This information about the Disability Discrimination Act applies to people in Northern Ireland. If you live in England, Scotland or Wales see our information about your rights in England, Scotland and Wales.
If you are looking for information about disability discrimination in another country, please contact your local epilepsy organisation.
If you have epilepsy and live in Northern Ireland, you are likely to be classed as disabled under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). If so, this means it's unlawful for employers and service providers to subject you to disability discrimination. The DDA protects you from disability discrimination in:
- Employment and when seeking employment
- Access to goods, facilities and services, including transport
- The management, buying or renting of property
Disability discrimination in education is prohibited by another law, called the Special Educational Needs and Disability (NI) Order. Epilepsy Action has separate information about epilepsy in education.
Is epilepsy classed as a disability?
Epilepsy is not automatically classed as a disability under the DDA, but you are likely to be considered disabled if:
- Your epilepsy has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal day-to-day activities or
- It's not currently having a substantial effect, but it would do if you were not having treatment
Normal day-to-day activities include things like shopping, cooking and using public transport. Long-term means you must have been, or expect to be, affected for at least 12 months.
You are also likely to be protected by the DDA if you've had epilepsy in the past.
If you are classed as disabled under the DDA this doesn't automatically 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?
There are different types of disability discrimination.
This is when an employer treats you less well than other people, and the treatment is because of your disability. Employers could also be guilty of direct discrimination if they treat you less well because of your connection to someone who is disabled. This is called associative discrimination.
Examples of direct discrimination:
Your employer sacks you because you were absent for a short period due to your epilepsy. If you can show that your employer did not, or would not, dismiss, any non-disabled employee with a similar level of absence, then that is evidence that may prove a claim of direct discrimination.
Your work is having a staff social event to which family members are invited. You are not invited. Your manager informs you that it is because your son has epilepsy. That is evidence that may prove a claim of associative discrimination.
Disability related discrimination
This is when you are treated less well than someone else because of something related to your disability. This is unlawful discrimination, unless the employer or service provider can show that the treatment is justified.
Example of disability related discrimination:
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. If you can show that your employer would not have dismissed a non-disabled employee with a similar, or worse, sickness absence record, then that is evidence of disability-related discrimination. The dismissal will be unlawful unless your employer can justify his decision.
Failure to make a reasonable adjustment
Under the DDA employers and service providers may need to make changes (called reasonable adjustments) to make sure disabled people have fair access to jobs or services. Reasonable adjustments could include:
- Making changes to a rule, requirement or practice
- Making changes to buildings or premises
- Providing equipment or other forms of assistance that will help you
- At work, making changes to your working hours of duties
What counts as 'reasonable' depends on a number of things, including how practical it is for the employer or service provider to make the adjustment, and how much it would cost. Failure to make reasonable adjustments could be unlawful under the DDA.
Examples of reasonable adjustment:
An employer allows you to start and finish work later than other employees, if you usually have seizures first thing in the morning.
A restaurant gives you a table where there is less risk of injury if you had a seizure. (For example, at the edge of a room, out of the path of the people serving food.)
Read more about reasonable adjustments at work for people with epilepsy.
In employment, this is unwanted behaviour towards you related to your disability, where the behaviour:
- Violates your dignity or
- Creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you
Employers have a duty to 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, unless they can show they took reasonable steps to prevent the harassment.
Example of harassment:
Despite asking them not to, your boss frequently puts you down in front of your colleagues by telling you to 'calm down or you'll have a fit.' This hurts your feelings.
This is when you are treated badly because you've complained about discrimination to an employer or service provider. 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.
Is it ever lawful to be discriminated against because of my epilepsy?
There are some situations where you can lawfully be subjected to disability discrimination.
Jobs in the armed forces
The armed forces are not covered by the employment sections of the DDA.' 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 the decision is based on 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 show that you are more likely to make a claim than somebody who doesn't have epilepsy.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Ciaran Trainor from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland for his contribution to this information.
Ciaran Trainor 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