Employment is perhaps one of the greatest challenges people with epilepsy face. When should I tell my employer about my epilepsy? What if I have a seizure at work? What if I feel I have been refused a job because of my epilepsy? Epilepsy Support Centre realizes the potential stresses that employment can cause.
Employment with Epilepsy
The majority of people with epilepsy find their seizures do not prevent them from having fulfilling jobs and promising careers. Unfortunately, some have a much harder time gaining seizure control and face many more challenges in the workplace.
What are some of the challenges?
For people who find it difficult to gain seizure control, finding and keeping a job can be one of the toughest challenges they face. Having a job is important for financial independence, raising self-esteem, and supporting a family. Unfortunately, up to 50% of people with epilepsy experience difficulty finding and keeping a job. Of those who find a job, 30% are under-employed or unemployed. Underemployment and unemployment are far higher among those with epilepsy than the general population for several reasons, including:
- Lack of training, skills, or experience
- Lack of transportation
- Negative attitudes of employers towards people with epilepsy
- Negative attitudes of co-workers towards people with epilepsy
- Safety concerns within the workplace
Inadequate Work Skills
If you have never been able to gain seizure control, you may have found it very difficult to complete enough education to advance your career. In addition to seizures, anti-epileptic drugs often cause side effects such as drowsiness or memory difficulties that can inhibit further learning. Without a completed education or work experience, you may not have the required qualifications for the job you really want. The good news is, there are many community-based agencies that provide assistance building skills and finding employment for those who experience barriers to employment.
Lack of Transportation
If your seizures prevent you from driving, you might find it difficult or impossible to find employment, or to find work that makes good use of your training and skills. Public transportation can help non-drivers in cities, but the lack of public transit can be a barrier for those in rural areas.
Negative Attitudes from Employers / Co-workers
The number one reason employers give for not hiring people with epilepsy is the fear that the person will have a seizure at work. Epilepsy Support Centre works hard to change this attitude and the stigma that it reflects. Perhaps one of the best ways to alleviate this fear is to hand your employer one of our brochures or explain to your employer or co-workers what to do if you have a seizure while at work. Just talking about the issue goes a long way to putting them at ease. If you are not comfortable talking about your epilepsy with your employer or co-workers, Epilepsy Support Centre offers workplace educational programs to inform and dispel myths. Please contact our office to arrange a presentation.
Your Legal Rights
In 1993, Ontario passed the Employment Equity Act to protect the rights of, and provide equal employment opportunities to, those with disabilities. The Act covers all areas of the workplace including recruitment, selection, retention, treatment, and promotion.
According to the Employment Equity Act, a person with a disability is:
- A person who has a persistent physical, mental, psychiatric, sensory or learning impairment and who considers him/herself to be disadvantaged in employment because of that impairment, or
- Someone who believes that an employer is likely to consider them to be disadvantaged because of that impairment.
To view the act in detail, visit http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/e-5.401/index.html. All people, including those with disabilities have a right to equal treatment in the workplace without barriers whether they are systemic or deliberate. Many people with epilepsy who bring strong assets or skills to the workforce may feel they are often denied job opportunities simply because they have epilepsy.
If you feel you have experienced employment discrimination, visit http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en or call the Ontario Human Rights Commission at 1-800-387-9080.