If you would like to talk to someone about epilepsy, our trained advisers are here to help.
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Telling work about your epilepsy
Do I have to tell an employer about my epilepsy?
You don’t automatically have to tell your employer about your epilepsy, after a job offer, if you don’t believe it will affect your ability to do your job safely and effectively.
An example could be that your epilepsy is well controlled, or you only ever have sleep seizures.
If you don’t tell your employer about your epilepsy and it does affect your ability to do your job safely, your employer may be able to dismiss you. To do this, they would have to prove that:
- You have been given the opportunity to tell them how your epilepsy could affect your job and
- You haven’t given them this information
If you’re not sure whether to tell your employer about your epilepsy, here are some things to think about:
If your employer doesn’t know about your epilepsy, they can’t make any reasonable adjustments to help you.
Health and Safety at Work Act
The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) is a law that says that all employers must provide a safe workplace. To do this, they must protect all their employees from any possible danger to their health while they are at work.
As an employee, you also have a responsibility to take reasonable care of your own and other people’s health and safety at work. If your epilepsy could cause a health or safety risk to you or anybody else, you must tell your employer about it. This is the law.
Your employer’s insurance may pay you compensation if you are injured at work, or if you become ill because of your work. If you don’t tell them about your epilepsy, you won’t be fully covered by their insurance. So, you might not receive any compensation if you have an accident related to your epilepsy.
However, you are protected by the equality laws from the time you tell your employers you have a disability. So, if your seizures have previously been controlled, but start again, you can tell your employer then, and ask them to do a health and safety risk assessment.
More information about the Health and Safety at Work Act and employer’s insurance is available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (for England, Scotland and Wales) or nidirect.gov.uk (for Northern Ireland)
When is it a good time to tell people about my epilepsy?
If you decide to tell your employer about your epilepsy, it’s a good idea to do it before you start the job. This gives them time to make any reasonable adjustments you need.
If you don’t tell them about your epilepsy before you start a job, you can change your mind and tell them at any time. As soon as your employer knows about your epilepsy, they should look to put in place reasonable adjustments that would reduce or remove any disadvantage caused by your disability.
The people you work with
It’s your decision whether you tell the people you work with about your epilepsy. But if you do, they may feel more confident about helping you if you have a seizure.
Can my employer tell other people about my epilepsy?
Yes, if you give them permission, and sign a consent form. But they can’t tell other people about your epilepsy without your permission. This is to comply with the Data Protection Act.
Looking for work
What type of work can I do?
It depends on your skills, experience and how epilepsy affects your daily life. Most jobs should be open to you as employers can only refuse you a job if they have very good reason. For example, you could be refused a role because:
- There are health and safety risks to you or somebody else. For example, if you are still having seizures, they could refuse to give you a job where climbing ladders is a substantial part of the job
- You don’t have the right type of driving licence for the job. For example, if you have epilepsy, you’re not legally allowed to drive heavy goods vehicles, even if your seizures are controlled by medicine
- You apply for the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces aren’t covered by the equality laws. This means they can refuse to employ you because you have epilepsy or a history of epilepsy
Am I considered to be disabled if I have epilepsy?
If you have epilepsy that has a substantial effect on your day-to-day activities or would have a substantial effect if you weren’t taking your epilepsy medicine, you are considered to be disabled under the equality laws.
You may also be protected by the equality laws if your epilepsy isn’t causing any problems and doesn’t need any treatment but could be triggered by specific things.
The equality laws cover:
- Application forms
- Interview arrangements
- Aptitude or proficiency tests
- Job offers
- Terms of employment, including pay
- Promotion, transfer and training opportunities
- Dismissal or redundancy
- Discipline and grievances
Can I be asked questions about my health before I’m offered a job?
Employers aren’t allowed to ask you questions about your health before they offer you the job, unless they have a good reason to. This includes questions about your previous sickness absence.
They also can’t refer you to an occupational health adviser or ask you to fill in a questionnaire provided by an occupational health adviser, at this stage of the recruitment process.
It would be classed as discrimination for an employer to ask you about your health before offering you a job, without a good reason.
An example of a good reason for asking questions before a job offer might be to make a reasonable adjustment for your job interview, such as giving you extra time to do a test.
Employers should only ask you questions about your health that are relevant to the essential duties of the job before making a job offer.
For example, they could ask if there is anything stopping you from lifting, if the job involves lifting. If health questions are asked before an offer is made, and you don’t feel this is relevant, you can choose to ignore them.
During an interview, an employer is only allowed to ask questions about your health if they are directly linked to an essential aspect of the job you are applying for. For example, they could ask how your epilepsy could affect your ability to do that job safely.
If your epilepsy would not affect your ability to do the job safely and effectively, you don’t need to mention it. This might be if you only have seizures when you are asleep, or your seizures are well controlled.
Sources of help and support when looking for work
Jobcentre Plus work coaches
A work coach can help you in your search for work, or to gain new skills. They can also tell you about disability-friendly employers in your area.
To have an appointment with a work coach, you need to be already receiving certain benefits, or be disabled.
When you’re looking for work, look for the disability confident logo on adverts and application forms. The logo means the employer is committed to employing disabled people. If a job advert displays the logo, you’ll be guaranteed an interview if you meet the essential conditions for the job.
Work programmes and clubs
The Work and Health Programme
If you live in England or Wales, the Work and Health Programme can help you find and keep a job if you’re out of work. This is a general programme for people having difficulty finding or keeping work.
Intensive Personalised Employment Support
This is focussed one-to-one support and training to help you into work. If you live in England or Wales, have a disability or health condition, are unemployed and between school leaving age and State Pension age you may be able to get Intensive Personalised Employment Support.
To apply for the Work and Health Programme or Intensive Personalised Employment Support, ask your work coach. If you don’t have a work coach, ask to speak to one at your local Jobcentre Plus.
Anyone who’s unemployed can join a Work Club. They’re run by local organisations like employers and community groups, and give you the chance to share knowledge, experience and job hunting tips. Put work club and your location into a search engine for information about clubs near you.
Do I need a seizure action plan for work?
If there’s a chance you’ll have seizures at work, it’s a good idea to draw up a seizure action plan with your employer.
This can include what happens when you have a seizure and how people can help you during and afterwards. The information from your health and safety risk assessment can be used to do this.
Here are some more suggestions:
- If you usually recover quickly after a seizure, you might be able to get straight back to work. Or you might just need a quiet place to rest, before going back to work. Your seizure action plan should say where you need to rest
- If you normally take a long time to recover from a seizure, you might need to go home. Your seizure action plan should show how you will get home, and who will travel with you, if need be. This should be in line with company policies and procedures for anyone who becomes unwell at work
Epilepsy Action has a seizure action plan template your employer can use.
Before completing a seizure action plan, some people find it helpful to think about and plan what they want to tell their employer using the My epilepsy template.
What is a health and safety risk assessment?
It’s an assessment your employer must do to make sure you can carry out your work safely. Some questions that might come up during your health and safety risk assessment are:
- Are your seizures controlled?
- How often do they happen?
- What happens to you when you have a seizure?
- Do you get a warning before a seizure?
- How long do they last?
- How do you feel afterwards?
- Do they happen at a particular time of day?
- Do they happen when you’re are awake, asleep, or both?
- Is there anything that makes your seizures more likely, such as lack of sleep, tiredness, stress, hormonal changes, flashing or flickering lights or patterns?
- How long does it take you to recover?
- Do you need any first aid/specific care during/following a seizure?
Epilepsy Action have a risk assessment template your employer can use.
What is a reasonable adjustment?
It’s something that your employer could do to help you at work, such as:
- Providing training or mentoring
- Making changes to their building
- Making sure they provide information in a format you can use
- Changing or using different equipment
- Allowing you extra time to do selection ‘tests’
- Reducing targets
- Making sure you don’t work alone, or there is a ‘regular check in’ process for you
- Allowing you to take a period of disability leave
You could also ask for flexible working as a reasonable adjustment. This means making changes to your working patterns. An example might be working part-time or adjusting your start and finish times. Alternatively, it might mean working a particular shift pattern, or working longer hours on some days with time off on others.
Reasonable adjustments have to be reasonable to the employer and to you. Many reasonable adjustments involve little or no cost. If there are costs involved, funding might be available from Access to Work.
What if I don’t need any reasonable adjustments?
It may be that you won’t need any adjustments to be made in the workplace. This could be if you’re completely seizure free, or neither you, or other people would come to any harm if you had a seizure at work.
Problems at work
What can I do if I feel I have been treated unfairly at work?
Talk to people
Talk to the people involved. They might be your colleagues, your line manager or your employer. You could tell them about the Employer toolkit which may help them to understand epilepsy and provides tools to support you.
If you’re a member of a union, you could ask them to be with you at any work meetings. If not, you could ask to bring a colleague or friend with you to meetings when you are discussing your work situation.
Keep notes of any actions or comments made that concern you. Also, keep a note of how you’ve tried to sort the situation out. This can be useful information if you decide later 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.
How do I take legal action against someone who has treated me unfairly at work?
Seek advice as soon as possible, as there are strict time limits for bringing cases to Employment Tribunals and courts.
You can get advice from different organisations, including Citizen’s Advice, ACAS, or your trade union. If you are a member of a trade union, they may also support you at an Employment Tribunal.
You can also take legal advice from a solicitor, but this could be expensive. You might consider opting for legal expenses insurance cover, for example when taking out house contents insurance. This usually doesn’t cost a lot and can be valuable if you have problems at work.
If you decide to employ a solicitor, it’s important to check at the beginning how much it will cost.
I want to keep my job, but I'm having problems
If you are having problems at work because of your epilepsy, here are some things you could do that might help.
- Keep your employer up-to-date with any changes to your health that could affect your work
- Make a note of your discussions and of any changes to your working conditions that are made as a result. This would be useful if your work situation became difficult and you needed to raise a grievance
- If your epilepsy has changed, you could ask your employer to arrange a new risk assessment for you
- If you are off sick because of your epilepsy, keep them up-to-date with your situation
If your employer doesn’t make reasonable adjustments to help you, this could be illegal, unless they have significant justification. But sometimes it might not be possible to make a job safe, even with adjustments, if you have uncontrolled seizures. Not making reasonable adjustments in this instance may not be illegal.
If you have fewer, or more seizures than usual, you could ask your employer to do a new risk assessment for you. This could mean you can do a bigger range of work within your organisation. If you’re allowed to drive, a car there are few jobs you can’t do.
Sick leave and sick pay
Am I entitled to sick leave and sick pay?
It depends on your terms and conditions. But you shouldn’t be treated less favourably than other people without epilepsy, as that would be discrimination.
This is particularly important if your work’s policies are flexible. An example would be when the company are making individual decisions about stopping sick pay or sickness reviews.
Can my employer count disability-related absence as sick absence?
While some employers separate disability-related absence from other sickness absence, this is not an automatic requirement under the Equality Act.
Employers can decide how much sickness absence they will allow before your absence due to epilepsy is considered excessive. They might consider these changes to be a reasonable adjustment.
This is what Saleem says about his work:
“I need regular hospital appointments during my usual working hours. My work does their best to accommodate them. They also log my epilepsy sickness separately from sickness for other reasons. This means it doesn’t look too bad on my sickness record.”
Will I get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?
If you are sick and unable to work, you may qualify for SSP, which is the government sick pay. It’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks and you are eligible if you have been off work sick for 4 or more days in a row.
See gov.uk for more information about SSP.
Contractual sick pay
Some employers also pay contractual sick pay (CSP). The length of sick pay varies but you should be able to see whether your employer pays CSP from your terms and conditions.
If you are eligible for CSP, your employer tops up your SSP so that it amounts to your normal pay.
Am I allowed time off for medical appointments?
You are allowed time off for medical appointments in the same way as other people you work with. But it depends on your terms and conditions whether you get paid for these absences.
If you also need to have limited time off work to go to medical appointments related to your epilepsy, it could be considered a reasonable adjustment to count these separately. You will have to agree with your employer how much time is acceptable before any sickness reviews are needed.
The Equality Advisory Support service gives free advice, information and guidance to individuals on equality, discrimination and human rights issues.
Tel. 0808 800 0082
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) provides advice and guidance on rights, responsibilities and good practice, based on equality law and human rights.
The Equality Commission provides advice and information about the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland.
Tel: 028 90 500 600
Law Centres provide free legal advice and representation to disadvantaged people.
ACAS aims to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. They offer free advice about employment rights.
Tel: 0300 123 1100
Disability Law Services offer advice and information about employment law to disabled people.
Tel: 020 7791 9800
Fair Start Scotland is an employment support service which helps people living in Scotland to find work.
HSE can provide general information and guidance for employers about work-related health and safety issues.
UK disability-friendly jobs board and accessible careers resource.
Browse jobs from some of the UK’s most disability-friendly employers
Tel: 0345 872 4501
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