Challenge the myths. Become enlightened! Be an employer who stands for nothing less than equality at the workplace.
Is this what crosses your mind when the best person for the job says they have epilepsy?
- higher Workers Safety and Insurance Board premiums
- more sick leave
- more accidents and other safety concerns
- lower productivity
- liability concerns
It is natural to be concerned about safety, reliability and liability if a job applicant or employee has epilepsy or any other disability. However, choosing a candidate based on merit undoubtedly benefits your organization.
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)
Workplace insurance rates depend on how hazardous the type of work is and the company’s overall claims record in the past, not by the physical condition of the individual employees.
The Second Injury Enhancement Fund covers someone with a disability who is injured on the job because of a disability. If an employee is injured as a result of having a seizure on the job, both the employer and employee are covered if the employer is aware of the condition before the accident occurs. The claim has a separate assessment than regular accident claims. It is added to the yearly WSIB rates.
Having epilepsy does not automatically mean more time off work, nor does it make people less reliable. A common cold or the flu is likely to account for more sick leave than any time taken off due to seizures.
Accidents and Safety
Persons with epilepsy are generally very careful about their own well-being, and are no more prone to accidents than anyone else when working in an appropriate position. Research indicates that workers who have epilepsy are more aware of potential hazards and less likely to have an accident at work.
Safety factors depend on:
- the type of seizure,
- the frequency, intensity and duration,
- when seizures occur,
- whether there is a reliable pre-seizure warning, and
- the nature of the job itself.
Ask the doctor if the individual has any restrictions. If there is a possibility of a seizure at the workplace, all staff members should learn first aid procedures. (See the Safety Considerations section.)
At times, insurance companies may be reluctant to include the employee with epilepsy in a group insurance plan. If this is the case, include in the person’s salary the amount of money that would have been the company’s contribution to the Group Policy Plan. This allows the employee to investigate optional plans on their own.
People with epilepsy are often aware of their employers’ concerns, and are keen to prove themselves to be productive, reliable and valuable employees. The difficult part is securing a job in the first place.
If you take reasonable precautions to place the employee in an appropriate job, you are not liable for damages in the event of injury at work, unless proven negligent.
Why Hire Someone with Epilepsy?
Studies show that, on average, people with epilepsy feel the need to prove themselves, and therefore tend to work somewhat more conscientiously than others. Not only do they tend to work more carefully and have fewer accidents, but they also tend to show more loyalty to their employers, and miss fewer days of work.
If the person is qualified, the person should be hired. Give the individual the opportunity s/he deserves to be a constructive, useful, self- supporting member of society. Chances are you’ll gain an industrious employee who will make a real contribution to your company’s success.
In a vocational centre in the United States where all employees have epilepsy, there were just 101 accidents (only 25 per cent because of seizures) over four years. This centre includes work with power saws, welders and rivetting machines. They later received a 20 per cent reduction in workers’ compensation rates.
The First Few Weeks
They say anticipation is worse than realization. The same holds true for seizures. In most cases, a seizure is not nearly as bad as we imagine. The chances of someone with controlled epilepsy having a seizure on the job are extremely small.
During the first few weeks of employment (the adjustment period), the anxiety and excitement of taking on a new position can cause higher stress levels for any new employee. This added stress may trigger a seizure, at which point your understanding as an employer is necessary. Your employee will need cooperation from you and his/her co-workers to ensure success in the workplace.
Helpful Questions for Employers to Ask
When job applicants disclose their epilepsy, you have an opportunity to learn about their condition and if it will affect their work. Some suitable questions to ask include:
- What kind of seizures do you have? How often do these occur?
- What happens when you are having a seizure?
- Do your seizures occur randomly or is there a pattern?
- Is there anything in particular that triggers a seizure?
- How long does it take before you can carry on with your work after a seizure?
- Can you carry out the duties of the job with/without reasonable accommodation?
- Can you demonstrate how you will carry out the duties of the job?
- Are there any dependable pre-seizure warnings? (Many persons with epilepsy have adequate warning to allow them to remove themselves from a potentially dangerous situation.)
- Can environmental factors, such as flashing lights, trigger your seizures?
- What should we do if you have a seizure at work?
Assuming a person’s epilepsy will prevent them from doing the job is often a mistake and may be discrimination. Just as everyone has different skills, talents and interests, people with epilepsy also have different types of seizures.
- An employer may not ask a potential employee about the nature or severity of a disability.
- An employer may not even ask if a potential employee has a disability
- An employer may not require a medical examination before a potential employee is offered a job.
Once you have offered a job to a potential employee, you may the employee to complete a physical examination only if all new entering employees for that job must do the same. You may not reject a potential employee based on the results of the physical unless the reasons for rejection are specifically related to the job or are necessary for the conduct of the employer’s business.
If a potential employee can do the essential work of the job, you cannot reject him/her because of a disability. You must keep the results of all medical examinations confidential and in separate medical files.
Human Rights Complaints against Employers
If, as an employer, you treat all employees with equality and are informed of your responsibilities as an employer, you should never have to deal with allegations of discrimination. However, if an employee files a human rights complaint against you, the Commission undertakes the following procedure.
- If the OHRC receives a complaint against you, Commission staff will contact you to discuss the matter.
- Commission staff will explain how the Ontario Human Rights Code applies to the situation, and how the complaint procedure works. Commission staff will work with you and the person making the complaint to try to resolve the concerns. The Commission also offers mediation services.
- If mediation is unsuccessful in resolving concerns, the complaint may proceed to the investigation stage.
- You can ask the Commission not to deal with the complaint under Section 34 of the Code if:
- another Ontario law, such as the Labour Relations Act, would be better suited to deal with the situation;
- you believe the complainant has no reasonable basis to support a claim of discrimination, or the complaint is in bad faith, or the complainant has already obtained a remedy elsewhere;
- the matter is outside the Commission’s legal authority; or
- the person making the complaint waited longer than six months from the last incident of discrimination to file a complaint.
- The OHRC is neutral and does not take sides in the complaint. Commission staff will assist you with questions about the complaint procedure. However, if you require legal representation or advice, please contact a lawyer.
What will be the reaction of my employees if someone has a seizure on the job?
To a large extent, the employer’s reaction influences the attitudes of other employees. As an employer, you are in an excellent position to develop more positive attitudes towards epilepsy amongst your staff. If you hire a person with epilepsy, or an employee discovers epilepsy at some later time, you should discuss with supervisors the possibility of a seizure occurring and the procedure to follow.
What are the procedures to follow if a seizure occurs?
An employee with epilepsy should notify you if any first aid procedure is required in the event of a seizure in the workplace. (Refer to Safety Considerations.)
Do anticonvulsant drugs have any side effects?
Most anticonvulsant drugs have some side effects. Unfortunately in the past, these side effects have been attributed to attitude or personality problems. Some side effects may include moodiness, fatigue, stomach pain or nausea. By placing more stress on a person who experiences side effects from these medications, you may increase the chances of the person having a seizure at work.