Employment and Epilepsy
Having epilepsy does not mean that you can’t get a job, continue in a job, or be excellent at what you choose to do.
Having epilepsy may have little or no effect on pursuing a rewarding career. Although there may be some restrictions in certain careers (e.g. bus drivers, pilots) for safety reasons, there are many options in employment choices.
In some cases, uncontrolled seizures, the side effects of medication, or the inability to drive, may alter employment decisions. Some people with epilepsy have found that starting a business, job sharing, or working as part of a co-op offers alternatives.
If your seizures do prevent you from working, there are many ways to use your skills including volunteering, developing a hobby, or pursuing an artistic talent.
Although the public is becoming more knowledgeable about epilepsy, people with epilepsy sometimes face discrimination and/or an under-utilization of skills in the workplace. Although physical disabilities are protected grounds under human rights legislation and the Canadian Human Rights Act does not allow discrimination by an employer due to a disability such as epilepsy, a lack of knowledge about the condition may result in a bias on the part of an employer. An employer may have concerns over safety, reliability, or liability yet studies on individuals with epilepsy in the workplace do not support those concerns.
Each province and territory has legislation intended to protect the rights outlined in the Canadian human rights laws. Anyone who has experienced discrimination in the workplace because of a disability may file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission in the appropriate province or territory.
Under Canadian human rights law, however, it is
not considered discriminatory on the part of an employer if an act taken
by an employer is considered to be reasonable and justifiable under the
circumstances. Employers are not expected to hire or continue to employ
a person whose disability notably increases the probability of health or
safety hazards to himself or herself, other employees, and/or the
public. For instance, an individual subject to epilepsy-related seizures
may not be suited to safely working on heights or driving a truck. It is
the responsibility of the employer to demonstrate that the individual’s
disability would threaten his or her safety or the safety of others.
Duty to Accommodate
Accommodation is the process through which a worksite is modified to remove barriers for a person with a disability. Under the Canadian Human Rights Act and under some provincial codes, it is the duty of employers to make reasonable efforts to accommodate individuals with epilepsy in the workplace unless such accommodation would cause undue hardship. Accommodation can be as simple as moving furniture in an office or allowing you to trade work with another employee. Details on how safety can be improved in a job through reasonable accommodation are available through local organizations offering employment assistance for persons with disabilities and through The Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW).
Applying for a job
In some provinces, legislation restricts pre-employment inquiries. For example, in Alberta, it is your decision how or when or whether you disclose your epilepsy to an employer. Employers are not allowed in job applications or in interviews to ask about an applicant’s physical condition. Contact the Human Rights Commission in your province or territory for information regarding disclosure.
When applying for a job, find out about the legislation in your area. Then consider the advantages and disadvantages of disclosing your condition and make your decision.
For example, being open about your epilepsy in a job interview may focus too much emphasis on your condition but it will have the advantage of giving you peace of mind.
Telling an employer that you have epilepsy after you have started working provides you with the opportunity to prove yourself first but the employer may feel that you have not been honest.
If you would like to find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of disclosure regarding employment, contact your local epilepsy association.