Rights Commission: it’s probably best to tell.
Unless you feel like a seizure could occur at any time, you don’t have to inform them on your first day of work or in your interview. There are probably better things to talk about (avoid the weather, though – that’s pretty boring). Whether you tell one or two people like your boss, or all your coworkers is up to you. If you have told your coworkers about your condition and what to do if a seizure does happen, you’ll probably be in better shape if a seizure does happen. But that’s totally up to you.
We know as well as you do that the understanding of epilepsy varies a great deal from person to person. Fortunately you’ve got some options in terms of support for helping people in your workplace properly understand you and 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.
Tips For Disclosing Epilepsy To An Employer
If you’ve decided to let people in your workplace know about your condition, you may want to consider this advice from the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota’s Training and Placement Services.
- Be honest, straightforward 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.
- 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.
- Be aware of any special accommodations you will need to do the job.
- Be brief – don’t dwell on epilepsy. Try not to build it into a major point of discussion.
- Be knowledgeable about your epilepsy. Inform employers about your level of seizure control, medications, auras, first aid, recovery and seizure precipitants.
- Be enthusiastic and assertive in emphasizing your skills, abilities, ideas and assets.
- Talk with assurance.
- Know your rights as a person with a disability.
- Be positive, honest and specific.
- Relate your disclosure comments to the job and your performance. Be realistic about how epilepsy may affect your work. If possible, relate positive work experience and performance.
- Inform the employer if your physician has made any job restrictions, or recommendations on what type of work to avoid.
- At the end of the interview, ask if there is anything else they need to know.
Deciding When To Disclose?
Deciding when to tell can be as difficult a decision as choosing whether or not to decide at all. The following guidelines, adapted from the National Spokesman, December 1984, are designed to raise awareness and promote discussion.
During an interview:
- honesty, peace of mind
- possibility of discrimination and disqualification
When the job is offered but before beginning work:
- 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
- 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