This information about the Equality Act applies to people who live in England Scotland and Wales. If you live in Northern Ireland, see our information about epilepsy and your rights in Northern Ireland.
If you are looking for information about disability discrimination in another country, please contact your local epilepsy organisation.
If you have epilepsy in England, Scotland or Wales, you are likely to be classed as disabled under the Equality Act (a different law applies in Northern Ireland). The Equality Act protects you from disability discrimination:
- At work
- When using public services like healthcare and education
- When using service providers like gyms, shops, restaurants and cinemas
- When you use transport
- When you join a club or association
- When you have contact with public bodies like your local council or a government department
Public bodies also have a duty to prevent discrimination, ensure equal opportunities for disabled people and encourage good relations between disabled and non-disabled people. This is called the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Is epilepsy classed as a disability?
You are likely to be considered disabled under the Equality Act if:
- Your epilepsy has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do day-to-day activities or
- It's not having a substantial effect now, but it would do if you were not having treatment or
- It's not having a substantial effect now, but is likely to in the future
Day-to-day activities include things like driving, cooking and using various forms of transport. Long-term means you must have been, or expect to be, affected for at least 12 months.
The Equality Act is also likely to protect you from discrimination if you've had epilepsy in the past.
If you are classed as disabled under the Equality Act, this doesn't always mean you will qualify for benefits or services for disabled people. These usually have their own eligibility criteria which you would need to meet.
What is disability discrimination?
Disability discrimination is when you are treated unfairly or put at a disadvantage for a reason related to your disability. There are 6 main types of disability discrimination.
This is when someone treats you worse than other people, and the treatment is either because of your disability, or your connection to someone with a disability.
Examples of direct discrimination:
A landlord will not rent a flat to you because you have epilepsy.
Your work is having a staff social event to which family members are invited. You are not invited because your son has epilepsy.
This is when a general rule or practice that applies to everyone puts disabled people at a disadvantage compared to people who aren't disabled. This is unlawful, unless the organisation or employer can show they had a good reason for the rule or practice. See Is it ever lawful for people to discriminate against me because of my epilepsy?
Example of indirect discrimination:
A job advert lists having a driving licence as an essential requirement. This puts you at a disadvantage because your seizures prevent you from getting a driving licence. If the advert is for a job as a bus driver, the requirement is justified and is not discrimination. But if it's for a retail manager who sometimes travels to different sites this will be harder to justify.
Discrimination arising from a disability
This is when someone treats you badly because of something connected to your disability, such as needing time off for medical appointments. It is discrimination if the person or organisation knew, or should have known, about your disability. Discrimination arising from a disability is unlawful, unless the organisation or employer can show they had a good reason. See Is it ever lawful for people to discriminate against me because of my epilepsy?
Example of discrimination arising from a disability:
You have a long absence from work because of your epilepsy. Your employer dismisses you because of that absence, even though they could have covered your work duties. This will be discrimination unless your employer can show that dismissing you was justified.
Failure to make a reasonable adjustment
Under the Equality Act employers and organisations must make sure that disabled people can access jobs, education and services as easily as non-disabled people. This is called the duty to make reasonable adjustments. This could include:
- Making changes to a rule, requirement or practice
- Making changes to buildings or premises
- Providing equipment that will help you
The organisation or employer must not pass the cost of any adjustments onto you. Failure to make reasonable adjustments could be unlawful under the Equality Act.
What counts as 'reasonable' depends on a number of things, including:
- How practical it is for the organisation to make the adjustment
- How much it would cost
- How much it would reduce the disadvantage you face
Examples of reasonable adjustments:
Your epilepsy means you sometimes struggle to remember things, so your college arranges equipment for you to record lectures.
An employer allows you to start and finish work later than other employees, if you usually have seizures first thing in the morning.
Read more about reasonable adjustments at work for people with epilepsy.
This is unwanted behaviour towards you related to your disability, where the behaviour:
- Has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity or
- Creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you
Employers and organisations must protect you from harassment by the people that work for them. So if your colleagues bully you because of your epilepsy, your employer is legally responsible. That is unless they can show they did everything they could to prevent the harassment.
The Equality Act also protects your family and friends from being harassed at work or when using services, if the harassment is because of your epilepsy.
Examples of harassment:
The bar staff at your local pub make insulting comments about you and your husband, who has epilepsy.
Your boss frequently puts you down in front of your colleagues by telling you to 'calm down or you'll have a fit.'
This is when you are treated badly because you've complained about discrimination. It can also happen if you're supporting someone who has complained about discrimination.
Examples of victimisation:
You're not invited to office social events because you supported a colleague when they complained about discrimination at work.
You have made a complaint of disability discrimination. Your employer threatens to sack you unless you withdraw your complaint.
What else does the Equality Act protect against?
The Equality Act says that employers must not ask you questions about your health or disability until you've been offered a job, except in some specific circumstances. See our information about looking for work to find out more.
Is it ever lawful for people to discriminate against me because of my epilepsy?
Sometimes indirect disability discrimination and discrimination arising from a disability can be lawful. The person or organisation must be able to show that they had a good reason for the discrimination. In legal terms, they need to show that the discrimination is a 'proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'.
'Legitimate aim' means there is a real reason for the discrimination. Examples include protecting people's health and safety or running an efficient service.
'Proportionate' means that if you balance them against each other, the reason for the discrimination is more important than the disadvantage you face.
You have regular seizures with no warning. A restaurant will not give you a job cooking at a grill, because your seizures would put you at significant risk of burns. This is an example of discrimination arising from a disability. But it's likely to be lawful, because the employer could show that the discrimination has a legitimate aim of protecting your health and safety. Even though this puts you at a disadvantage compared to someone who doesn't have seizures, protecting your health and safety is more important.
If health and safety is used as a reason for the discrimination it should be based on facts about your epilepsy, not on assumptions. If health and safety is a concern, employers or service providers can often make the job or activity safer by doing a risk assessment and making reasonable adjustments.
Jobs in the armed forces
The armed forces can legally discriminate against disabled people in order to 'ensure the combat effectiveness of the armed forces.' This means they can refuse to employ you if you have epilepsy or a history of epilepsy. See our information about epilepsy and the UK armed forces.
Insurers can treat disabled people differently to other people. But only if they can justify their reasons and show that they based their decision on relevant and reliable information. Epilepsy Action has more information about the equality laws and insurance.
An insurer may charge you more for travel insurance because you have epilepsy. In some cases they could refuse to insure you. They would have to provide evidence that you are more likely to make a claim than somebody who doesn't have epilepsy.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Carl Graham, solicitor and partner in UK law firm DWF LLP for reviewing this information.
Carl Graham has declared no conflict of interest.
This information has been produced under the terms of Epilepsy Action's information quality standards.
- Updated November 2019To be reviewed November 2022