Is Employment Affected by Epilepsy?

Most people with epilepsy are able to work in the full range of jobs. Neither the condition itself nor the treatments for it will affect their ability to work. There are people with epilepsy serving successfully in every walk of life.

Unfortunately, epilepsy is often still stigmatized and people face discrimination. Sometimes people are reluctant to tell their employers they have epilepsy or seizures because they learn through bitter experiences that it can be used against them.

People with epilepsy can face significant challenges in the workplace, and many advocacy efforts are underway to increase the employment and success rates for people with epilepsy in the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted to prohibit disability-based discrimination. Many provisions of the ADA have particular impact on people with epilepsy, including inclusion for safety-sensitive jobs and reasonable accommodation.

Getting a Job

Today people with epilepsy are working at hundreds of different kinds of jobs from one end of the country to the other. Many of these people have excellent seizure control, but not all of them do. Having occasional (or even fairly frequent) seizures may make your job hunt more difficult, but not impossible.

In fact, there are certain things you can do to increase your chances of getting a job. If you are just entering the job market, decide what sort of job you want and take a long look at the qualifications you'll need to reach that goal. The better qualified you are, the better your chances of success.

Seizure Control

If your seizure control is not yet good enough for you to get a driver's license, avoid occupations that would require you to drive as part of the job, or that would place you in hazardous situations. Think about jobs that allow you to work at home, at your own pace. Keep in mind that the growth of the Internet economy has created many non-traditional job opportunities for people with computer skills.

If your seizure control is completely reliable, almost all jobs should be open to you. In fact, the only thing you may want to do that other job applicants don't is to learn how to talk comfortably about epilepsy with other people so that, if you discuss your epilepsy with an employer, you can explain how much or how little impact it has on your ability to perform your job well.

Disclosing Epilepsy With a Potential Employer

It is not always necessary to discuss epilepsy with a potential employer, however. Whether you do or not is up to you. If you have excellent seizure control and the employer does not ask any health-related questions, there's no reason to start talking about epilepsy unless you want to. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers with more than 15 employees may not ask any health-related questions until after they have offered you the job.

The important thing is whether you are able to do the job as described. Employers are also required to make reasonable accommodation for a disability.

If you decide to talk about your epilepsy, or if you have to because of a legal question from the employer (after a job has been offered), remember that the more confident, well-informed, and relaxed you can be, the more reassured the employer is likely to be.

Explain how long you've had epilepsy and how well it's controlled. If you drive, say so. Say how long you've been seizure-free. Explain that research studies show the longer people are free of seizures, the greater the likelihood they will stay that way.
If you've never had a convulsive seizure in your life, mention that as well. Remember, the average person thinks everyone with epilepsy has convulsions all the time.

If you have only occasional seizures, point that out, too. Explain that if one should occur it will only last a very short time. And always explain how this condition actually affects your ability to perform in a job. Remember, too, that studies show people who have acquired good job skills have a better chance of getting a job, whether or not they have epilepsy.

Your Rights

If you feel you have been unfairly treated by a prospective employer and you want to challenge it, check with a lawyer. Many courts have recognized epilepsy as a disability and that many people with a history of epilepsy are considered disabled because of the varied nature of seizures.

The ADA prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who are able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation. Find out about reasonable accommodations for people with epilepsy or visit our advocacy section for more information about efforts to strengthen and reinforce the ADA.

While many people with epilepsy are able to maintain regular employment without interruption, others may need to miss work because of seizures, changes in medication, or to visit a doctor for regular monitoring. The federal laws that protect employees are known as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Safety-Sensitive Jobs

People with epilepsy are able to perform a wide array of jobs safely and effectively and are successfully employed in a variety of jobs that might be considered high-risk: police officer, firefighter, welder, butcher, construction worker, etc. Depending on the degree of seizure control, it is entirely possible that a person with epilepsy may pose no greater risk on the job than the average person without epilepsy. There are some jobs, however, where the perceived risk to public safety is so high that the federal government has established rules limiting who can perform these jobs.

Permissible Medical Exams and Inquiries

Prior to the offer of a job, an employer may NOT ask whether an applicant has a disability, inquire about the severity of a disability, or make any inquiry that is likely to elicit information about a disability. Once employment begins, an employer may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations only if they are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

Financially Surviving a Leave of Absence

It’s possible that your seizure disorder may require you to take a leave of absence from your job--at least for a while. If you have made that decision, there are several areas you should explore so you can weather this change. Find out more about taking a leave of absence.

Changing Jobs

You may want to change jobs for reasons that have nothing to do with epilepsy. Or, you may have to change jobs because of your seizure disorder. Regardless of the reasons, there are some issues - like transportation, health care, disability insurance and retirement funds - to keep in mind if you decide to look for a new job. Review these issues in changing jobs.