Adults with epilepsy might worry about their ability to find and keep a job. But having epilepsy does not mean you are unable to work. In fact, most jobs are suitable for people with well-controlled epilepsy.
Some people with epilepsy are not able to work due to their seizures or related medical conditions. These people can consider applying for disability benefits after a doctor has evaluated their medical status and has formally notified the appropriate agencies. The criteria for disability are complex, and should be discussed with your doctor.
A number of factors can affect your ability to find a job and perform it successfully. These include:
- Your seizure type (focal or generalized onset) and level of seizure control
- How your epilepsy or your medicines affect your thinking and memory
- Depression, anxiety, or social isolation you may experience because of your epilepsy
Employment Services & Programs
Employment services are available through state and federal programs that can help people with interview skills, self-confidence, efficiency in handling work-related problems, and job retention skills.
Additionally, in many communities, organizations like the Epilepsy Foundation offer programs that can help people find a job, and provide employers with education and awareness training.
You Have Rights
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. The ADA applies to government and private employers with 15 or more employees. It covers all phases of hiring and employment, so be sure to familirize yourself with the law.
*You can access information and technical assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As an Applicant…
Employers cannot ask your medical conditions, use of prescriptions drugs, or any history of filing workers’ compensation.
- If you choose to disclose your epilepsy during an interview, the employer cannot ask follow-up questions about your treatment or prognosis.
- Once you have voluntarily disclosed your epilepsy, an employer can ask if you will need reasonable workplace accommodations
- The employer must keep your disclosure of a medical condition confidential
Employers can ask whether you have a current driver’s license or if you are able to operate or if you able to operate heavy machinery.
If you choose to tell a potential employer about your epilepsy, be sure to say how long you have been seizure-free. If you have occasional seizures, explain what they are like. If you have never had a convulsive seizure, mention that, too.
*More than half of people with epilepsy are employed on a full time or part time basis, according to recent surveys.
After a Job is Offered..
If a job offer is made and ¥ou have disclosed your epilepsy, the employer can:
- Ask questions about your health or disability. You may be asked to take a medical examination if it is required for all applicants for the same position
- Ask questions such as:
- Have you held a similar job since your diagnosis?
- Do you take any medications?
- Do you still have seizures and if so, what type? How long does it take you to recover after having a seizure?
- Do you need assistance if a seizure occurs at work?
- Ask for a follow-up medical examination or ask your doctor to submit documentation about your ability to perform job functions safely
People with active epilepsy may consider disclosing their epilepsy during this interview process or after an offer has been made if they feel a workplace accommodation is needed. Many employers view this gesture your condition after you have started a job if you feel more comfortable with this approach.
- An employer cannot withdraw a job offer if the applicant can perform the essential function with or without reasonable accommodation, and does not pose a safety risk to themselves or coworkers.
As an Employee…
Once you are on the job, your employer can ask about your epilepsy or request a medical examination if they believe there is a job performance issue related to your condition
You must keep your medical information confidential, except disclosing it:
- To supervisors to address any workplace accommodations that have been implemented
- To First-aid and safety personnel who may need to administer emergency care
- To people investigating ADA compliance
- When needed for workers’ compensation, insurance, or ADA compliance purposes
Cannot disclose your medical information to coworkers, even if they have witnessed a seizure while on the job
* Doctors, notable neurologists and occupational physicans are often involved in decisions regarding employment for people with epilepsy.
- With good seizure control, you should be able to pursue most employment opportunities you are interested in.
Most people with epilepsy can travel safely. If your job requires you to travel, plan ahead to make your trip as safe as possible.
- Consider the impact of known seizure triggers (stress or lack of sleep) that you may encounter while traveling
- Identify potential healthcare resources at your destination
- Make sure you have enough medicine for the duration of your trip
You may be able to work with your health insurance company to have an extra supply of your anti-epileptic medicine while traveling.
When possible, consider traveling with a companion who is aware of your epilepsy.
Travel by car -> If you drive, take frequent breaks and do not drive when you are overtired
Commercial Driving: In the United States, restrictions on commercial driving for people with epilepsy are stricter than for operating a personal vehicle. Commercial restrictions generally do not apply to cab drivers, chauffeurs, or drivers of vehicles with less than a specified number of people. These regulations vary from state to state.
Travel by plane -> Most people with well-controlled seizures can fly on commercial airplanes . In some cases, you may need a letter from your doctor.
Travel by train or bus: This could be a good option for people who cannot drive, and when air travel is not a realistic option.
Risk of having an on-the-job accident should be carefully considered by people with epilepsy and their employers, especially when higher physical risk may be involved.
- You can request workplace accommodations for your epilepsy to minimize the risk of having a seizure on the job
- If workplace accommodations are not enough, your employer can exclude you from a job when safety concerns pose a direct and real threat to you and your coworkers
- Your employer can ask for for periodic medical reports if there is a real concern that you do not see your physician regularly
Jobs with epilepsy – or seizure-specific standards and restrictions include:
- Commercial (interstate, Federal license, Airplane pilot, Military service, Law enforcement (ruled vary by state)
Accommodations are not required for all employees with epilepsy. However, reasonable workplace accommodations when necessary allow employees to enjoy equal employment without employees to enjoy equal employment without undue hardship. Most require little or no cost to the employer.
Your employer may ask for documentation of the need for accommodations from your healthcare provider.
Here are examples of workplace accommodations that you might want to talk about with your employer include:
Seizure – related
- Taking breaks to take medication
- Having a private area to rest after a seizure
- Having a rubber mat or carpet to cushion a fall
- Having a checklist (written or pictorial) of things to remember
- Attending training refreshers
- Having a checklist of assignments
- Dividing large tasks into smaller assignments
- Use of an electronic or handheld organizer
- Referrals for employee assistance programs
- Allowing employee to make phone calls to healthcare providers
- Modified or flexible work schedules
- Pairing employees with coworkers who can drive to and from offsite activities
- Transferring employees to jobs that do not require driving
- Use of rubber mats on floors and padding around corners/edges to help prevent injuries
- Use of rolling safety ladders with handrails and wheel locks
- Providing head and eye protection
- Moving to an alternative job position better suited to your skills
People with epilepsy cannot become members of the United States military unless they have been seizure- free since 5 years of age, or seizure-free without the use of anti-epileptic medicines for 5 years.
The rationale for this restriction is that members of the armed forces need to be available for worldwide service on an emergency basis, and in areas where medical support may be limited.
For people who develop epilepsy while serving in the military, medicine may be permitted but complete seizure control and freedom from seizures are in the required standard for remaining in service.