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Can I work with epilepsy?

This week is Careers Week, so we're talking about the challenges young people with epilepsy face in the workplace. Living with epilepsy can mean facing stigma and misconceptions, especially when it comes to employment opportunities. Let's have a look at some of the most often asked questions when it comes to epilepsy and work.

A great place to start is to consider your triggers. Think about what can cause you to have a seizure and eliminate any jobs which may involve them from your search. For example, if sleep deprivation or irregular sleep patterns are your seizure triggers, taking a job which involves working nightshifts may be something to avoid. If you have photosensitive epilepsy, taking a job at an arcade around flashing lights may not best suited if it will cause you to have regular seizures and affect your safety at work.

If you choose to disclose your epilepsy to your employer, they may be able to help you to avoid triggers by making reasonable adjustments. For example, if sitting at a computer screen for too long in a high pressure environment can trigger a seizure, your workplace may be able to vary your work pattern to allow for less screen time and move your desk to a quieter area in the office. 

Don't let your epilepsy hold you back. From fast paced jobs such as being a lawyer, to working in a slow-paced environment by becoming a librarian or showing off your creative side as an artist; there are plenty of career options out there suited to you when it comes to epilepsy and work. 

You could find your niche and go freelance or self-employed, giving you the chance to choose your own hours or work from home at your own pace. Whatever your circumstances, it’s important to find a role and employer that is right for you.  

The important thing (besides your safety), is to not let your epilepsy define you. Just remember, some of the world’s greatest inventors, such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, have been reported to have had epilepsy! You too have the ability to achieve great things. 

Here are our top three tips you should consider when applying for jobs for people with epilepsy: 

  1. Avoid jobs you know will trigger your seizures. 
  2. Legally, you don’t have to disclose your epilepsy to anyone in the workplace (unless it poses a risk to your safety or the safety of others), however, to take advantage of possible reasonable adjustments and to ensure you are safe and supported at work, we would recommend letting the right personnel know about your epilepsy. This could be someone in the HR department; they are there to make sure you are kept safe and comfortable at work. They can help with things like medical appointments, risk assessments, reasonable adjustments and health & safety. Don't be afraid to ask for help!   
  3. If you work with the same person or group of people on a regular basis, consider opening up to them about your epilepsy, it may give you peace of mind. It will also give them an insight into what they can do to help should you have a seizure at work.   
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Navigating your career with epilepsy

Trying to choose a career path and search for a job can be daunting for everyone. Having epilepsy may make your job hunt a little more challenging and does make the job market a little more difficult to navigate. Although there may be some limitations for people with epilepsy, it doesn't mean that there isn't a career option out there to suit your skills and talents! There are plenty of good jobs for someone with epilepsy in the UK, so let's have a look at finding them!

When applying for jobs, you will need to take into consideration working environments which may be dangerous to you and your colleagues if you were to have a seizure or lose consciousness in the workplace. It’s also worth noting that if your epilepsy is going to affect the safety of you or your colleagues, you are required to tell your employer.  

Do I have to disclose my epilepsy to a new job? 

It's completely up to you whether or not to tell your employer or future employer about your epilepsy. The only time you are required to mention it, is when it poses a safety risk to you or others. Epilepsy affects everyone differently, it depends on the type of epilepsy, the types of seizures you have and any side effects you might experience. You can decide if you think it would be best to tell your employer, and if so, there are a number of things they will be able to adjust in the workplace to help you do your job.  

We have compiled a list of ways you can be protected in the workplace, and additional support you are entitled to. 

Your Rights 

You may feel apprehensive about letting your employer know about your epilepsy in case you will be treated unfairly at work. That is where the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (NI) & The Equality Act 2010 (England, Wales & Scotland) come into play. 

These pieces of legislation cover a whole range of people who may be victimised, harassed or discriminated against in the workplace. This includes people with disabilities, such as epilepsy.

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Discrimination can be direct or indirect:   

  • Direct discrimination could include not being considered for a promotion due to your epilepsy.   
  • Indirect discrimination could include having a rule in the workplace which would put a disabled employee at a disadvantage. For example, an employer stating that all staff must be able to drive to the office could be classed as discrimination towards an employee with epilepsy, unless the employer can give good reason for the policy to be in place. 

These Acts also protect you if you are being bullied in the workplace due to your epilepsy. You are legally protected by them, even if your seizures are under control. 

If you feel that you are being discriminated against at work, can you make a complaint directly to your employer; use a mediator to help you to resolve the situation; or make a claim in court. 

Health Adjustment Passport

The aim of a Health Adjustment Passport is to identify any additional support a person with a disability, such as epilepsy, may require when in the workplace. The scheme is completely voluntary, and you can choose if you would like to complete one for yourself.  

The passport will hold information about you and your disability and has been designed to help you speak to your employer, or future employer about any reasonable adjustments or support you may need to help you to do your job. This saves you the stress of having to go over details over and over again each time you begin a new job. You can also use your Health Adjustment Passport to apply for any Access To Work grants you may be entitled to. 

Reasonable Adjustments 

If you choose to disclose your epilepsy to your employer, by law, they must make reasonable adjustments to help you do your job. An example of a reasonable adjustment would be for your employer to move your desk to a quieter area of the office if loud noises are something which could trigger you to have a seizure.

Flexible working hours, additional breaks during the day, and allowing additional time to complete certain tasks are other examples of reasonable adjustments. Some of these measures might be in place already, but by disclosing your epilepsy, your employer will better understand what can be put in place to help you.  

Failure to make reasonable adjustments is classed as discrimination. 

Access To Work 

Access To Work can come in the form of a grant and additional support. For example, if you are unable to use public transport, Access To Work could give you a grant which will cover taxi fares to get you to and from your place of work. Epilepsy can also affect your mental health; Access To Work could also provide support to manage this. Please note that Access To Work will not pay for any reasonable adjustments required in the workplace.