Working With Epilepsy: Employee Rights and Concerns

Whether You Have to Tell Your Employer About Your Condition and More

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Employee rights are, of course, important for anyone with a job, but they're especially important when you have a medical condition such as epilepsy.

Epilepsy occurs when seizures are caused by abnormal electrical firing in brain cells. About three million people in the United States have some form of epilepsy. The condition can strike at any age and in any ethnic group.


Living with epilepsy does not necessarily mean that you are restricted in what you can do, but it may raise some concerns on the part of your employer. Because of this, you need to know exactly what your rights are as an employee with epilepsy.

How Epilepsy May Affect Your Career

Despite the many treatment options that are available to help manage seizures, individuals with epilepsy may still fear having problems getting a job or keeping one—even when their seizures are well managed. However, studies show that people with epilepsy who are employed have a better quality of life, so there's a good reason to try to get and keep a job.

It is a myth 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 (Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was reportedly diagnosed with the condition following a seizure in 2007).

People with epilepsy can be teachers, doctors, nurses, or lawyers, among other professions, and they can also work in retail or serve as customer service representatives. They can even perform well in more labor-intensive fields, such as construction, welding, and law enforcement.

Protection Again Potential Discrimination

There are federal and state laws in place that are designed to prevent employers from discriminating against individuals with epilepsy.

One of these laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibits discrimination against individuals with any type of disability.

For example, employers are forbidden to ask whether you have epilepsy (or any other medical condition) before a job offer is made, and you're not required to disclose your condition during that process. Employers can ask about your health status and may even require a medical exam following a job offer, but they must treat all applicants equally. That means that they can't single you out for having epilepsy.

Should You Tell Your Employer?

You don’t have to tell your current employer about your condition if you don't want to do so. There are some good reasons to disclose, and there are also some good reasons not to tell.

Some people may decide to reveal their diagnosis simply because they don't want to hide anything. Others might do it because they feel that their co-workers need to understand 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 co-workers and employer about their epilepsy because they value their medical privacy, or fear that their diagnosis may be used against them.

Again, telling your employer about your condition is a personal decision, not a requirement.

Be aware that your condition may come up if you participate in urine drug screening, since some anticonvulsants, such as phenobarbital, may produce positive test results. It is important for your employer to know the medications that you are taking in case your drug screen tests positive for a medication that you use to prevent seizures. This way, he or she can draw proper conclusions from those positive test results.

Requesting Special Accommodations

If you have epilepsy, there are 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 and your overall health—is very important. So, if you have a very demanding job that requires you to work long hours or different shifts, 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 that you can make to make your work environment safer just in case you do have a seizure while you are on the job.

Safety requirements for positions where you must drive vary from state to state. If you have epilepsy, some states might require you to be seizure-free for a certain period of time before you're allowed to drive, whereas other states may require the approval of a healthcare provider in order to allow you to drive.

View Article Sources
  • U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Questions & Answers about Epilepsy in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) fact sheet.