Navigating Epilepsy in the Workplace

By Brianna Romines | Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan

Have you ever found yourself in one of these positions?

– You’ve spent the last half hour filling out a job application, and just as you pick up that pen one last time to sign it, you think, “Wait, should I share this with them…?”

– You’re staring at your computer screen. You’ve already attached your resume, and you’re rightly proud of it. You’ve typed out that cover letter too, but just before you hit send on that email, you have some hesitation, “Am I supposed to tell them…?”

– You’re sitting in front of an interviewer, excited to talk about your skills and experience. You’re doing all you can to stay confident, but at the very same time, you’re a little nervous too because you want to ensure that you’re protected from discrimination. “What if they find out that I have epilepsy?”

Do I have to tell them? And how do I make sure that I’m physically safe in the workplace if I have a seizure? When and how do I share this?

My name is Brianna Romines, and I’m the President at the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan. In conversations with the members of our epilepsy community, I can tell you that these are common questions and concerns when people apply for employment. Whether you have epilepsy or another disability, I want to assure you that you have rights in the workplace, both when you apply for employment and when you serve as an employee.

Let’s talk about both of these.

Applying for a Job

I want to begin by sharing that people with disabilities are protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This signature legislation, passed in 1990, codifies into law that people cannot be discriminated against in workplaces, educational settings, and more due to a disability.

As such, it is illegal for an employer to ask you if you have a disability. Applications and interviewers can ask, however, “Can you do this job with or without accommodations?” A person is always free to choose whether, when, and how they disclose epilepsy or any other disability. But legally, no one is required to disclose a disability.

The decision to disclose is a personal choice. A person with epilepsy may choose to be upfront with a potential employer or interviewer if they want to discuss their safety on the job. For instance, they might want to know, “How would a potential employer react if I were to have a seizure in the workplace?” Some may say, “If this employer is going to be uneasy with me working there, I’d rather know that at the start.” Disclosure is a personal choice.

But many people with epilepsy wait to disclose their epilepsy until after they are offered the job. This is really the only way to know if epilepsy is a discriminatory factor. If the employer withdraws a job offer due to epilepsy, that is discrimination, and that is illegal. If a person disclosed their epilepsy in the application process, and they don’t get the job, it’s difficult to know if it was due to their epilepsy or if another applicant was chosen.

Protections at Work

Additionally, there is no point in employment in which a person is required to disclose their disability. This also applies when a person begins their employment. Some people with epilepsy may choose to disclose their disability at some point in their working process in order to create a safety plan for seizures or to request accommodations.

In either case, these conversations can be held with a supervisor or with HR. It is important for employers to honor confidentiality as well. In conversation with you, employers may request information from a neurologist, epileptologist, or another relevant physician. If a seizure action plan is needed, all parties can play a role in crafting what is most helpful for safety on the job.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, people can request accommodations in employment settings as well. While employers are able to define the essential functions of the job, employees can request reasonable accommodations to assist them in doing the job. For instance, if a person tends to have seizures upon waking in the morning, could an employer shift their start time to be later in the day? Or if a person has difficulty with memory, a common experience for many with epilepsy, can the employee create a system to take notes or make voice recordings? Those are just a couple of suggestions, but there are many options for accommodations based on the unique needs of a particular employee.

To close, please know that you’re not alone. We are here for you, as are many disability advocacy organizations like Joshin. And if you need help with questions about employment, we also encourage you to visit:

Inclusive Support Starts Here