THE EMPLOYEE WITH EPILEPSY
Usually epilepsy should not be a major factor in a person’s ability to perform well in the work place.
A person with epilepsy should be able to choose from a variety of occupations. Some exceptions include airline pilots and military professions because the lives of others could be endangered should a seizure occur.
How people with epilepsy perceive themselves has an impact upon what happens in the workplace. Fear of discrimination can lead to low self-esteem and less self-confidence. It is crucial for an employee to keep epilepsy in perspective: it is only one facet of their life.
An accommodation is an adjustment that is necessary in the workplace to enable a person with epilepsy to perform their job.
The Disability Discrimination act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for staff with disabilities. Accommodations are determined by doing a breakdown of the exact physical requirements necessary to perform a job.
For example, if an employee has photosensitive seizures (which may be triggered by flashing lights) and an essential duty of the job is to work on a video display terminal, then reasonable, necessary accommodation may be to replace the flashing cursor on the monitor with a steadily-lit cursor. If an employee has nocturnal seizures, then the employer may accommodate the employee by assigning day shifts.
Another type of accommodation that may be required is time to rest following a seizure.
This period may only be a few minutes or it may mean an hour of sleep. Employers should not insist that an employee go home; they are not sick, and will resume their duties as soon as they are able to.
LEGALITIES IN AN INTERVIEW SITUATION
Medical problems during an interview must be restricted to inquiries that will determine if reasonable accommodation will be necessary. “Do you have epilepsy?” is not permissible. If a prospective employee reveals that they have epilepsy during an interview, it is reasonable for the employer to inquire about the type of seizure the person experiences and what accommodations might be required.
The question of when to disclose having epilepsy to an employer can cause an employee a great deal of anxiety. Before disclosing any information, it is essential for an employee to have extensive knowledge about their particular type of seizure disorder, the characteristics of seizures, how frequently they occur, first aid procedures if required, and the length of recovery time following a seizure. This information will help the employer better understand epilepsy and make accommodations required.
IF EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION OCCURS
Every person has a right to freedom from discrimination in employment because of a disability. Employment harassment, by an employer or colleague due to an employee’s disability, is prohibited.
Employment decisions, including recruitment, hiring, training and promotion are based on merit and not on criteria that are unrelated to job performance.
No questions regarding physical health should be asked on an employment application form.
If a person believes that they have been discriminated against or harassed, they may contact the Disability Rights Commission
EPILEPSY AND THE EMPLOYER
When an employee discloses that s/he has epilepsy, an employer may have a number of concerns. In the past there has been very little information about epilepsy, and like others, employers often have misconceptions and apprehensions.
Things to consider include:-
1.Does the person take antiepileptic drugs
2.When did the latest seizure occur (with or without medication)?
3.If the epilepsy is still active, what types of seizures are experienced?
4.When do seizures usually occur? (On wakening, during sleep, early evening).
5.What are the possible triggers?
6.What injuries might be a consequence
7.Are there any possible side-effects of medication?
It is important to respect an employee’s privacy. Sometimes it may be necessary to inform co-workers of an employee’s epilepsy. Always discuss this with the employee before any information is disclosed.
EFFECT OF SEIZURES ON CUSTOMERS/CLIENTS
There are over 40 types of seizures. In their mildest forms, seizures are almost unnoticeable. The only manifestation of the disorder might be an occasional fluttering of the eyelids, or momentary staring and confusion. There is the possibility that a person with epilepsy may have a “tonic-clonic” seizure. To greatly reduce the chances of having this type of seizure, most people with epilepsy take anti epileptic medication daily. These drugs have been extremely successful in dramatically reducing or completely eliminating seizures.
In the event that an employee does experience a tonic-clonic seizure, ensure that first aid measures are followed, ask a colleague to remain with the person until the seizure has finished, and then briefly explain to customers/clients that the person is having a seizure. Encourage others to resume activities. Seizures do not usually last more than a few minutes. Information about epilepsy should be kept available and given to a person who has witnessed a seizure for the first time.
FIRST AID PROCEDURES
There are specific procedures to be followed during various types of seizures. Request information from the employee about necessary first aid procedures in the event of a seizure. See our leaflet on First Aid.
A concise seizure first aid chart, readily accessible to all employees, will assist others in helping an employee who is experiencing a seizure