In working toward a society where we see equality and diversity in the work place, we need to ask ourselves several questions.
- Would you employ someone with epilepsy?
- What type of job would you give to a person with epilepsy?
- Do you believe that a person with epilepsy can be successful in the workplace?
The term “epilepsy” includes a wide variety of seizure disorders.
They range from mild sensations or interruptions in normal thought, feeling or behaviour.
When an employee discloses that s/he has epilepsy, you as an employer may have a number of concerns. In the past, there has been very little information about epilepsy. It is not uncommon for employers (like everyone else) to have misconceptions and apprehensions.
You can help separate fact from fiction by brushing up on your knowledge about epilepsy in the workplace.
Studies indicate that people with epilepsy work more conscientiously and productively than others. On average, they tend to miss fewer days of work than their co-workers.
When hiring someone with epilepsy, employers may worry about job safety in the event of a seizure-related injury occurring in the workplace. They envision Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) rates escalating. The disabilities of the staff however do not determine these rates.
A recent study revealed that accident rates of workers with epilepsy are lower than those of employees without a disability. Liability is not a factor as long as the employee has an appropriate job placement with the necessary accommodations.
Some insurance companies may be reluctant to include an employee who has epilepsy in group insurance plans. If this is the case, the employer must include in the person’s salary the amount of money that would have been the company’s contribution to the group policy. The employee may then investigate their own plans if they so choose.
Effect of Seizures on Customers/Clients
There are more than 40 types of seizures. In their mildest forms, seizures are almost unnoticeable. The only manifestation of the disorder might be an occasional fluttering of the eyelids, or momentary staring and confusion.
There is the possibility that a person with epilepsy may have a tonic-clonic seizure. To lessen the chances of having this type of seizure, most people with epilepsy take anticonvulsant medication daily. These drugs have been extremely successful in dramatically reducing or completely eliminating seizures.
If an employee does experience a tonic-clonic seizure:
- Follow first aid procedures.
- Ask a co-worker to remain with the person until the seizure has finished.
- Briefly explain to customers/clients that the person is having a seizure.
- Encourage others to resume activities.
Seizures do not usually last more than a few minutes. Information about epilepsy should be available, especially for someone who has witnessed a seizure for the first time.
It is important to respect an employee’s privacy. Sometimes it may be necessary to inform co-workers of an employee’s epilepsy. Always discuss this with the employee before any information is disclosed. The employee should be the person who informs co-workers about their epilepsy.
When considering a prospective employee, it is illegal to ask potential co-workers whether they feel “comfortable” working with a person who has epilepsy. This question implies something is wrong. It is not an acceptable consideration in determining a work situation and is insulting to people who have epilepsy.
Uncertainty about First Aid Procedures
There are specific measures to take during various types of seizures. Employers should request information from the employee about necessary first aid procedures in the event of a seizure.
Provide a concise seizure first aid chart, and ensure it is readily accessible to all employees. This will assist others in helping an employee who is having a seizure.
An accommodation is a necessary adjustment in the workplace to enable a person with epilepsy to perform their job. These accommodations depend on the results of a physical demand analysis, or a breakdown of the exact physical requirements necessary to perform a job.
For example, an employee who has photosensitive seizures (which may be triggered by flashing lights) may need to work on a video display terminal as an essential duty of the job. A reasonable, necessary accommodation would be to replace the flashing cursor on the monitor with a steadily-lit cursor.
If an employee has nocturnal seizures, then the employer should accommodate the employee by assigning day shifts.
Another type of accommodation that may be necessary is time to rest following a seizure. This period may only be a few minutes of disorientation, or it may mean an hour of sleep. An employer should not insist that an employee go home. People with epilepsy are not sick. They will resume their duties as soon as they are able to.
Legalities in an Interview Situation
In Ontario, it is illegal to ask questions about medical problems on an application form. Medical problems during an interview must be restricted to inquiries that will determine if reasonable accommodation will be necessary. It is not permissible to ask an employer, “Do you have epilepsy?”
If a prospective employee reveals they have epilepsy during an interview, it is reasonable for the employer to inquire about the type of seizure the person experiences and what accommodations s/he might require.