Disclosure is an issue that causes a great deal of anxiety for many people with epilepsy. However, if you have the facts and approach the issue logically, the outcome is usually positive and gives you peace of mind.
To determine a suitable course of action for disclosure, consider these three main questions:
1. Should I tell my (potential) employer about my epilepsy?
Many people are not adequately informed about epilepsy. This is not because epilepsy is an uncommon disorder but because it is often well hidden. You may often be unaware of a person’s epilepsy until you see them having a seizure. That may never occur.
Epilepsy is also well hidden in another sense. People with epilepsy, particularly job seekers and employees, often hide the fact that they have epilepsy because they fear discrimination may result. It is not easy to decide whether to tell your employer or your co-workers that you have epilepsy.
Your decision to disclose depends on:
- the type of seizures you have,
- your need for assistance during/after a seizure,
- the frequency of your seizures,
- the type of work you do.
- Will my epilepsy affect my ability to carry out my work?
- Is my employer likely to find out, whether I disclose or not?
- Do my colleagues need to know in case I have a seizure at work?
- Will I need reasonable accommodation?
If your seizures or medication could affect your abilities or the safety of yourself or others, you should disclose your epilepsy. If your seizures are so infrequent that they won’t interfere with your work, you may decide your employer does not need to know.
General Rules about Disclosure according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission
- If the disability or condition is going to affect job performance, the employee should disclose it (to allow for reasonable accommodation).
- If the disability or condition does not affect job performance, the employee does not have to disclose it.
You must consider accommodation when deciding whether or not to disclose. If you think you will need to be accommodated in the workplace, you should tell your employer. Employers cannot accommodate a disability if they are unaware of it. Generally, it is the responsibility of the employee or potential employee to tell the employer when accommodation is required.
2. When should I disclose that I have epilepsy?
Sometimes, timing is everything. The following information may help you to weigh the advantages of disclosure at various times.
Disclosure on an application form
- If you get the job, you will probably have no epilepsy related problems.
- It might disqualify you with no opportunity to present yourself.
- It is illegal in Ontario to ask about medical problems on an employment application form. Unfortunately, some employers continue to include these questions. This is a violation of the law. No one is required to respond to such questions.
Disclosure during an interview
- honesty and peace of mind
- opportunity to respond briefly and positively in person to specific epilepsy related issues
- The onus is on you to present information about seizure disorder in a clear and positive manner.
- Over-emphasis on epilepsy might preclude you from evaluation based on your abilities.
- You must determine how comfortable you are discussing your epilepsy. Are you too preoccupied with it?
Disclosure after being hired, but before you start working
- honesty and peace of mind
- opportunity to discuss job accommodation
- opportunity to provide relevant information
- The employer might feel you should have disclosed earlier, which may lead to distrust.
- You must evaluate your seizure disorder honestly in light of the prospective job. You must be able to explain to your employer how your epilepsy will not interfere with your ability to do the job. This includes discussing job safety.
- If disclosure changes the hiring decision, and you are sure your seizure disorder will not interfere with your work, there might be legal recourse. See Know Your Rights!
Disclosure after you start working
- You have a chance to prove yourself on the job.
- You have an opportunity to provide relevant information.
- You can respond to epilepsy-related questions.
- If disclosure affects your employment status, and the condition does not affect ability to perform the essential duties of the job, you might be protected by the law.
- fear of having a seizure on the job
- could change your interaction with peers
- fear of discrimination
- possibility of seizure before co-workers know how to respond
- The longer you wait to disclose, the more difficult it becomes. It might be difficult to decide who to tell and how to tell them.
Disclosure after having a seizure on the job
- chance to prove yourself on the job before disclosure
- opportunity to educate others
- The law may protect you if disclosure affects your employment status and your condition doesn’t affect your ability to perform your job.
- possibility of injury if co-workers apply inappropriate first aid measures
- perpetuates myths and misunderstandings about epilepsy
- fear of having a seizure before disclosure
- It may be difficult to re-establish trust with co-workers if they feel you have been untruthful with them.
- Epilepsy is never an issue unless you have a seizure.
- constant worry or nervousness about having a seizure on the job
- injury caused by inappropriate first aid or safety precautions on the job
- perpetuates myths and misunderstandings if a seizure does occur
- Studies show that people who don’t disclose have a higher chance of having a seizure on the job.
- If you have not had a seizure in a long time, the issue of disclosure may not be so critical.
3. Whom Should I Tell?
Once you have decided when to disclose, you will have to determine whom you are going to tell. In most situations, especially if you need the provision of reasonable accommodation, your first priority would be to disclose to your employer. Even if you do not need any accommodation and you can perform the essential duties of the job, word will usually reach your employer if you decide to tell your co-workers.
You will have to decide whether or not to tell your supervisor, co-workers in your immediate area, or your whole department. It is up to you to decide if you will approach your co-workers on a one-to-one basis or decide to disclose in a group situation. It may be to your advantage to find out who already knows something about seizures and who does not know much about it.
You do not have to inform others that you have epilepsy on your first day of work.