Employment

Fact: The Ontario Human Rights Code and the Employment Equity Act protect differently-abled people from discrimination in recruitment, hiring, retention, treatment and promotion. All people, including persons with epilepsy, are entitled to a workplace free from systemic and deliberate barriers that discriminate against them.

Researchers have found that many people with epilepsy have feelings of dissatisfaction in employment, which can lead to serious repercussions. Higher levels of income are associated with better health while low income earners have increased rates of disability and health related problems.

Unemployment is linked to difficult living conditions, low income, loss of self esteem and higher rates of illness. This means it is especially important for people with epilepsy to find suitable jobs that can provide them with an income, increased self esteem as well as a number of essential skills.

Disclosure

The question of when to disclose epilepsy to an employer can cause an employee a great deal of anxiety. Before disclosing any information, an employee must have extensive knowledge about their particular type of seizure disorder, the characteristics of their seizures, how frequently they occur, first aid procedures (if required) and the length of recovery time following a seizure. This information will help the employer better understand epilepsy and make any accommodations as required.

Fact: Approximately 50 per cent of people with epilepsy have difficulty finding and keeping a job.

Job Suitability

Strategies are needed to assess the suitability of a candidate for a particular job. Both physicians and individuals with epilepsy may use assessment trees to determine job suitability. Assessment trees may include some of the following questions and criteria:

  • Does the individual take anti-epileptic drugs?
  • When did the latest seizure occur (with or without medication)?
  • If the epilepsy is still active, what is the form of epilepsy and the seizure type (description of seizures, frequency, severity)?
  • What time do the seizures usually occur?
  • Are there possible provocative factors that trigger the seizures (e.g. lack of sleep, use of alcohol)?
  • Is there secondary pathology (e.g. injuries as a consequence of seizures)?
  • What are the possible side-effects of the individual’s medication?

If the person does not take anti-epileptic drugs and has been seizure free for over a year, there are no anticipated problems for the work situation. In most situations it is common to stop medication when a person has been seizure-free for three to five years. If freedom from seizures continues, the person does not need to expect any problems.

Fact: It is illegal in Ontario for an employer to ask questions about medical problems on an application form. Medical questions during an interview must be restricted to inquiries that determine if reasonable accommodation will be necessary.

Accommodation

A person with epilepsy may need accommodation in the workplace to perform their job. Accommodations are determined by physical and demand analyses or a breakdown of the exact physical requirements necessary to perform a job. For example, the following accommodations may be necessary:

  • If flashing lights trigger seizures for a person whose essential job duties include working on a video display terminal, altering or deleting the flashing cursor from the monitor may be necessary.
  • If the employee has nocturnal seizures, the employer should accommodate the employee by assigning day shifts.
  • Following a seizure, the employee may need to rest for a period of time (from a few minutes to hours or more). The employer should not insist that an employee go home. A person with epilepsy is not sick. S/he will resume working as soon as possible.

For more resources on epilepsy and employment, click here.

Students

The prospect of employment becomes a growing concern for children with epilepsy as they mature. Teachers can help students become aware of their abilities at an early age. All students should be encouraged to select occupations that satisfy their interest and capabilities.

It is important to consider that epilepsy is a chronic condition for some people and there may be certain realistic restrictions, which must be respected. It may be very upsetting for a student to learn that some professions are closed to him/her. Nonetheless, be honest with the child so that s/he doesn’t begin planning for a job for which there is no hope for employment. All students should be proud of the things that they can do and should be encouraged to concentrate on them.

Click here to learn more about Living with Epilepsy.

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