Epilepsy Talk

Epilepsy, Employment and the Law | April 18, 2016

Here are some tips for interviewing, work and also your legal rights.

Disclosing Epilepsy with a Potential Employer

It’s not always necessary to discuss epilepsy with a potential employer.

Whether you do or not is up to you.

If you have excellent seizure control and the employer does not ask any health-related questions, there’s no reason to start talking about epilepsy unless you want to.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers may not ask any health-related questions until after they have offered you the job.

If you decide to talk about your epilepsy, or if you have to because of a legal question from the employer (after a job has been offered), explain that if one should occur, it will only last a very short time.

And always reassure how this condition actually affects your ability to perform in a job.

“I’ve had E since I was 21, and I never had any problems with it preventing me from getting a job for 30 years. The trick is don’t let the employer feel as though you think it’s an issue, and they won’t feel it’s an issue.” — David Osborne

On the down side; employers may discriminate because of the stigma associated with epilepsy, misconceptions about its medical and social aspects, unfounded fears of legal and medical liability and the misconception that people with epilepsy are not as productive as others.

But new laws have begun to change the landscape of employment opportunities for people with epilepsy and other disabilities.

Interestingly enough, some employers fear hiring people with epilepsy because they’re concerned about higher workplace insurance rates or believe that employees with epilepsy will use a lot of sick leave.

Workplace insurance rates, however, are determined by how hazardous the type of work is and by an employer’s overall claims record in the past, not by the physical condition of individual employees.

And if you choose to disclose at the time of hiring that you have epilepsy, an employer only may ask two questions: whether he/she needs a reasonable accommodation and if so, what type.

The employer also must keep any information an applicant discloses about their medical condition confidential.

Your particular seizures may not require any first aid or help. But if you might need assistance, you should work with your employer to create a plan of action.

How Should I Tell My Coworkers?

Here area few tips to follow when discussing your epilepsy:

1. It’s often a good idea to review first aid measures. Others need to know what happens during a seizure.

The explanation should be reassuring. It’s normal for them to be frightened when first seeing a seizure, so they should be told that the risk of serious injury is small and that the seizure doesn’t
cause pain.

2. They should know what is going to happen when you have a seizure such as how you may behave before, during and after the seizure, what they should and should not do if one occurs.

(Like not to stick anything in your mouth during a seizure, because the belief about swallowing your tongue is a myth. And they should not hold or restrain you, unless it is absolutely necessary for safety.)

3. You should tell them when to call for medical personnel or an ambulance, but it should be emphasized that this is rarely necessary for a person with epilepsy who has a single seizure.

4. Coworkers should also know that you should be left alone in a safe place and seem to be all right.

And if you do have a seizure, when you have fully recovered and returned to work, you should acknowledge what happened, thank the people who were helpful and ask if they have any questions.

(I chose to tell one person in each setting because I was in advertising at a highly visible job with lots of meetings, presentations and clients galore. And no, I didn’t tell the clients!)

“The thing is, being up front is important. Telling them you have E is important, but I would advise doing it after the job offer. Otherwise they may ‘go in a different direction’ because of it and have no fault.

Telling a potential employer has two advantages, one is that they are aware in the event that you have a seizure at work. The other benefit is that you can potentially get something from your doctor that says that if you are feeling ill or what have you, you can take off with no repercussions for you. Its called an intermittent leave of absence.

I had one at a call center before and had to take off at least once a week…but at another job they wouldn’t hear of it. That was my experiences though.” — Nickolas Doty

What Are My Legal Rights?

1. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s necessary to take legal action to keep a job.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on a person’s disability if the person is capable of performing the essential duties of the job.

2. Reassignment may be necessary where an employee with epilepsy can no longer perform his job, with or without reasonable accommodation, unless the employer can show that it would be an undue hardship.

The new position should be equal in pay and status to the employee’s original position, or as close as possible if no equivalent position is available.

The new position doesn’t have to be a promotion, although the employee should have the right to compete for promotions just like other employees.

3. If you feel that you’ve been fired or demoted because of your epilepsy (and your company’s Human Resources Department is not able to help), think about seeing a lawyer.

In many places, this kind of legal assistance is available at low-cost.

4. Your first step should be to become informed about the relevant laws and the restrictions about disability discrimination.

(It may be helpful to speak with a representative of your local EFA Chapter.)

You could also speak with the protection and advocacy staff of the state human rights commission, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), or a social worker who specializes in employment issues.

5. Also find out about the ADA. (American with Disabilities Act.)

It applies to all employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees in which at least 15 employees work for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks.

The ADA excludes the federal government or other employers that receive a certain level of federal support (because they are subject to other similar regulations), as well as Indian tribes and private-membership clubs that are exempt from taxation.

6. Title I of the ADA provides that people with disabilities cannot be excluded from employment unless they are unable to perform the essential requirements of the job.

7. You are subject to the same employment rules as others when it comes to upgrading, promotion, demotion, tenure, transfer, layoff, termination, return from layoff, and rehiring…

8. The same with rates of pay or other compensation and changes in compensation…

9. Job assignment, job classification, position descriptions, lines of progression, structures and seniority lists also apply…

10. Leaves of absence, sick leave, or other leave…

11. Fringe benefits, whether or not administered by the employer…

12. Selection and financial support for training, including apprenticeships, professional meetings, conferences and other related activities, and selection for leaves of absence to pursue training…

13. Any activities sponsored by the employer, including social and recreational programs…

14. Any other term, condition, or privilege of employment.

Tip: “Your best places you want to look for jobs is find places that post EOE ( Equal Opportunity Employment). These type of places are in agreement to hiring people with disabilities.

They work with the disability act if you are hired, even if you have not told/written or they have not asked if you have any disability. You have a seizure on the job, they are supposed to work with you and figure out a plan that works for both of you.” — Kari Lynne Brauer

It’s the law!

NOTE: FOR INFORMATION ABOUT FREE LEGAL RESOURCES, CLICK ON: https://epilepsytalk.com/2010/09/19/free-legal-resources/

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  1. I really need to find out if its too late to sue my employer for being fired. I think, no I know it was discrimination. I was promoted over 11 times in 9 years. I also felt like I was harassed before I was fired. It has been almost two years now, I dont know if it is too late.


    Comment by Heather Collins Kidd — April 18, 2016 @ 4:07 PM

  2. Heather, I would contact the ADA office or perhaps seek legal action. I don’t know if there’s a time limit on discrimination allegations.

    “How to File an ADA Complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice”


    But this link may make life easier and even let you know whether your complaint is valid at this time:

    “FREE Legal Resources”


    Good luck. I hope things work out in your favor.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 18, 2016 @ 4:31 PM

  3. I had a hard time getting work because I was too forthcoming about my condition in the interview. I guess even though you say “partial seizures” they still imagine me rolling on the floor. That is what happened at my last job get put me on “probation” because they were afraid I was going to have a seizure and burn down the kitchen (I was a cook in a daycare) even though I had told them several times that I don’t have that type. I ended up quitting I felt so harassed, but I called a lawyer and there was nothing I could do. It’s surely frustrating trying to find work in a small town and have to deal with uneducated stigmas too. 😞


    Comment by LEOlover7631 — April 18, 2016 @ 6:24 PM

    • Ignorance is NOT bliss.

      Disclosing your situation at the time of the interview should have been some sort of protection against discrimination.

      I can sort of understand the “probation” part, because of your employer’s fears, since you were working in a kitchen.

      However, the harassment was a form of forcing you to quit, which would leave you with no legal recourse.

      So, you’re right, you’re stuck. And I’m so sorry for your situation.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 19, 2016 @ 9:58 AM

  4. Excellent; valuable info.


    Comment by Melissa Bryan — April 19, 2016 @ 9:37 AM

  5. Talk about stuck. I had my first sz while working as a social worker at a large agency. While In shock and scared by this event, they offered me 2 options: they could fire me, but my health care (COBRA) benefits would not be extended, or, I could quit. If I quit, I would not receive unemployment benefits. How about that? With no real option, I quit. I felt betrayed by an organization designed to help those in need. But hey, it’s still a business, huh?


    Comment by Susan — April 19, 2016 @ 12:07 PM

  6. A very empathetic social worker organization, eh?

    So what happened?

    What will you do when COBRA is through?

    Here’s a link that may help, if you’re looking for long term health insurance:

    Health Insurance — No-Cost & Low-Cost


    You certainly got screwed. 😦

    Meanwhile, I hope you find new employment soon.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 19, 2016 @ 3:16 PM

  7. Can we use those rules in dating? Seems to be true for dating too. If you tell them upright, you never see them again. And of course your out the cost of dinner. 🙂


    Comment by Zolt — April 19, 2016 @ 4:44 PM

  8. Hey, I had a flaming seizure on my first “date” with Arthur. That was 36 years ago!!!! 🙂


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 19, 2016 @ 4:53 PM

  9. Hehehehe, love at first seizure. Well you where lucky or maybe he just didn’t want to loss the cost of dinner. 🙂 hehehehehe

    Maybe the rules are different for a man and a woman. Men can’t seem weak and woman are attracted to the stronger type. Where as men are protective and willing to take care of the weaker sex since they are the stronger ones.


    Comment by Zolt — April 19, 2016 @ 5:06 PM

  10. Well Zolt, as usual, you have a good point there.

    Except Arthur didn’t lose the cost of dinner.

    The pizza wasn’t delivered until later! 🙂


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 20, 2016 @ 8:57 AM

  11. I have a question that may require an entire new posting. Some states, such as Minnesota, are “at will” employment. From what I understand, this means either party (employer, employee) may terminate or quit without advance notice. How can one challenge discrimination in states with this law?


    Comment by Travis — April 23, 2016 @ 12:40 PM

  12. Travis, I would suggest posing that question to the EEOC. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


    Or even your Congressman.

    That’s the best thing I can think of. But you’re right, it should NOT be lawful behavior.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 23, 2016 @ 4:41 PM

  13. Reblogged this on Art by Rob Goldstein and commented:
    Know your rights! This is a great post about employment and the American’s with Disabilities Act.


    Comment by Robert Matthew Goldstein — April 24, 2016 @ 5:15 PM

  14. was told by a licensing board I shouldn’t be working because it was a disability. Imagine the silence that followed when I said … is that discrimination?


    Comment by cindy212 — May 16, 2016 @ 10:10 PM

    • you go! love it!


      Comment by mlmbiologicscom — August 1, 2016 @ 11:56 AM

  15. FEAR too, I would guess!

    (Sometimes, silence is golden.)


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 17, 2016 @ 6:42 AM

  16. I am an ambulance mechanic where I live and I recently had a seizure while on a test drive. Very little damage was done and noone was hurt thank God. My HR associate told me I was required by the company to report myself to the DMV. That will automatically give me a 6 month license suspension. She also told me that my employer would not find 6 months to be a reasonable accommodation which what I’m hearing turns out to be a termination of employment in my ears. I work with 2 other technicians who could and would assist me with the driving aspect of my job until my license is reinstated but that doesn’t seem to be an option so I’m told. Does this sound like something that could be considered to be a type of discrimination.


    Comment by Kenneth Howard — June 2, 2016 @ 12:26 PM

    • It could be. I was unable to drive for 14 months and my job required driving daily. My husband drove me around for work for 10 months but when I had another seizure at that point, I resigned. When I presented my unemployment case to a judge, the question they asked was what the company did to accommodate me. They didn’t really accommodate me. It was evident they needed to show the judge that they did try. In my experience, the employer sounds like they are not trying. In my case, I sought and won unemployment assistance while looking for a better job.


      Comment by sweetkamie — August 1, 2016 @ 12:03 PM

  17. I’m not sure.

    The actions by the DMV could have definitely done you in and could give your boss probable cause…even if you can get to work.

    Reporting to a state agency is definitely NOT in your favor. Nor is the accident.

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. 😦


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 2, 2016 @ 12:37 PM

  18. If you can establish that the employer was aware of your disability, then you can make a case for discrimination. The challenge is, and will be, finding an attorney willing to invest the amount of time into your case when the payout is so small compared to other types of cases. You will hear probably 90% of them say, “You don’t have a case.” I found attorneys willing to do it because the suits became collective action suits against large companies. In effect, the attorneys made hundreds of thousands of dollars off the suit. I made $8,000 and the 54 other plaintiffs that joined made about the same as me. At will employment is sort of misleading. In my best guess, employers are not released from anti-discrimination laws-even in at will states.


    Comment by sweetkamie — August 1, 2016 @ 12:11 PM

  19. does anyone know how a person working at a company smaller than 15 people is protected in the case of a disability? What I am finding is that companies have to have 15 employees to be held to standards.


    Comment by sweetkamie — August 1, 2016 @ 12:13 PM

  20. That seems to hold true, hard to prove otherwise. 😦


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 1, 2016 @ 1:02 PM

  21. Personally, I don’t think epilepsy should handicap a person’s ability to find meaningful employment. If a potential employer requires or requests information about your medical situation, then give it to them if you believe you should. Now, if your situation does not preclude the possibility of work and productivity, don’t let it affect your performance.


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — August 7, 2016 @ 11:31 AM

  22. Jeffrey, I agree whole heartedly!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 7, 2016 @ 1:33 PM

  23. Epilepsy may handicap a person from driving. However, it should not be an obstacle to find work.


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — August 7, 2016 @ 2:30 PM

  24. Easier said than done. There are many who live in the boonies where there is no public transportation.

    And if there is, you’re still lucky that you don’t have to rely everyday on someone else.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 7, 2016 @ 4:59 PM

  25. This is true.


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — August 7, 2016 @ 7:32 PM

  26. I worked for State Farm Insurance. He was a representative, it was answering phones and doing insurance reports.
    I told him in a week I had a seizure disorder. He laughed my whole family is sick! You are a hard worker!! If you have one I’m here! I had a drivers license then. I went back to school finished my degree and worked in medical field. Life is different but my first job gave me the confidence to go and present my knowledge again! It worked!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by red2robi — January 16, 2017 @ 9:51 AM

  27. I always used to tell my bosses after I got hired and then after the first 6 months I would fill out the papers needed for leave of absence, sorry can’t think of the papers. But that way they couldn’t fire me. My jobs were always office jobs started at sectretary all the way up to management of casino/hotels.


    Comment by Deb — January 16, 2017 @ 1:58 PM

  28. Good for you, Deb. Keeping all bases covered! And rising to management. BRAVO!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 16, 2017 @ 5:07 PM

  29. I have never had a seizure until I was 51. had one on way home from work and second one was at work. they layes me off with unemployment. said work was short. I eventually found out they had got another employee in plant to to my job. as far as I know we were only two that can do this machine. they did my job by manual machines for several months. did not ask me come back and do my job. I had never been out only two times late in three years. ride to work with my boss. I lost my medical and life insurance. what can I do????


    Comment by cat — April 26, 2017 @ 7:24 AM

  30. Thank you so much for helping me but I’m in two minds what to do


    Comment by Bridget Archer — February 2, 2018 @ 10:49 AM

  31. Well, you already know about my personal story with the state government job and the other one. “Embarrassment to the office,” etc. Wish I had gone ahead with the lawsuit, but hindsight is 20/20, and I was too young. But karma took care of that. But the trouble I am finding in my profession is that employers are finding a way around that with, “Must have car, no exceptions.” Or, “must have usee of a car.”I have discount access to Uber, which has been excellent. I also have paratransit and can access public transit. Are things ever going to be “reasonably accommodated” in my profession/field? Oh BTW, at that Harvard seminar, journalists told me not to waste $ on the journalism masters after all. Whew! 😉


    Comment by megambon2164 — March 8, 2018 @ 9:32 AM

  32. I find employment discrimination to be absurd in many regards. People who slack of at their jobs with great regularity should be at risk of losing them. The people who have Epilepsy and yet can functionally perform the same jobs should not face discrimination.


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — March 8, 2018 @ 12:47 PM

    • Not to mention the fact that discrimination against epilepsy is ILLEGAL!

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 8, 2018 @ 2:05 PM

      • Phylis Feiner Johnson, if the issue of being unable to drive independently was the only factor, a co worker who was at the same job could take you. Easy fix. As an Epilepsy patient, I could probably not drive myself to a job safely, unless my Neurologist gave the blessing for it, if I was stable enough from a medical standpoint to do so myself. As a freelancer, what do you work on? Aside from Epilepsy Talk, do you have any other blogs that you post to that you would recommend that I look into?


        Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — July 21, 2018 @ 7:47 PM

      • Happily, I work at home. So, it’s a ten step commute!

        And no, Epilepsy Talk is my only blog. Believe me, it’s work enough!


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 22, 2018 @ 11:03 AM

  33. Thanks so much for your continued support and advice. The sad thing is that discrimination continues in subtle and not so subtle forms. I have been involved in a marketing campaign for epilepsy awareness. Designed by people without epilepsy looking for feedback, the slogan was, “Use Your Brain!” I was so offended! Like people with epilepsy don’t?! A friend of mine, who is also a journalist, but who does not have epilepsy, understood my concern. “They might have well just said, “Shake it up!” 😦


    Comment by megambon2164 — March 8, 2018 @ 11:25 PM

    • Mary Ellen, you more than most have campaigned for epilepsy awareness.

      You write, you spear-head meetings, you go out of your way at every opportunity to be an advocate.

      I wish there were more people like you.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 9, 2018 @ 9:00 AM

      • Phylis, thank you so much. I might not press onward after meetings like that without your encouragement. Without you and a select few who give our cause meaning, I do not know what I would do. All I know is I am happy to be alive – again. If I can use my words to educate someone, I am thrilled. What scares people now is that I am also using my voice along with the written word! A one-two punch! POW!


        Comment by megambon2164 — March 9, 2018 @ 9:04 AM

  34. Nothing can be as powerful as both combined!

    (The more “noise” the better?)


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 9, 2018 @ 9:46 AM

    • Exactly. Loud and proud.


      Comment by megambon2164 — March 9, 2018 @ 9:47 AM

  35. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 9, 2018 @ 9:49 AM

  36. Phylis Feiner Johnson, if someone who experiences Epilepsy cannot drive to work themselves, that is the beauty of public transportation. Better yet, a person could walk to work if their location was convenient.


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — July 26, 2018 @ 9:28 AM

  37. As a firefighter my department is aware of my medical history background of epilepsy. Now the requirements of having a chauffeurs license and NREMT certificate apply to all firefighters. When an attempt was made 12 times to try and pass the NREMT exam, I failed. Now assigned to administrative duties with others who have medical problems such as diabetes, heart attacks, etc. I could do the same work as them. My working hours are cut down short. How could I fight this for equal pay ?


    Comment by Matt Iglesias — December 30, 2018 @ 6:02 PM

    • I think you don’t have much of a chance after failing the NREMT exam.

      And that you do qualify for reasonable accommodation which they are trying to honor.

      You could go to personnel, but I don’t think they would do much.

      Or you could take it up with the ADA and/or an employment lawyer.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — December 30, 2018 @ 6:12 PM

  38. Sorry Phylis, I didn’t give much detail about the admin personnel who once were firefighters out on the field and now are unfit physically due to medical problems, where I have an illness too, but doing fine on meeting physical requirements. So could this be used as a source for fairness on equal pay?


    Comment by Matt Iglesias — December 30, 2018 @ 6:32 PM

    • You could have a case, but it’s a very fine line and I’m no expert.

      That’s why I suggested an employment lawyer, to see if you have a case or not.

      If the lawyer doesn’t think you have a case, he won’t take it, which should give you an indication of the strength or weakness of your case.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — December 30, 2018 @ 6:39 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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