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Epilepsy, employment and the law

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

UK laws that can help you in the workplace because you have epilepsy

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
  • Interviews
  • Job offers
  • Conditions of employment
  • Training
  • Promotions
  • Dismissal
  • Redundancy

Reasonable adjustments

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

Employers should not use your epilepsy as a reason not to give you a job, unless they have very good reasons. Here are some of those possible reasons.

Health and safety - An employer can legally refuse to give you a job if your epilepsy poses a health and safety risk to you or somebody else. For example, if you have seizures, they could refuse to employ you in a job where you have to climb up ladders.

Driving - An employer can refuse to give you a driving job, if you don’t hold the right type of driving licence. For example, if you have had seizures in the last ten years, legally you are not allowed to hold a driving licence that allows you to drive heavy goods vehicles. So, an employer can refuse to employ you as a lorry driver.

Armed Forces - Jobs in the Armed Forces are not covered by the equality laws. So the Armed Forces can refuse to employ you because you have epilepsy or a history of epilepsy.

Unreasonable adjustments - If there are no reasonable adjustments that can be made to make a job safe for you, an employer can refuse to give you the job.

Things you can do if you feel you are being treated unfairly at work

Talk to people
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
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.

Know your rights

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. 

Pay it forward

This resource is freely available as part of Epilepsy Action’s commitment to improving life for all those affected by epilepsy.

On average it costs £414 to produce an advice and information page – if you have valued using this resource, please text FUTURE to 70500 to donate £3 towards the cost of our future work. Terms and conditions. Thank you

Code: 
B135.03

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 2013
    To be reviewed November 2016

Comments: read the 23 comments or add yours

Comments

Hi,
I work for a charity for young homeless, I am the manager there and my hours of work are ok but I have to do a call out 1 in every 3 weeks ! We can get called up/out at all hours. My specialist doesn't want me to be doing this so he wrote a letter for me to give to my manager and they say they can't let me do this as its part of my job and if I can't do my job they can offer another role as working nights/ sleeps in another hostel we run which is less pay and hours that I really can't do. I haven't had a fit nearly 27 years but have been having what they call aura's for the past 5/6 years. I don't think my employer is beeing reasonable!! What do you think? Can they do this.

Submitted by Lisa on

Hi Lisa

Due to your epilepsy you are covered by the Equality Laws. This means your employer must not discriminate against you or treat you any less favourably than other employees.  

If there are no reasonable adjustments to keep you in your present position, it would be reasonable for your employer to offer you a more suitable job role. When your employer looked at your present position, their decision on not being able to make reasonable adjustments had to be justified. For example, it would be reasonable for them to allow you not to do the call-outs, but only if there is other people who could do that instead of you. If there aren’t other people available, then it might not be reasonable for them to make this adjustment. If you can’t stay in your present post, your employer offering you a different role, even if it was at a lower grade, would be a reasonable adjustment.

If you feel you are being discriminated against because of your epilepsy, talk it over with your manager or someone with a responsibility for human resources. If you belong to a union, you may want to contact them for help. There are also some organisations that may be able to offer you advice and support. These include:

I hope things work out well at work. If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact our Advice and Information Team, either by email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Yours sincerely
Diane

Submitted by Diane@Epilepsy ... on

I have a bit of a dilemma that I am afraid to say I brought on myself. After months of job searching and interviews and getting no where a couple of weeks ago I went on an interview and got offered the job, unfortunately they offered me the job and I hadnt mentioned my epilepsy yet and when I finally got this job offer it put me off of mentioning it. After a while it became clear that I would be expected to work on my own sometimes and with my condition how it is, occasionally unpredictable, obviously this isnt a good idea but the longer something is left the harder you find it to stand up and say something dont you? Well, I was supposed to be working a day shift and on my way in this morning I felt as though I may have a siezure, I made it to work and the person already there had to call in the on call member of staff, who I obviously came to clean to when she arrived but Im meant to be in tomorrow and not only am I dreading going in because of what I have done because I know I am in the wrong, but I know I am possibly going to hear the words 'this job may not be for you' and I cant say I blame them after today. Am I right in thinking this? My siezures are controlled ny medication but I can still on average have a siezure every couple of months. I feel so awful I just need some advice :(

Submitted by Christine on

Hi Christine

That does sound like a difficult situation to have got into. If your epilepsy could affect your ability to do your work safely, then you are obliged to tell your employer. If they can prove that you had the opportunity to do this,  then they would have the right to dismiss you, I’m afraid.

Generally if someone does tell their employer they have epilepsy, they are covered by the Equality Act. So this does give them certain rights.

As you say, all you can do is hold your hands up. I do hope that it resolves well for you.

Cherry
Advice and Information Team

More information on telling your employer
More information on the Equality Act:

Submitted by Cherry@Epilepsy... on

Hey, my boyfriend was only recently diagnosed with myoclonic as well as tonic clonic epilepsy, he was at the time working at sea, which he loved, however for obvious safety reasons he was dismissed from that job but now he is finding getting any work a struggle. He has at least two to three seizures a month and is only just on medication. The whole situation is making him very low so I'm desprately trying to find something that is both suitable for him (a bit of an adventure seeker) and his epilepsy! Can anyone suggest any work related role?

Thanks x

Submitted by Jodie on

Hi Jodie

Finding work these days isn’t easy for anyone. For people with medical conditions and disabilities it could seem even harder. That is especially if you don’t know where to get some help in finding work. So, I hope the information below will help your boyfriend.

If your boyfriend has only been on epilepsy medicines for a month, it’s likely that his seizure frequency will improve with time. There is a good chance of him being seizure free once he’s on the right dose. This will open up further opportunities in employment. Even people with epilepsy whose seizures are completly controlled are covered by the Equality Act in Great Britain, or the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland. This means an employer cannot discriminate against them because of their epilepsy without very good reason.

Some employers are committed to employing disabled people Although your boyfriend probably doesn’t see himself as disabled, epilepsy would be considered to be a disability in this instance.  You will know these employers as they will show the Positive about disabled people with the two ticks symbol, on their advertisements. This symbol will guarantee your boyfriend an interview if he meets the basic conditions for the job.

Your boyfriend can also get help from a Disability Employment Adviser (DEA). DEAs are based at Jobcentres. They can help him find a job or gain new skills. The DEA can also:

  • tell him about disability friendly employers in his area;
  • give him an employment assessment asking him about his skills and the kind of jobs he’s interested in; and
  • refer him to a specialist work psychologist, if they feel he needs one.

 

If you would like to discuss any of these issues further, please feel free to contact the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050 or email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk

Rosanna
Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Rosanna@Epileps... on

Hi there. I am a 34 year woman who who who wast diagnosed with apilepsy aged and found ged fourteen it was linked to periods, from which I was switched from Tegretol to Epilim. Also have CP/ Ataxia and Hypermobile and Nystagmus to name but of few things. I was knew that Sodium Valoparate can affect liver function but I realose it could affect bone health. So from from what I've read on this website and on websites relating to my other conditions, whichever way way we look at it I'm more at risk of getting some of form of bone/joint disesase by some method or another. Oh well, such is life, soldier on regradless as if that's possible. I used to find it tough having to avoid alchol when I was younger but since I became a Christian 3 years ago, I find it much easier to resist becasue I have the twin reasons of health and faith plus Jesus with me in whatever I face. I also found not being able to the night club awkward ind aworld if you haven't been drunk or taken some kind of street drugs, or until recently smoked or undertaken some other risk taking behaviour then you hav't lived or "exspanded your mind" in other damaged you brain other bodily organ(s). Well, driving never really was never really feasible of the nature of my visual impairment and my co-ordination difficulties. think I'll stop there. still information useful Thanks.

Submitted by Annabelle Short on

Hi I have been in my present job for approximatley 3 years. In those 3 years my epilepsy had not affected my job and I chose not to take any medication. 2 months ago i had a respiratory tract infection which made me have nocturnal fits every night. This lasted 5 weeks and i had to be off work for this amount of time to. My sick notes all say that i had a viral infection however within thie 5 weeks i had an emergency appointment to see the epilepsy nurse specialist. She told me that the virus will take me longer to get over because im fitting so much and i am now on medication to reduce the fits. Ive now returned to work and they have give me a stage 1 warniingbecause of the amount of days ive had off. I feel that it was un avoidable due to my epilepsy. They have stated that if i have any less than 98%attendance within the next 3 months then i will trigger a stage 2 warning. They no i have epilepsy and the occupational health have also written to them so im not sure where my rights are here?

Submitted by alyson roberts on

Hi Alyson

Sorry to hear you’ve been unwell. I hope you are fully recovered from your infection.

The Equality Advisory Support Service suggests companies record sick leave due to a disability separately and, look at it separately from general sick leave. If they don’t, it could be seen as indirect discrimination and/or discrimination arising from a disability. Here is a link to the fact sheet on Flexible working and time off for employers produced by the Equality Advisory Support Service – this is found within the Equality Act starter kit.

If you’d like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact us on our  Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Yours sincerely

Diane

Submitted by Diane on

My daughter has epilepsy, hearing impaired and learning and development difficulties and is trying to find work. She has been turned down for an interview for 2 jobs with a local council. It is very difficult to prove discrimination on basis of disability. I was very disappointed because I know that employers like councils have in the past stated that they will guarantee an interview to any disabled person who meets the minimum requirements. Is this no longer the case? The jobs were in school kitchens and I thought were very suitable for my daughter. How do you prove discrimination?

Submitted by David Reed on

Hi David

That must be so discouraging for your daughter.

You are right, according to the government website, if an organisation uses the two ticks scheme, they should guarantee anyone with a disability who meets the basic requirements an interview. If your daughter did meet the basic requirements for the job, she could ask the council for some feedback, to make sure she was treated fairly. This feedback could also be useful if she wants to apply for similar work in the future.

If your daughter feels she has been discriminated against by the council, here are some organisations who can advise her about what she can do next.

Looking to the future, your daughter could contact the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at her local Jobcentre to help her find a job, or gain new skills. They can also tell her about disability friendly employers in your area.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. 

Kathy

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Kathy on

Hi, I have focal epilepsy and have been seizure free on Aed's for 3 years now which is fab.

I am a temp for a logisitcs company and both my agency and employer know I have epilepsy, however I have had my driving licence back 2 years now and been fine; but yesterday morning I felt very spaced out and seizurish so decided to turn around and come home, I have not gone in today for fear I may have a seizure and i have not slept due to worry which I know isnt good for me as my epilepsy is due to stress and tiredness.

I am worried that I will get the sack now for beingboff even though I havnt had a seizure, only feeling like I will.

Any advice?

many thanks

Submitted by Amy on

Hi Amy

As you have a history of epilepsy, you are covered by the equality laws (if you live in the UK.) These are laws which mean that employers must not treat you unfairly because of your epilepsy. They must also make any reasonable adjustments to help you. A reasonable adjustment may be to record and consider any time you have off work separately to time you have off for other reasons, such as having another illness.

If you need any more advice about this, please feel free to speak to an adviser on the Epilepsy Helpline, freephone 0808 800 5050.

Amanda

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by amanda on

I've been told that because I'm not taking medication for Junior Myoclonic Epilepsy it's not covered by the DDA / Equality Act is this correct.

Submitted by Barry on

Hi Barry

You are covered by the DDA/Equality Act whether you take epilepsy medicine or not. You are covered even if you are no longer having seizures, but had epilepsy in the past.

If you would like to discuss your situation with a trained adviser, please feel free to contact the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. 

Kathy

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Kathy on

Hi
I have currently been working for my current employer for 6 and a half years but recently I have been diagnosed idiopathic epilepsy since 15th August 2013, I had a seizure on 7th may 2013 which brought it to light. At the time I was working as a machine operator in which work said was an unsafe environment for me to work in which was understandable and therefore they found a different job in the factory for me which is safe. I was off for a total of 6 month during this time and started back at work on 4th November 2013. Unfortunately I had another seizure on 5th December 2013 in which my works doctor had told me I needed some time off to go seizure free till further notice. I went into work on 6th January 2014 to find out any further progress as to when I can start back. I was then delivered some disappointing and rather worrying news that the works doctor won't entertain me going back to work till I get my drivers licence back which means would have to go at least almost a full year up to 5th December 2014. As I used up all my sick pay during the previous 6 months I had off last year I'm very worried about my living situation as I don't know if I'll be getting any pay at all. I would appreciate any help please.

Submitted by martin on

hi ive been diagonsed eplipetic since the age of eighteen i was was in a care company for seven years it took them two and a half years before they did a risk assesment on me they were asked to do reasonable ajustments like not giving me to much information all in one go and they were advised about getting some small note pads nothing that would cost them anything colleges new i had epilipsey and new my triggers and how to avoid them and so did my friend s at work it was all going well untill i had to report abuse at work i reported it in the best way i could the polices were so long but then the real trouble started they the kept saying well you should be able to remeber what the policies says and then came the disaplinarys all three of them for not following exactly what the policy said then the bullying by other staff and by a manager i was basically told that i had to remember what the policys said just like everyone else all probley 400 pages it had never been a problem with them until i reported them for abuse then but then every time i reported things i got disaplined my care company used me as some kind of trophy to say to people who came we employ people with eplipsey and we believe in equally rights if only that was the case what it said on paper and on there fancy website was not what happened behind closed doors thankyou tracy

Submitted by tracy gibson on

Hi Tracy

I’m really sorry to hear about the very difficult time you have had at work. I think from what you say that you are probably no longer there. I really hope you have been able to find other work where you can be happier.

If you were thinking about complaining about your treatment, you could always contact either ACAS or the Equality Advisory Support Service. Although there will be a time limit after which it is no longer possible to register a complaint.

Or you might have decided that you are happier to have it all behind you.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. 

Cherry

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry on

I am at present finding myself in a situation where my job is under threat. (Graduate Library Asistant at London Metropolitan University.) After 26 years continuous employment my new managers have decided they have had enough of my seizures (both petit and grand), absences from work, and some degree of forgetfulness, and occasional drowsiness either because of my medication or my condition. (They do not understand the similarity in appearence between a petit mal and drowsiness.) They have had their own medical adviser examine me, and I am getting the impression he is going to advise them my condition is not going to improve. (Well that is no surprise : I do not expect a miracle cure.) He is writing a report for them which will be copied to me. He is not an expert in epilepsy and as far as I am aware they have not spoken to my consultants at the National Hospital or my GP (they certainly have not asked for my consent). Coming up to 57 years of age I am naturally very concerned that I will not find another job for which I am suitably qualified if I am either retired or sacked on medical grounds. My trade union (UNISON) is backing me. I do not know to what extent the Disability Discrimination Act gives me any protection. Any advice which you could provide myself and my union would be deeply appreciated. Thank you.

Submitted by Rudi Affolter on

Hi Rudi

Sorry to hear your new manager is making things very difficult for you. It’s good your union is involved. If we can supply them with any information to help with your situation, we are more than happy to do so.

Because of your epilepsy you are covered by the Equality Law. This means your new manager and your employer must not discriminate against you. If necessary they should make any ‘reasonable adjustment’ to help keep you in work. This is to make sure that you are not put at a disadvantage to a non-disabled person, just because you have epilepsy.

A new manager can’t just decide you can no longer do your work. If they have concerns they should try helping you. They should look at any reasonable adjustment you already have in place and if necessary arrange another risk assessment.  This assessment may involve a medical with occupational health. The medical assessment isn’t to say if your epilepsy is going to get better or not. It’s to assess if there any reasonable adjustments to help keep you in work. Your employer should do their best to make sure that you are not put at a disadvantage because of your epilepsy.

As you have worked there for 26 years and managed to do your work. Unless there has be a dramatic change in you ability to do your job, your manager will have to justify why after 26 years you are no longer able to do your job. If you ability to carry out some duties at work have got worse since you last saw your epilepsy specialist, it could be helpful to contact him. Your specialist could re-assess you. This could be to see if your new symptoms are related to your epilepsy medicine or your epilepsy its self. By talking to your specialist, even if there is nothing they can do, that would show your manager that you are trying to do your best to help yourself. If you have seen your specialist recent, you could ask them if they would be willing to do a letter to your manager.

Regarding sick leave, the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) suggests companies record sick leave due to a disability separately and, look at it separately from general sick leave. If they don’t, it could be seen as indirect discrimination and/or discrimination arising from a disability. Here is a link to the fact sheet on Flexible working and time off for employers produced by the EASS– this is found within the Equality Act starter kit. It’s advisable for you and your union to look at your terms and condition of employment, which will explain the companies’ policy for sick leave. If your employer has tried to be more flexible to accommodate your epilepsy related absence and there is still a problem you or your union may wish to discuss this further with EASS.

I hope this is of help. If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Regards

Diane Wallace

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by JohnA on

Thank you for your advice, deeply appreciated.

Submitted by Rudi Affolter on

Hi I'm a cleaner in an abattoir and have to work around dangerous machinery and I'm constantly bending and mauling very heavy bins for long hours (8-3) and then I'm cleaning until (5-6). My shifts are irregular but Normally start at 8 unless the place is really really busy, due to the amount of physical work involved and the place I'm working in I'm frightened my epilepsy is going to get a hold on me.
I've currently been off for around 4 months with doctors notes as before I never had been diagnosed with epilepsy. As a child around the age of 10-11 I had my first ever seizure and from there on out until the age of around 12 I finally got to the hospital with my mother for a sleep deprivation test. This showed no abnormalities whatsoever and I carried on with my life as normal, however over the years I have had many seizures and they are very infrequent and there is no underlining cause for them. I am currently 21 and must have had at least 60 seizures from the age of 11-12 but I have lost count. In the last month I have only just found out I have epilepsy after going for lots of tests including MRI and ECG (if that's what it's called, I lose track of things) also the sleep deprivation test I had prior to being a young child. After waiting several weeks for the result and to hear from the comsultant my doctor called me in to the surgery to reveal my results and I was shocked.
What's worse for me is that when I started my job (earlier last year before diagnosis for epilepsy) I didn't say had epilepsy as I was never diagnosed with it in the first place (until recently after being off with doctors notes)so I must be safe in a sense (hopefully) to be covered under the equality act?
I have been told that the employers must offer you another role within the company and I know that is not possible as the slaughtermen use dangerous machinery and the office is completely fully staffed by several women. So my next step is to ask for help off you into how I would contact my employer about the occupation health (something?? Along the lines of that) and then for this person to contact my consultant on where to take matters further. It is very confusing for me as my employers have been good to me and have paid sick pay into my bank for me being off for so long for my seizures being investigated, I have had 2-3 seizures (not in the workplace) since working there and have lots of funny turns/dizzy spells but I try my best to carry on and finish the job.
Please could you provide me advice in how to contact my employers and mention occupational health as this doesn't make sense to me.

I appreciate your time in reading this, please help if you can!
Regards Daniel

Submitted by Daniel hardwick on

Hi Daniel

Thank you for your message. This must be a confusing time for you, but I hope our information will help.

It’s good that your employers have been so understanding about your time off. I think you now need to tell them that you have finally got a diagnosis, and that diagnosis is epilepsy. The fact that you didn’t tell them that you had epilepsy sooner shouldn’t be a problem, as you didn’t have a diagnosis until recently. However, now you know you have epilepsy, you can also have it treated, which is a step forward. Once you tell them about your epilepsy, your are protected from unfair discrimination by the equality laws.

In terms of your role at work, your employers will need to do a risk assessment for you, and if necessary, make reasonable adjustments to make sure you and people around you are safe at work. This might be where occupational health are involved. One adjustment that can be helpful for people with epilepsy is to have regular sleep patterns. This means that you may need to avoid rotating shifts. If there are no adjustments they can make, then they need to see if there is another role you could fill. This might be just for a short time until your epilepsy symptoms are controlled. But if there are no adjustments they could make, or another role you could fill, they could dismiss you on medical grounds.

Have a look at our work and epilepsy information, which will answer many of your questions. If you have any more concerns, please contact us again either by email or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Kathy

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Kathy on

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