April 30, 2021

Guide to discrimination and jobs for people with epilepsy

Lifestyle & Wellness

Workplace discrimination against people with epilepsy affects many. Learn about epilepsy and the disability discrimination act and how it applies.

Experiences of discrimination are incredibly upsetting. If you have been denied a job because you have epilepsy or are treated differently by coworkers, it can really undermine your confidence. However, epilepsy is a disability in the disability discrimination act, and this means it is illegal for you to be treated any different because of your condition.

There are very few limits on jobs for people with epilepsy, and you should have equal access to employment. Here’s everything your need to know about workplace discrimination if you have epilepsy.

An office of people with epilepsy working

Discrimination in jobs for people with epilepsy is real

While attitudes towards epilepsy have improved a lot in recent years, discrimination in the workplace persists. Research shows that people with epilepsy:

  • Have higher unemployment rates
  • Are more likely to be let go
  • Are more likely to be seen as ‘unfit’ for work

This is especially unfair because people with epilepsy can do most jobs just the same as anyone else. There is no higher rate of accidents at work among people with epilepsy. And it’s not the only condition which might cause loss of consciousness (heart diseases are just one example), yet is more likely to be stigmatized.

Of course, there are a handful of jobs that it would be hazardous for people with seizures to perform. Nonetheless, most professions are perfectly safe.

Your rights: epilepsy and disability discrimination act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 (and its amended 2008 version, the ADAA) enshrined the rights of people with disabilities to protection against discrimination. Epilepsy is considered a disability under this legislation (including if your seizures are controlled by medication).

The act means that:

  • Discrimination in all employment practices is prohibited, including for job applications, hiring, promotion, compensation and training
  • You are not obliged to tell an employer that you have epilepsy
  • They can only ask about your epilepsy once you are employed and they believe it is preventing you from doing essential functions of your job
  • You are allowed to ask for reasonable accommodations at work and they should provide them
  • Your employer cannot tell your coworkers you have epilepsy without your consent

Should you tell an employer about your epilepsy?

It is totally understandable to feel worried about telling an employer about your condition – especially if you’ve faced stigma before. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Will my seizures or seizure medication sometimes prevent me from working at full capacity? In this case, it might be worth disclosing so they understand what’s going on.
  • Are there potential dangers if I don’t disclose? For example, operating heavy machinery, driving company vehicles or working near water. If so, you might want to disclose.
  • Are my seizures uncontrolled? If your seizures are not controlled, it might be best to explain this to your employer so they can adapt your schedule or workstation, and also have seizure first aid training in place

If you work at a big organization, speak to the HR department about your needs. At a smaller business, talk to your direct supervisor or the owner.

On the other hand, if your seizures are controlled, there may be no reason to tell your employer or coworker. It is, of course, up to you who you tell.

Disclosure: 5 tips for telling people about your seizures

What if you feel an employer discriminated against you?

Because epilepsy is a disability in the disability discrimination act, you have a right to file a complaint against the company that has treated you unfairly. If you were denied a job, were treated badly or have been passed over for promotion, here’s what to do:

  • Try to collect as much evidence as possible (emails or statements from coworkers)
  • Try to first raise the issue with the company’s HR department
  • If you cannot resolve the issue internally, you can file a disability discrimination complaint with your state

Overcoming barriers to jobs for people with epilepsy

People with epilepsy are perfectly capable of doing most jobs. And, while discrimination sadly persists, there is ever more support for people with epilepsy to be treated fairly and equally.

For inspirational stories of people with epilepsy, head over to our user stories to read about people in jobs as diverse as teaching, law enforcement and filmmaking.