August 5, 2011

Disclosure is an issue which 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, providing you with peace of mind.

Thinking about disclosure includes four main questions.

1. Should I tell my employer/potential employer about my epilepsy?
2. When should I disclose that I have epilepsy?
3. Whom should I tell?
4. How and what should I tell my employer and/or co-workers?

It is essential that you go through all these questions carefully to determine a suitable course of action.

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 rather, because it is often well-hidden. Many times, you may be unaware of a person’s epilepsy until you see them having a seizure. But 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 the discrimination which 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

Ask yourself:

  • 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 your medication could affect your abilities or the safety of yourself or other employees, your epilepsy should be disclosed. If your seizures are so infrequent that they won’t interfere with your work, you may decide that your employer does not need to know.

General Rule about Disclosure according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission

1. If the disability or condition is going to affect job performance, it should be disclosed (to allow for reasonable accommodation).
2. If the disability or condition does not affect job performance, it does not have to be disclosed.
Accommodation must be considered when deciding whether or not to disclose. If you think that 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 that an accommodation is required.

When to Disclose

If you resolve to tell your employer about your epilepsy, you must decide when to disclose. Sometimes, timing is everything. The following information may help you to weigh the advantages of disclosure at various times.

Disclosure on an Application Form
Advantages If you get the job, you will probably have no epilepsy related problems.
Disdvantages It might disqualify you with no opportunity to present yourself.
Considerations 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 not 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
Disdvantages Too much emphasis on epilepsy might preclude you from evaluation based on your abilities.
Considerations You must determine how comfortable you are discussing your epilepsy. Are you too preoccupied with it?


Disclosure after Being Hired, before You Start Working
  • honesty and peace of mind
  • opportunity to discuss job accommodation
  • opportunity to provide relevant information

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 Wrongful Dismissal.

Disdvantages The employer might feel you should have disclosed earlier, which may result in distrust.
Considerations 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.


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
Considerations 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 that co-workers will not know how to respond to your seizures
  • can generate myths and misunderstandings about epilepsy

Co-workers might not know what safety precautions to take when a seizure occurs.

Considerations It may be difficult to re-establish trust with co-workers if they feel you have been untruthful with them.


Never Disclosing
Advantages Employer cannot discriminate as long as a seizure does not occur.
  • You might feel nervous about having a seizure on the job.
  • You may be hurt by inappropriate first aid or safety precautions on the job.
  • It can generate 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.

Considerations If you have not had a seizure in a long time, the issue of disclosure may not be so critical.

Even if you choose a particular time to disclose your epilepsy, you should choose the right moment within that time. For example, if you choose to tell your potential employer about your epilepsy during an interview, it may be advantageous to approach the issue toward the end of the interview. This gives you time to impress the interviewer with your skills and qualifications before you raise the subject.

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, if you decide to tell your co-workers word will usually reach your employer. 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 a thing.

You do not have to inform others that you have epilepsy on your first day of work

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