Employing Someone With Epilepsy

This information aims to reassure employers that they need have few apprehensions about employing people with epilepsy.

Epilepsy and the Work Environment

It would be unrealistic to give the impression that epilepsy poses no problems in employment although there are many people with epilepsy who hold responsible jobs in a wide variety of occupations, in fact the vast majority never experience any ill effects at all because their epilepsy is well controlled.

 

In general, some types of work have been found to be less suitable for people with epilepsy, although exceptions can always be found. The golden rule is that jobs should be carefully selected. Guided by expert medical advice about the nature of seizures, their frequency, duration, after effects, and so on. Naturally the safety of the individual and of other employees is a very important consideration.

Job Suitability

The vast majority of jobs are suitable for people with epilepsy. Blanket prohibitions are discriminatory and needed to be avoided. Most work practices that have a high risk factor need to be evaluated with a view to reducing these risks. This slight restructuring may improve efficiency and make the work environment safe for everyone. Suitability for a particular job needs to be decided before any implications arising from the applicant’s epilepsy are considered.

Interviewing a Person with Epilepsy

In addition to routine interview questions about previous experience, training and skills, the following questions are useful in screening job applicants with epilepsy.

1. When did your epilepsy begin?
2. How often do you have seizures?
3. When was your last one? Did anything special bring it on?
4. What actually happens when you have a seizure? (A description of the events is much more useful than a ‘label’ in evaluating an applicant’s job suitability.)
5. How long does it take you to recover?
6. Do your seizures happen at any particular time of day or night?
7. Do you have any warning before the onset of a seizure?

A Well Informed Approach

A well informed approach to the selection of employees with epilepsy is in everyone’s best interest. If an applicant satisfies the requirements for the job, the epilepsy should be carefully evaluated to see if it is likely to be a problem. This allows you to make a reasoned judgement, and at the same time, helps ensure equal access to employment for people with epilepsy.

Getting on with other Employees

Often the problem with epilepsy is less one of physical danger, but of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge by others. Most people are usually very willing to help and make allowances if they understand something about epilepsy and know how to react. So it is both practically useful and a good way of creating sympathetic conditions if other employees can be involved to the extent of being aware of what happens when a seizure takes place and knowing what to do and what not to do. Apart from anything else, if they are not aware of what is going on it may be disconcerting for them and lead them to interrupt their work unnecessarily.

 

It is also a good idea for someone with first aid experience to be available so that skilled assistance can be given if it’s needed. On the other hand, no great fuss should be made over an employee who is subject to epilepsy. This, and the anxiety involved in taking up a new job, may produce precisely the sort of stress which it is important to avoid.

Accident Liability

Insurance companies have undertaken in general to include all disabled people in employers’ liability insurance policies on the understanding that the employer, in allocation work, takes account of the nature of the disability. When care is taken in selecting suitable employment for disabled people, there is no evidence that the risk of injury to disabled people is greater than that which occurs among the working population generally.

Conclusion

The medical aspects of epilepsy usually create fewer problems than people’s attitudes and practical restrictions. Research has shown that, on average, people with epilepsy have fewer accidents than other employees, take less time off work and have good job loyalty records.

 

Information about epilepsy or the support services in your area may be obtained from this website or by contacting the Epilepsy Centre.

Adapted from Information and Employers (New Zealand Epilepsy Association Inc): Revised by (EASANT) April 2002