The information in this section is about epilepsy and working in the UK. If you live outside the UK, you can find out about working and epilepsy in your country by contacting your local epilepsy group.
If you have epilepsy and want to work, it is important to know about the equality laws. If you live in England, Scotland and Wales, you are covered by the Equality Act. If you live in Northern Ireland, you are covered by the Disability Discrimination Act.
The equality laws mean that employers must not treat you unfairly because of your epilepsy. They must protect you from bullying or harassment related to your epilepsy from other employees. And they must make any reasonable adjustments they can to help you into, or to stay in, work.
The equality laws cover everything to do with work, including the following.
- Job adverts
- Application forms
- Job offers
- Conditions of employment
The equality laws mean that employers have to make changes or adjustments to help you, if it is reasonable for them to do so. This is to make sure that you are not at a disadvantage compared to someone without epilepsy.
Here are some examples of adjustments that it may be reasonable for an employer to make.
When you are looking for work
If you usually have seizures first thing in the morning, an employer could arrange for you to have a job interview in the afternoon.
When you are in work
You might need to take time off work for medical appointments for your epilepsy. You might also have sick days because of your epilepsy. Your employer could choose to record and consider these separately to time you take off for other reasons. By doing this, the time that you take off work because of your epilepsy would not have a negative effect on your work sickness record.
For some people, tiredness or not getting enough sleep triggers their seizures. Some people find that rotating shift patterns make seizures more likely. If your seizures are triggered in this way, your employer may be able to ensure you work regular shifts.
Sometimes, an employer might have to pay for reasonable adjustments to be made to help you. They must not ask you to pay towards this.
If your employer doesn’t make reasonable adjustments to help you, this could be illegal. But sometimes it might not be possible to make any adjustments that would make a job safe for you if you have uncontrolled seizures. In this case, it would be legal for the employer to not employ you because of your epilepsy.
Here are some examples of jobs that would be difficult to make safe for you, if you have uncontrolled seizures:
- Working at unprotected heights (for example as a scaffolder)
- Working near open water
- Working with high voltage or open circuit electricity
- Working on or near moving vehicles
- Working with unguarded fires, ovens and hot plates
Reasons why an employer might not employ you because you have epilepsy
Talk to the people involved. This might be your colleague, your line manager or your employer. If you’re a member of a union, you could ask them to support you when you are talking to them. If you’re not a member of a union, you could ask to bring a colleague or friend with you to meetings discussing your work situation.
Keep notes of any actions, or comments made, that you are concerned about. Also, keep a note of attempts you have made to try and sort the situation out. This can be useful information if you later decide to take more formal action, such as raising a grievance or getting legal advice.
Check your contract, in particular the terms and conditions and the grievance procedure.
If your employer wants information from your doctor, they can only get this with your consent. They should only ask for information that is relevant to your epilepsy.
Get legal advice
If you want to make a legal complaint about unfair treatment by your employer, you need to seek legal advice as soon as possible. This is because there are strict time limits for bringing cases to Employment Tribunals and courts.
Taking legal action against someone who has treated you unfairly at work
Taking legal action can be very expensive. Depending on your financial circumstances and the issues involved, you may be eligible for the Legal Aid scheme. This can cover some, or all, of the costs.
If you decide to employ a solicitor, it is important to check at the beginning how they will expect to be paid. You should also check that they have a contract to provide advice and representation through the Legal Aid scheme, if you qualify for it.
Epilepsy Action has more information on the Equality Act
If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. See Work and epilepsy.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Epilepsy Action would like to thank Professor Sayeed Khan, Specialist in Occupational Medicine, Chief Medical Adviser to EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation and Judith Hogarth, Solicitor, Excello Law, for their contribution.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
Updated November 2013To be reviewed November 2016