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of everyone affected by epilepsy

Equality Act - different types of disability discrimination

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 the Disability Discrimination Act.

If you are looking for information about disability discrimination in another country, please contact your local epilepsy organisation.

Direct discrimination

This happens when:

  • Somebody treats you less well than somebody else and
  • The treatment is because you have epilepsy or care for someone with epilepsy

Examples of direct discrimination:

A landlord will not rent a flat to you because you have epilepsy. They will rent the flat to someone else who doesn’t have epilepsy.

A taxi driver refuses to give you a lift because you have epilepsy. Your friend doesn’t have epilepsy and the taxi driver will take him.

A beauty salon refuses to give you a massage because you have epilepsy.

Discrimination by association

This protects your family and friends from direct discrimination because you have epilepsy.

An example of discrimination by association:

A candidate who has been told she is getting a job is suddenly deselected after revealing that her son has epilepsy and has complicated care arrangements. The withdrawal of the job offer could amount to discrimination because of her association with a disabled person (disability being a protected characteristic).

Indirect discrimination

This happens when:

  • Having epilepsy means you are put at a disadvantage to other people because of some general rules or practices that apply to everyone and
  • There isn’t a fair explanation for that rule or practice

Examples of indirect discrimination:

An employer will only accept online job applications. Because of your photosensitive epilepsy, you have never learned to use a computer. Unless the employer offers you an alternative way of making your application, this could be indirect discrimination.

A nightclub will only accept a driving licence as a form of proof of age. This discriminates against you if you don’t have a driving licence because of your epilepsy.

Discrimination arising from a disability

This happens when:

  • Somebody treats you unfavourably and
  • The treatment is because of something arising from your epilepsy and
  • They knew, or should have known, that you had the condition and
  • They can’t give a fair reason for the unfair treatment

There is no need to compare the way that someone treats you with the way they treat somebody who doesn’t have epilepsy.

Examples of discrimination arising from 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 during your absence. This will be discrimination unless your employer can show that dismissing you was justified.

A restaurant owner refuses to serve you because they fear that it will upset the other customers if you have a seizure.

A college refuses to admit you because you have epilepsy. They think that if you have a seizure it will disrupt lessons.

Failure to make a reasonable adjustment

Sometimes, people or organisations may need to make a reasonable adjustment. This is to make sure that you are not put at a substantial disadvantage to other people, just because you have epilepsy. Failure to make this adjustment could be illegal under the Equality Act. The person or organisation that has the duty to make the adjustment is not allowed to pass on any cost to you.

Reasonable adjustments can include:

  • Making changes to a rule, requirement or practice
  • Making changes to buildings or premises
  • Providing equipment that will help you

Examples of reasonable adjustment:

A teacher gives you written lesson notes because you had a seizure during a lesson.

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.)

An employer allows you to start and finish work later than other employees, if you usually have seizures first thing in the morning. This is provided it fits in with their working practices.


This happens when somebody behaves towards you in a way you don’t want, such as taunting or bullying, and the behaviour has the purpose or effect of:

  • Violating your dignity (failing to treat you in a respectful way) or
  • Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you

Your employer has a duty to protect you from harassment by the people you work with. If your colleagues bully you because of your epilepsy, your employer may be considered responsible for this.

The Equality Act also protects your family and friends when they are at work or using services. They must not be harassed or treated unfairly because you have epilepsy.

An example of harassment:

Your son has epilepsy and you take him to see an epilepsy specialist during work hours. Your colleagues make abusive and insulting comments about you and your son, because his epilepsy has caused you to have time off work.


This is when:

  • Somebody treats you less well than other people, because you have complained, or intend to complain about disability discrimination or harassment or
  • They treat you less well because you have helped someone else to complain about disability discrimination or harassment

An example of victimisation:

You are not invited to office social events because you supported a colleague when they complained about discrimination at work.

Can a policy that discriminates ever be justified?

There has to be a good reason for a policy that discriminates against someone to be justified, for example to protect the health and safety of other people. And the reason has to carry more weight than the unfavourable treatment, and must be the only way of achieving the same aim.  If health and safety reasons are given, they must be based on fact, rather than assumptions. 

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone on 0808 800 5050.


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 The Information Standard.

  • Updated May 2016
    To be reviewed May 2019

Comments: read the 5 comments or add yours


i agree with the previous statement and think we should accept the disabled for what they are.

Submitted by jacob on

Jacob - what do you mean by accept the disabled for what they are? Creative? Intelligent? Able to think outside the box?

Submitted by kathH82 on

I have epilepsy which is currently looking far too happy making me have seizures every 2 week. Had one in 2015 that ended my voluntary job, had one a couple of mondays back full blown tonic clonic as usual then on friday I had another seizure. Tonic clonic seizure again. He doesn't want me volunteering at the place I loved because I have epilepsy, will he accept he is discriminating? Nooooo.

Submitted by Danielle on

Hi Danielle

That sounds like a  tough situation. You may be covered by the Equality Act. Have they done a risk assessment for you? They would have to justify any risks they identified and think about any possible reasonable adjustments. It is possible they are discriminating against you. You could have a look at our information and maybe ring the Equality Advisory Support Service to check this out with them. Their phone number is 0808 800 0082.

Or maybe you could find a more friendly charity shop to volunteer in?

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.



Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

My voluntary job was at the one place I'd loved and still love since I was 8 years old. I used to visit every weekend then in 2011 I got my dream voluntary job there. That obviously lasted til october 2015 when I had that seizure. Who robs people of their dreams, who hates people with epilepsy? He does. Not the first time he has done something like this to me. The first time he told me don't come this week because you have a visual impairment and one of the staff I'd known since I was a child wasn't in. So what, I know that place better than him. I to,d him before I even started there I have epilepsy so it's not like he didn't know. Before the place reopened to the public I said to him I have epilepsy my seizures are tonic clonics. He keeps going on about doing a risk assessment but has he actually bothered to do one, no he hasn't. My bf volunteered there too, he has epilepsy and his seizures weren't/aren't as controlled as mine yet he is still allowed to volunteer there, he in other words my bf told me he isn't going back til I'm allowed back because him saying he can still volunteer but I can't isn't being fair. Maybe it's just me the boss hates.

Submitted by Danielle on