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Employee Rights and Concerns for People With Epilepsy

Working and Living With Epilepsy

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Updated September 26, 2013

Employee rights are of concern to any employed individual, but they become of even greater concern when you have a disability, such as epilepsy. Living with epilepsy does not necessarily mean that you are restricted in what you can do. But it may pose some questions in your mind about employee rights, as well as raise concerns about the workplace.

There are approximately 3 million individuals who are affected with some form of epilepsy. Epilepsy can strike at any age or in any ethnic group, and can have a tremendous impact on your life when you are first diagnosed. Despite the many treatment options available to help manage seizures, individuals with epilepsy may still have a fear obtaining or maintaining employment -- even when their seizures are well managed. While studies have shown that fear from the employer, family, or even the person with epilepsy can play an important role in attitudes toward work, it has also been shown that being employed when you have epilepsy can enhance your quality of life.

Am I Restricted In What I Can Do Job-Wise?

It is a myth to believe 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), teaching, medicine, retail and customer service. Individuals can also perform well in other more labor intensive fields, too, including construction, welding, and law enforcement. There are federal and state laws in place that are designed to prevent any employers from discriminating against individuals with epilepsy. One of these laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was passed and implemented to law in 1990 and prohibits discrimination against individuals with any type of disability.

Should You Tell Your Employer About Your Condition?

You don’t have to tell your employer about your condition if you do not want to. However, some people may decide to do this for personal reasons. Others might do it because they feel that their coworkers need to know 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 for personal reasons or out of fear that this may be used against them. Telling your employer about your condition is a personal decision, not a requirement.

The subject of your condition may come up when you participate in a pre-employment urine drug screening, since some anticonvulsants, such as [http://drugsaz.about.com/od/drugs/phenobarbital.htm]phenobarbital, may test positive. It is important for your employer to know the medications you are taking in case your drug screen tests positive for a medication you are taking for your seizures. This way, he or she can draw proper conclusions from the results.

Will I Need To Request Any 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 -- is very important. So, if you have a very demanding job that requires you to work at different times, 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.

Job positions requiring driving usually 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 healthcare provider in order to allow for you to drive.

Source:

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/epilepsy.html. Accessed: 14 August 2008.

The Epilepsy Foundation: www.epilepsyfoundation.org. Accessed: 14 August 2008.

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

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