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Information for employers
One of the key points to remember about epilepsy is that it varies from person to person. While some people have regular seizures, up to 70% of people (7 in 10) with epilepsy could stop having seizures - with the right medication - so their epilepsy may have little or no effect on their work.
When employing someone with epilepsy, it is important to consider their situation individually and realistically, and base any decisions on fact. This means looking at their epilepsy and the effect it might have on their work. Talking to them about what their epilepsy is really like, and how it might affect their work, is more helpful than making assumptions about how it affects them.
What might be useful to consider?
About their epilepsy
- What type of epilepsy do they have?
- Do they have seizures? What are their seizures like, how often do they happen and how do they affect the person?
- Do they have any physical warning before a seizure (sometimes called an aura)?
- Do they lose consciousness and how does this affect them?
- Do they need an ambulance to be called and is there someone who can do this for them?
- How long do they need to recover from a seizure? Some people can return to work quickly and others may need more time.
- Are their seizures triggered (brought on) by anything, such as tiredness or stress?
Do they take medication to control their seizures and how does this affect them? For example, they may feel tired or find it hard to concentrate.
About the job
- Does the job involve any equipment, working at heights or near water, or any other potentially risky situation?
- Do they work alone or with other people who could help if they had a seizure?
- Would they be responsible for other people, such as children?
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers have to make sure that all their employees are safe at work. To be able to do this, the employer needs to know about their employees’ disabilities or medical conditions, and assess any possible risks - a ‘risk assessment’.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) say it is important that risk assessments:
- Are based on the individual’s circumstances, as each situation and each workplace is different
- include only factual information
- avoid assumptions. For example, do not assume something is going to happen just because they have epilepsy.
For some people within certain jobs, their epilepsy may pose a risk to their health or safety, or to that of other people. However, health and safety law should never by used as a reason not to employ someone without first looking at any risks individually, and considering reasonable adjustments.
You may need to get medical advice or ask a specialist, such as a health and safety expert, to help with a risk assessment. This can also help to identify reasonable adjustments.
What does equality law mean for me as an employer?
The Equality Act 2010 covers all areas of employment from recruitment and selection to training, development and promotion.
Asking health-related questions
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are not allowed to ask questions about an applicant's health in any written form or in an interview, until the applicant has been offered a job, or placed in a pool of successful candidates to be offered a job.
An exception to this is where you can ask applicants health-related questions in relation to the recruitment process. For example, you can ask whether applicants need any specific requirements to enable them to attend an interview.
The Equality Act means that you need to consider a person with a disability fairly, along with all other applicants for a job. It does not stop you employing the best person for the job and it doesn’t mean that you have to employ someone with a disability because of their disability, if they are not the best person for the job.
Job adverts should only ask for skills and qualifications that are genuinely relevant and don’t put people with disabilities at a disadvantage. For example, only ask for a driving licence if it is a requirement of the job. If a skill or qualification is needed for the job, it is not discrimination to ask for it.
Application forms should be available in a variety of formats - for example online and printed copies.
Job contracts should be the same, in terms of leave and sick pay, for everyone applying for the job.
When choosing people to interview for a job, the key thing to consider is whether they have the qualifications, skills and experience for the job. If an applicant has told you that they have epilepsy, it is helpful to think “are they right for the job and is their epilepsy relevant?”
For some cases you might need to do a risk assessment or consider what reasonable adjustments you could put in place for any employee, before you recruit. An occupational health team may be able to advise you about risk assessments.
When a job has been offered
Once a job has been offered you can ask questions about a disability if that will help you put any necessary reasonable adjustments in place.
Under the Equality Act 2010 employers are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that a person with a disability is not at a disadvantage compared to someone without a disability.
You can ask about an employee's health if it helps you to make reasonable adjustments. If you ask questions that are not relevant to the job, or you use someone's health as a reason for dismissing them, this could be discriminatory.
Not everyone with epilepsy will need adjustments and any that are needed will vary depending on the person’s needs.
Adjustments that may be helpful to consider for someone with epilepsy include:
- making their workspace safer in case they have a seizure
- avoiding lone working so that someone else can help if they have a seizure
- exchanging some tasks of the job with another employee's tasks
- adapting equipment or providing equipment or support to help them do their job, and
- time off for medical appointments that is separate from sick leave.
What is ‘reasonable’?
What is a ‘reasonable’ adjustment depends on the situation. Some general guidelines for working out what is reasonable include:
- how practical the adjustment is to make
- how effective the adjustment would be in helping the employee
- how it might affect other employees
- the cost of making it and your financial situation. You will need to pay any costs for reasonable adjustments that are made. You may be able to get help with the cost through Access to Work or other schemes.
You may need to make adjustments if someone develops epilepsy while they are employed by you. It is worth remembering that some people’s epilepsy can change over time, for example if their seizures become controlled (stop happening). So the need for reasonable adjustments may change over time.
Other factors to consider
Some people know that particular situations ‘trigger’, or bring on, their seizures. These can include being tired, stressed or anxious.
If someone’s seizures are triggered by tiredness, shift work could make them more tired and trigger seizures. This is because shift work can disturb the normal pattern of sleep. A reasonable adjustment may be to consider changing or reducing shift work, or changing working hours for this person.
Working with computers
For most people with epilepsy, working with computers is not a problem. Up to 5% of people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy: where seizures are triggered by flashing or flickering lights, or by moving patterns. Modern flatscreen computer screens do not flicker and so the screen itself is unlikely to trigger seizures. However, flashing images on the screen itself could be a photosensitive trigger for some people.
If an employee does have photosensitive epilepsy, it may be helpful to discuss this with them directly.
If someone’s epilepsy is controlled (they don’t have seizures) they are unlikely to need more time off work than other employees. Time off work might depend on the type of seizures someone has and the time they need to recover.
Time off work because of a disability, for example, to attend a medical appointment or to recover from a seizure, is considered a reasonable adjustment. It is usually recorded separately to time off for other reasons, for example, sick leave for a cold.
Insurance and pension schemes
Employers’ Liability Insurance covers all employees in the workplace. However, you need to have made all reasonable efforts to ensure the safety of your employees, including individual risk assessments where needed.
The Equality Act covers occupational pension schemes. This means that if a pension scheme is offered, all employees can join and must be treated fairly under the scheme. Contact the Pensions Advisory Service for more information on 0845 601 2923.
Help and advice for employers
The following organisations can provide information and advice on employing people with disabilities and the Equality Act.
All external websites open in a new window.
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service - Advice for employers and employees.
Citizens Advice Bureau - Local CABs offer free confidential, impartial and independent advice.
Employers’ Forum on Disability - Employers' organisation which focuses on disability as it relates to business.
Equality and Human Rights Commission - Information on discrimination including disability discrimination and the Equality Act.
Health and Safety Executive - Guidance on health and safety legislation.
Jobcentre Plus (Gov website) - Provides information on training and employment. Disability Employment Advisers can provide support for people with disabilities. They have details of Access to Work teams.
The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) - Independent organisation providing information on pension schemes.
You can order a copy of our leaflet 'employment' from our online shop as part of our 'first five free' offer.
© Epilepsy Society
Information produced in September 2012.