Epilepsy and Employment

This is different in every workplace. It is also different in every country, where there are different employment laws, human rights laws, etc. It is different when working in places that have unions, human resource departments, or other channels for support or recourse.

 

With that said…

 

Employment is a sensitive subject for a lot of people with epilepsy or seizure conditions. Because the description of “epilepsy” can refer to so many types of conditions and seizures, employment opportunities can be different in every way. As an invisible disability, it’s something that exists, but is hard to tangibly prove short of actually having a full seizure in front of an audience.

 

I have had seizures in former workplaces, I have taken sick days as a result of a seizure, and I have shown up at work with a black eye (or missing teeth) as a result of seizures. Missing teeth and facial stitches can’t be easily hidden.

 

A while ago I heard an employment lawyer give the advice to “not tell a potential employer about epilepsy during an interview”. I am not a lawyer, however, I am epileptic, I am employed, and I completely disagree with his statement. There are more things that a person with epilepsy has to consider when they are looking into employment than just seizures. Pretending the condition doesn’t exist does not benefit anyone.

 

Who To Tell

 

This is more than just letting the first aid attendant know (which is always a good idea). I have let my supervisors, the team I work with, and the entire office know, and more than just “I have epilepsy”. I write out a summary on how to respond if I have a seizure while at work. This is important not only for my personal well-being but so that my coworkers have a heads-up that I have a condition and how to respond.

 

Why is this hard? I never know how people will react. Some people will be uncomfortable. Some people will be supportive. People are afraid of panicking. Panicking is okay. I panicked the first time I saw someone I care about have a seizure.

 

Sick Days

 

Our reality is that we may need more sick days than an neuro-typical employee. Letting your potential employer know that from the start allows them to be aware of this. This is not something to shy away from, and if an employer is going to turn you down because of it, you probably don’t want to work for them anyway. People take sick days because they have kids or pets. People take sick days because they are tired and need a break.

 

Why is this hard? Because I can’t take sick days when I am feeling down and out. I have to ensure that my sick days are saved for if I really need them.

 

Work Load

 

Depending on the industry, we may have individually assigned responsibilities. Here’s a tip for employees with epilepsy: Always stay up-to-date on your workload. Because there is always the chance that we will miss a day or two because of a seizure, it’s easier to stay caught up on work and not get behind. Then when we come back, we might be a day or two behind, but it’s not mountainous.

 

Why is this hard? When coworkers are chatting about weekend plans, sometimes it means we have to stay at our desk and seem anti-social.

 

Gratuity

 

There are people who say that I should be “grateful” to be employed because of my epilepsy. I am not. The work I do, the careers I have been in, I did not get there based on altruism. I got there because of my education and my experience. I am in the work force because I am hard-working, etc. and I have earned my right to be there.

 

Why is this hard? This plays on pre-existing insecurity about the condition. [Note: Anyone who tries to make anyone else believe that they should be “grateful” to be working (or guilty for not being grateful) should go fornicate independently]

 

——

 

I can go on for a long time about employment and epilepsy. As previously mentioned, it’s a sensitive subject for a lot of people. When I was first diagnosed, I was told that it would be difficult or impossible for me to ever obtain employment. That was in 1999. I still have epilepsy and I have had a number of different jobs in my life.

 

Everyone has the right to consider into their future and hope that they can work in the job of their dreams. Any worthwhile employer is going to consider a medical condition as something to be prepared for, not as a detriment. Employment is difficult to navigate at the best of times; it is more challenging with a major medical condition. Yet, it is not impossible.

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