In the Workplace
Employment Barriers
According to Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan’s 2008 Needs Assessment Survey, 38% of adult respondents were unemployed (as compared to the overall rate of 9.6% in Michigan at the time). Furthermore, the mean annual personal income of full-time, year-round workers with epilepsy was $39,690, as compared to the U.S. average of $52,703 (American Community Survey, 2007). Unemployment and underemployment among adults with epilepsy have a significant impact on financial security and quality of life.
 
Perhaps the greatest barrier to employment for people with epilepsy is the inability to reliably get to and from work because of driving restrictions and a lack of other transportation options. Unless a person has been seizure-free for six months, he or she is not allowed to drive and, therefore, must rely upon family members, co-workers, or public transportation to get to work. Unfortunately, in most areas of the state, public transportation is only an option if you work in the community in which you live, and you live in a community that has good public transportation. In addition, it’s not always feasible to get a ride from friends, family members, or co-workers.
 
The symptoms of epilepsy (e.g. seizures, medication side effects, memory problems, depression, etc.) can also be major barriers to employment. Seizures can limit one’s ability to safely perform certain job duties and disrupt one’s work schedule, especially if the individual has a prolonged recovery period after seizures. Drowsiness, poor coordination, and cognitive problems can make it difficult to perform at the level expected by employers and can also pose safety risks. If you develop epilepsy as a working adult, it can be difficult to adjust to new restrictions and limitations. In some cases, you may need to consider switching the field in which you work, and this may require additional education or training.
 
Despite these challenges, though, most people with epilepsy can work effectively and are not at significantly higher risk of injury on the job. In most cases, simple accommodations can help people with epilepsy get around these barriers to employment; however, this is dependent on having an employer that understands epilepsy and employment rights. 
           
Unfortunately, many employers have fears about epilepsy that are largely unfounded. These fears can ultimately result in discrimination in the form of dismissal from employment or failure to get hired in the first place. Therefore, it is important to know when to disclose epilepsy to an employer, how to anticipate and address employer concerns, and what your rights are.
 

Employment Rights
Among other things, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of disability. Under the ADA, you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity such as speaking, thinking, walking, or performing manual tasks (or if you either have a history of a disability or the employer believes you have a disability). To be protected by the law, you must also be able to do the job you want or were hired to do, with or without reasonable accommodation. The ADA is designed to prevent discrimination in job application procedures, hiring, firing, training, pay, promotion, and benefits.
 
If epilepsy or associated symptoms (seizures, recovery, side effects, memory problems, etc.) limit your ability to perform the essential duties of a job, you can request a reasonable accommodation. For example, if you have seizures that are triggered by sleep deprivation, you can request regular hours instead of irregular shift work. If you have memory problems, you can request that a chart describing complicated tasks be posted in your work area. These are just a few examples.
 
If you believe you have been discriminated against by an employer, you may choose to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Be sure to check the time limits for filing a charge. In some cases the EEOC will use mediation or other informal methods to resolve a dispute. In other cases, the EEOC may either bring a lawsuit, inform you of your right to file your own lawsuit, or dismiss the charge.
 

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