Working with Epilepsy: Employee Rights and Concerns

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Employee rights obviously are important for anyone with a job, but you need to focus on them more when you have a condition such as epilepsy. Living with epilepsy does not necessarily mean that you are restricted in what you can do, but it may raise some concerns on the part of your employer.

Because of this, you need to know exactly what your rights are as an employee with epilepsy.

About three million people in the United States have some form of epilepsy.

The condition can strike at any age and in any ethnic group, and can have a tremendous impact on your life, especially when you're first diagnosed.

Despite the many treatment options available to help manage seizures, individuals with epilepsy may still fear problems getting a job or keeping it — even when their seizures are well managed. However, studies show that people with epilepsy who are employed can have a better quality of life, so there's a good reason for getting and keeping a job.

Possible Job Restrictions with Epilepsy

It is a myth that individuals with epilepsy are less capable than others when it comes to job performance.

People with epilepsy perform well in many job fields, including high office (such as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who reportedly was diagnosed with the condition following a seizure in 2007).

People with epilepsy can be teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, can work in retail and can serve as customer service representatives.

They also can perform well in more labor-intensive fields, such as construction, welding, and law enforcement.

There are federal and state laws in place that are designed to prevent employers from discriminating against individuals with epilepsy. One of these laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibits discrimination against individuals with any type of disability.

For example, employers are forbidden to ask if you have epilepsy (or any other condition) before a job offer is made, and you're not required to disclose your condition during that process. Employers can ask about your health status and even require a medical exam following a job offer, but they must treat all applicants equally. That means they can't single you out for having epilepsy.

Should You Tell Your Employer?

You don’t have to tell your current employer about your condition if you don't want to do so. There are some good reasons to tell, and some good reasons not to tell.

Some people may decide to reveal their diagnosis simply because they want their employer to know. Others might do it because they feel that their co-workers need to understand what to do in the event that they have a seizure in the workplace, or to better inform them about their condition.

On the other hand, some people choose not to tell their coworkers and employer about their epilepsy because they value their medical privacy, or out of fear that their diagnosis may be used against them.

Again, telling your employer about your condition is a personal decision, not a requirement.

Be aware that the subject of your condition may come up if you participate in urine drug screening, since some anticonvulsants, such as phenobarbital, may produce positive test results. It is important for your employer to know the medications you are taking in case your drug screen tests positive for a medication you use to prevent seizures. This way, he or she can draw proper conclusions from those positive test results.

Requesting Special Accommodations

If you have epilepsy, there are really no special accommodations needed while you are on the job.

However, just like with any chronic health condition, taking your medications — and taking care of yourself and your overall health — is very important. So, if you have a very demanding job that requires you to work long hours or different shifts, make sure that you get enough sleep and do not skip any doses of your medication.

Job safety is also important, especially if your seizures are not fully controlled. There are many small adjustments you can make to make your work environment safer just in case you do have a seizure while you are on the job.

Safety requirements for positions where you must drive vary from state to state. If you have epilepsy, some states might require you to be seizure-free for a period of time before you would be allowed to drive, whereas other states may require the approval of a health care provider in order to allow for you to drive.

Source:

DeBoer HM. Overview and perspectives of employment in people with epilepsy. Epilepsia 2005; 46(1):52-54.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Questions & Answers about Epilepsy in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) fact sheet. 

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