People with epilepsy can and do work in the nursery nursing, teaching and learning professions. Epilepsy itself is not an automatic barrier to working in these careers or accessing relevant training and work placements. Decisions on fitness to teach or practice must be made on an individual basis. A failure to do so might amount to disability discrimination. To maintain the health and welfare of the employee and those in their care, reasonable adjustments might be required.
The Equality Act (England, Scotland and Wales) and the Disability Discrimination Act (Northern Ireland) protect the rights of people with epilepsy from many forms of disability discrimination. This includes the rights of people who either work or are seeking work in nursery nursing, teaching and learning. However, to work as a teacher a person must meet the Secretary of State’s requirement for health and physical capacity to teach.
Occasionally we are contacted by employers wanting more information about epilepsy. Their concern is about the health and welfare of the person with epilepsy, and the students in their care. To support a person to carry out their duties safely, risk assessments, re-definition of role and reasonable adjustments might be needed.
The appropriate action to take will depend on the person’s individual experience, and the work setting. There are many different types of epilepsy, seizures and treatments. For this reason, each person will experience epilepsy in a way that is unique to them. This includes:
- what happens during a seizure
- how long a seizure lasts
- whether they get a warning before a seizure
- how frequently their seizures occur
- whether they have a seizure pattern (for example they might only have seizures at night)
- how quickly they recover from a seizure
- whether any first aid or further care is usually needed.
In some cases it might be necessary to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable the person to continue their employment or participate in training and work placements. This is a requirement expressed in the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act. It is also worth noting that financial support to fund the reasonable adjustments might be available from Access to Work.
A nursery nurse occasionally has a tonic-clonic seizure that occurs without any warning. Reasonable adjustments (to reduce potential risks to children in their care) might include:
- Redefining the role to minimise or remove lifting and carrying of small children
- Using a pushchair rather than carrying a child from one room to another
- Seating a baby in a bouncer chair (rather than holding them) when engaging in play
A student on an initial teacher training course is due to start a work placement in year one. They occasionally have atonic seizures, which cause them to very quickly fall to the floor. They quickly recover from a seizure, as long as they haven’t being injured during the fall.
The reasonable adjustments might include:
- A risk assessment to make the work environment as safe as possible, and reduce injury should they have a seizure. For example using anti-tip straps on computer monitors, rubber corners on the corners of desks, tables and radiators.
- You both might decide that a reasonable adjustment is not required. For example the student might already wear a helmet for their own safety.
A year seven class teacher has had a few tonic-clonic seizures recently. They get a warning sign before a seizure, but say they won’t be able to seek help. After a seizure, they need to rest for an hour, but then feel well enough to continue their work. Reasonable adjustments might include:
- Using a seizure alert alarm. This would sound when a seizure occurs.
- Using a card system. When the teacher believes that a seizure is going to happen, they sit down and alert the class. A pupil will then take the red card to reception, the head’s office or another teacher. That member of staff can then arrange for class cover and provide basic first aid.
Epilepsy Action can provide resources to help you explain to school children what happens during a seizure. This includes a first aid video for tonic-clonic seizures -firstaid.
A teaching assistant wants to join a group of staff, taking pupils from year six on a residential trip. S/he experiences regular myoclonic jerks, but only in the morning. Reasonable adjustments might include:
- Excusing them from helping make, set up and clear the children’s breakfasts and packed lunches in the morning. This is to reduce the risk of spilling food, drink and cutlery.
- Planning the morning and afternoon activities appropriately. For example, the supervision of some activities won’t be impaired by their seizures. However it might be safer to organise other activities (for example rock climbing) in the afternoon.
A lecturer in your department experiences clusters of absence seizures. They tell you that while morning lectures are fine, they seem to occur more frequently in the late afternoon repeat lecture. The reasonable adjustment might include:
- Recording the morning lecture. This can then be replayed in the afternoon lecture, with the lecturer in attendance.
A lecturer reports that their seizure frequency has increased since they started giving evening and night time lectures. This is affecting their health and the quality of their work. The reasonable adjustment might include:
- Reinstating the employees previous work pattern. Shift work is unsuitable for some people with epilepsy.
This list of potential reasonable adjustments is not exhaustive and each person and their epilepsy should be considered individually.