Epilepsy and employment
Having seizures may make seeking and gaining employment more challenging, but not impossible. Skills, abilities, qualifications and experience should be qualities that are most important to any potential employer.
Your epilepsy is only relevant if you have seizures that are likely to interfere with your ability to do your job or if it places you, or others, at risk in the workplace.
Getting a job
Being informed about your options, rights and how to speak about epilepsy (should you choose to) will improve your chances of securing employment.
While you may not identify as having a disability, there are several Australian Government specialist support programs for people living with epilepsy seeking employment:
Some organisations and workplace have proactive policies or programs to encourage a diverse workforce, including people living with a disability. You can find Maria’s story about her Treasury experience which outlines the AccessAbility program at Queensland Treasury in the article below.
Disclosing epilepsy in the workplace
Misconceptions about epilepsy and fear of stigma may lead to reluctance to tell your employer that you live with epilepsy and/or experience seizures. Ultimately, your health is a personal and private issue and whether or not you disclose your epilepsy is up to you.
Whilst there is no legal requirement for an employee to disclose their epilepsy to their employer or colleagues, if people in your workplace are aware of your condition, it may reduce risks associated with a seizure. It also means they can be prepared to assist you if required, and will be aware of safety issues that may apply to you. If your direct supervisor/s are informed, they can then make reasonable accommodations for you should they be required.
To comply with their responsibilities under the Workplace Health And Safety Act 2011, employers need to be aware of any condition that requires them to change working practices or the work environment to enhance safety.
If you do choose to tell your employer, they are legally obligated to keep the information confidential and not reveal that information to anyone else without your permission.
When is disclosing epilepsy lawfully required?
Certain jobs will require an employee to disclose any medical conditions and/or medical history. There may also be a requirement for a health and fitness check before commencing a role. In most cases, this is for jobs that have a legitimate requirement for the person undertaking the position to be physically fit.
Medical forms are legal documents that must be filled out as accurately as possible. In such circumstances, failing to disclose your epilepsy can be genuine grounds for dismissal.
Unfortunately there are some vocations that are not available to anyone with epilepsy, even where seizure control has been achieved.
- Air traffic control
- Commercial driver (e.g. train, tram, bus)
- Jobs involving high voltage electricity, heights, heavy machinery or water.
Employment rights for people with epilepsy
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 makes disability discrimination unlawful and aims to promote equal opportunity and access for people with disabilities. Under the Act, individuals can lodge complaints of discrimination and harassment with the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). AHRC undertakes a wide range of activities to assist individuals and organisations to understand their rights and meet their legal responsibilities.
Federal and State anti-discrimination laws legally protect people with epilepsy from discrimination. You are entitled to take legal action if you believe you have been discriminated against because of your epilepsy.
If you believe you have been unfairly treated in the workplace due to your epilepsy status and would like to speak confidentially with someone, you can contact our Services team on 07 3435 5000 (metro) or 1300 852 853 (outside Brisbane).
Workplace safety tips
- Identify any risks that may apply to you
- Are there modifications that can be made to improve safety?
- Consider disclosing your epilepsy to your colleagues and educating them in seizure first aid
- Keep consistent work hours where possible, so your sleep patterns are not disrupted
- Limit your exposure to flashing lights if this is a trigger for you
- Look to minimise stress on the job- this is a common seizure trigger
- Exercise extra care around heights, water or machinery
Workplace advocacy and training
Epilepsy Queensland can assist with conversations with employers to help build an understanding of epilepsy or provide you with wording should you wish to disclose epilepsy to your employer. We also offer in-house or on-site training for Understanding Epilepsy and Seizure First Aid to help build understanding in the workplace and help employees feel comfortable in assisting someone who has a seizure. You can find out more here and about upcoming training opportunities here.
If you are unable to work due to uncontrolled seizures, this does not mean you cannot make a positive contribution should you choose to.
At Epilepsy Queensland we love our volunteers who are valued contributors to our organisation and assist in a wide variety of tasks. Interested? You can register here.
Fair Go Award
Each December at Epilepsy Queensland’s Annual Celebration we present the Fair Go Award in memory of long-time active member Fred White. The Award is dedicated to a person or an organisation that has given a person with epilepsy “a fair go”, particularly in the employment arena. To nominate for this award contact our services team on firstname.lastname@example.org.