- The Equality Act is a law that protects people who live in England, Scotland and Wales from discrimination. There is a different law for people who live in Northern Ireland
- It may be against the law to discriminate against someone with a disability
- If you have epilepsy, it is likely you’ll be protected even if you don’t think of yourself as disabled
- If you feel an employer or service provider has discriminated against you, you may be able to take legal action against them
Is epilepsy a disability?
Even if you don’t think of yourself as disabled, the Equality Act protects you from disability discrimination if any of these things apply to you:
- Your epilepsy has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do day-to-day activities
- Your epilepsy isn’t currently having a substantial effect, but it would do if you were not having treatment
- You have a condition that will get worse over time and is likely to have a substantial effect in the future, even if doesn’t right now
- You’ve had epilepsy in the past
What do the words in the Equality Act definition of disability mean?
Normal day-to-day activities include things carried out by most people on a regular basis. For example:
· Walking to a bus stop
· Doing the housework
· Speaking on a telephone
· Going to the toilet
· Reading a newspaper
Long-term means you must have been, or expect to be, affected for at least 12 months.
A substantial negative effect is one that is more than minor or trivial. It is something that is beyond the normal differences in ability that is seen among people. It may also be the result of several smaller symptoms caused by your epilepsy that add up to a substantial negative effect on your daily life.
What is disability discrimination?
Disability discrimination is when you are treated unfairly or put at a disadvantage for a reason related to your disability. It can also apply to you if you are connected to someone with a disability. This is called discrimination by association.
The Equality Act protects you from disability discrimination:
- At work
- At school, college, or university
- When using health and care services like hospitals and care homes
- When you are buying or renting somewhere to live
- When using services like gyms, shops, restaurants and cinemas
- When using transport services such as buses, trains and taxis
- When you join a club
- When you have contact with public bodies like your local council or a government department
What can I do if I’ve been discriminated against because of my epilepsy?
If you feel you’ve been discriminated against because of your epilepsy, you could take one or more of the following steps:
- Get advice
- Talk to the people concerned
- Make a formal complaint
- Take legal action
You may want advice to help you decide if you’ve been discriminated against and what to do next. The Epilepsy Action Helpline can help by talking to you about your rights, and helping you to think about your next steps. You can also read on for more information about the different types of disability discrimination, or contact one of the organisations at the bottom of this page for specialist discrimination, legal or employment advice.
Talk to the people concerned
You could talk to the people concerned, for example, the employer or service provider. Explain to them why you think you’ve been discriminated against, and how you would like them to resolve the situation.
It’s a good idea to 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 legal action. If the discrimination is at work and you’re a member of a union, you could ask them to support you with talking to your employer.
Making a formal complaint
If talking informally to the people involved doesn’t solve the problem, you could make a formal complaint. Most employers and service providers will have a formal complaints procedure explaining how to make a complaint and who to complain to.
Take legal action
If you feel an employer or service provider has discriminated against you, you may be able to take legal action against them, but you need to act quickly. In most employment cases, you need to lodge your claim to an employment tribunal within 3 months from when the discrimination happened. For other discrimination claims (for example complaining about a service provider) you need to make a claim to court within 6 months.
Be aware that taking legal action can be expensive. However, depending on your financial circumstances and the issues involved, you may be eligible for the Legal Aid scheme. This might cover some or all of the costs.
There are a number of not-for-profit organisations such as law centres, and firms of solicitors, that specialise in helping disabled people with discrimination issues. If you choose to employ a solicitor, it is important to check at the beginning how they will expect to be paid. You should also find out whether they have a contract to provide advice and representation through the Legal Aid scheme. It is also a good idea to find out how much experience they have in dealing with discrimination cases.
What are the different types of disability discrimination?
There are 6 main types of disability discrimination:
This is when you are treated worse than another person in a similar situation, because of your disability.
Examples of direct discrimination:
A landlord will not rent a flat to you because you have epilepsy.
Your work is having a staff social event to which family members are invited. You are not invited because your son has epilepsy.
Indirect discrimination is where a general rule or practice that applies to everyone puts disabled people at a disadvantage compared to people who aren’t disabled. This is against the law unless the organisation or employer can show they had a good reason for the rule or practice. See Is it ever lawful for people to discriminate against me because of my epilepsy?
Example of indirect discrimination:
A job advert lists having a driving licence as an essential requirement. This puts you at a disadvantage because your seizures prevent you from getting a driving licence. If the advert is for a job as a bus driver, the requirement is justified and is not discrimination. But if it’s for a retail manager who sometimes travels to different sites this will be harder to justify.
Discrimination arising from a disability
It is also discrimination if a person or organisation treats you badly for a reason connected to your disability, such as needing time off for medical appointments. This is called discrimination arising from a disability. For it to apply, the person or organisation must have known, or should have known, about your disability.
Discrimination arising from a disability is against the law unless the organisation or employer can show they had a good reason. See Is it ever lawful for people to discriminate against me because of my epilepsy?
Example of discrimination arising from a 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. This will be discrimination unless your employer can show that dismissing you was justified.
Failure to make reasonable adjustments
Reasonable adjustments are changes an employer or someone providing a service must make in order to meet the needs of disabled people. Not making reasonable adjustments could be against the law under the Equality Act. Reasonable adjustments could include:
- Making changes to a rule
- Making changes to buildings
- Providing equipment that will help you
- Giving you information in a way that is easier to understand, such as an Easy Read version
Sometimes a reasonable adjustment will cost money and the employer or organisation must pay for it. The cost of an adjustment can be taken into account in deciding if it is reasonable or not.
What counts as ‘reasonable’ depends on a number of things, including:
- How practical it is for the organisation to make the adjustment
- How much it would cost
- How much it would help to make things more equal for you
Examples of reasonable adjustments:
Your epilepsy means you sometimes struggle to remember things, so your college arranges equipment for you to record lectures.
An employer allows you to start and finish work later than other employees, if you usually have seizures first thing in the morning.
There is a government scheme called Access to Work which can help you get or stay in work if you have a health condition or disability.
There’s more information about work and epilepsy on our website, including an employer toolkit and advice on reasonable adjustments at work for people with epilepsy.
This is unwanted behaviour towards you related to your disability that causes you offence, fear or upset.
What does the law say?
Harassment is when someone’s behaviour:
- Has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity or
- Creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you
What does this mean?
Harassment is when someone’s behaviour towards you makes you feel upset, scared or ashamed.
Employers and organisations must 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. That is unless they can show they did everything they could to prevent the harassment.
The Equality Act also protects your family and friends from being harassed at work or when using services, if the harassment is because of your epilepsy.
Examples of harassment:
The bar staff at your local pub make insulting comments about you and your husband, who has epilepsy.
Your boss knows that you have epilepsy and that this causes you stress, They frequently wind you up and put you down in front of your colleagues by telling you to ‘calm down or you’ll have a fit’. Even though you have asked your boss to stop doing this, they continue
This is when you are treated badly because you’ve complained about discrimination. 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.
What else does the Equality Act protect against?
The Equality Act says that employers must not ask you questions about your health or disability until you’ve been offered a job, except in some specific circumstances. See our information about looking for work to find out more.
The Equality Act also protects carers of people with a disability.
Is it ever lawful for people to discriminate against me because of my epilepsy?
Sometimes indirect disability discrimination and discrimination arising from a disability can be lawful. The person or organisation must be able to show that they had a good reason for the discrimination. In legal terms, they need to show that the discrimination is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.
‘Legitimate aim’ means there is a real reason for the discrimination. Examples include protecting people’s health and safety or running an efficient service.
‘Proportionate’ means that if you balance them against each other, the reason for the discrimination is more important than the disadvantage you face.
You have regular seizures with no warning. A restaurant will not give you a job cooking at a grill, because your seizures would put you at significant risk of burns. This is an example of discrimination arising from a disability. But it’s likely to be lawful, because the employer could show that the discrimination has a legitimate aim of protecting your health and safety. Even though this puts you at a disadvantage compared to someone who doesn’t have seizures, protecting your health and safety is more important.
If health and safety is used as a reason for the discrimination it should be based on facts about your epilepsy, not on assumptions. If health and safety is a concern, employers or service providers can often make the job or activity safer by doing a risk assessment and making reasonable adjustments.
Jobs in the armed forces
The armed forces can legally discriminate against disabled people in order to ‘ensure the combat effectiveness of the armed forces.’ 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 they based their decision on relevant and reliable information, such as statistical data or medical reports.
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 provide evidence that you are more likely to make a claim than somebody who doesn’t have epilepsy.
Sources of specialist advice and support
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
Provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.
Tel: 0300 123 1100
Law Centres Network (England and Wales only)
Law Centres defend the rights of people who cannot afford a lawyer. Visit their website to see if you have a Law Centre in your local area.
Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS)
The EASS Helpline advises and assists people on issues relating to equality and human rights.
Tel: 0808 800 0082
Find a solicitor (England and Wales only)
Website run by the Law Society to help you find a solicitor in England and Wales.
Talk to a Disability Employment Advisor (DEA)
Contact your local Jobcentre Plus office to find a Disability Employment Adviser (DEA). This is a government role specialising in helping disabled jobseekers to find and stay in work. Website: gov.uk/contact-jobcentre-plus