If you have epilepsy, it’s important that you, your employer and everyone else in your life understands that the condition varies from person to person. If you feel comfortable doing so, telling your employer about your epilepsy can be beneficial as it will allow them to organise epilepsy awareness training or make adjustments to improve your work environment. Your employer is not allowed to fire you for having a disability.
Under the Equality Act, people with disabilities should not be treated unfairly compared to those without disabilities. Coming into effect in October 2010, the Equality Act 2020 replaced nine previous laws aiming to protect people from discrimination. One of the laws it replaced was the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) 1995.
Top Tip: Tell People about Your Epilepsy
Your employer needs to know whether their employees have any medical conditions that could affect their work for health and safety reasons, but you aren’t required to tell your employer the specific nature of your condition. You may be worried about losing your job if you develop epilepsy, or if you already had epilepsy but the symptoms are becoming an issue.
If you are about to start a new job, already have a job or are thinking of getting back into work, and have epilepsy, the advice in this article may be useful to you. There are a number of types of disability discrimination that could take place in a working environment. Importantly, even if you do not consider yourself to be ‘disabled’, if you have epilepsy, you are protected by the Equality Act. This is the case even if your seizures are under control.
This protection is vital, as having epilepsy can make entering the world of work even more difficult than it is for your peers without epilepsy.
What Does It Mean to Have a Disability?
According to the Equality Act 2010, you have a disability if you have “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [your] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.” The impairment needs to have lasted at least 12 months to be considered “long-term”, while “substantial” means it is difficult and time-consuming to do activities compared to someone without a disability.
Being able to concentrate, get where you need to go, hear, see and remember are all classed as “day-to-day activities”.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be disabled, epilepsy is a long-term, physical condition which qualifies you for protection under the Equality Act even if your seizures are controlled.
Disability Discrimination Types
In terms of employment, the Equality Act protects people from several different types of disability discrimination. [The Equality Act 2010 does not cover unpaid volunteer work]. Making sure you are able to keep your job is your employer’s responsibility under this act, and they must be prepared to make reasonable adjustments. Temporary adjustments should be available when necessary, while permanent adjustments may need to change over time.
If someone with a disability is being put at a disadvantage because their employer insists on treating everyone the same, this is known as indirect discrimination. People who use wheelchairs, for example, will be put at a disadvantage if their employer introduces a rule that “everyone must use the stairs”. People with and without disabilities may sometimes need to be treated differently in order for them to have equal opportunities.
Perceived and Associative Discrimination and Harassment
Without a justifiable reason, it is illegal for an employer to treat someone with a disability differently from someone without a disability. This is known as direct discrimination, and examples include…
- Associative discrimination, where someone is treated unfairly because they are connected to someone else with a disability – for example, if they aren’t promoted just because they have a child with a disability.
- Harassment, where someone is unjustifiably treated differently because of a disability, in a way that is humiliating or offensive.
- Perceptive discrimination, where it is assumed that someone has a disability and is unable to carry out day-to-day activities, resulting in unfair treatment of the individual. An example of this would be an employer assuming that someone who has epilepsy will be worse at a job than someone who does not have epilepsy.
Failure to Make Reasonable Adjustments
So that a person with a disability is not put at a disadvantage, employers are expected to make certain changes known as reasonable adjustments. An employer might agree to record sick leave and time off work for medical appointments separately, for example. An employee with a disability will be at a disadvantage if the employer refuses to do this without a justifiable reason.
If your seizures are becoming a problem or you have recently received a diagnosis of epilepsy, your doctor may refer you to a specialist to review your condition. This specialist should be able to answer any questions you have about working with epilepsy. For example, they may be able to suggest some reasonable adjustments your employer can make for you.
Working with no disadvantages is possible for up to 70% of people with epilepsy, if they are given the right medication to stop their seizures. The remaining 30% may continue to have seizures regularly.
Also known as discrimination arising from disability, this occurs when something connected with someone’s disability results in their unfair treatment. An example of this would be unjustifiably telling someone with a visual impairment that they can’t bring their guide dog to work.
Remember: It’s helpful for at least one colleague to know about your condition so that they know what’s happening and how they can help if you do have a seizure in work.
If you complain on your own behalf or on behalf of someone else about any form of discrimination, and are treated unfairly as a result, this is known as victimisation and is prohibited under the Equality Act.
For more information about epilepsy, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to Epilepsy which discusses everything from diagnosis and the types of treatment available to practical advice on managing epilepsy effectively and coping with it in everyday life. Understanding epilepsy and the seizures it can cause is the key to gaining control of its symptoms and enjoying your life more fully.