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Having epilepsy does not necessarily stop someone from doing the job they want, but there are some issues which can affect work.
The Equality Act brings together nine previous laws, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). In terms of employment, there are different types of disability discrimination. People with epilepsy are covered by the provisions of the Equality Act, even if their seizures are controlled, or they do not consider themselves to be 'disabled'.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is the tendency to have seizures that start in the brain. About 1 in 100 people in the UK have epilepsy. However, up to 70% of people (7 in 10) with epilepsy do not have seizures because their seizures are controlled with medication.
There are many types of seizure. In some, the person loses consciousness and has convulsions (jerking movements). In other types, they become confused or blank and may not know what they are doing.
How does epilepsy affect work?
Whether someone’s epilepsy affects work depends on whether they have seizures, what their seizures are like and how often they happen. It also depends on the type of work, and any risks having seizures at work might bring.
"It is an employer's duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”. Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 says that employers are responsible for making sure that all their employees are safe at work and protected from possible dangers to their health. This includes making sure that the job and the work environment is safe and has no health risks. Employees are also responsible for their own safety at work, and the safety of their work colleagues.
The Equality Act 2010 came into effect in October 2010. It replaced and brought together nine previous laws that aimed to protect people against discrimination, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA).
What is a disability?
"Someone has a disability if they have “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. Equality Act 2010.
Here, ‘substantial’ means it is difficult and time-consuming to do activities compared to someone without a disability, and ‘long-term’ means at least 12 months. ‘Day-to-day activities’ include being able to get around, hear, see, remember and concentrate.
Epilepsy is a physical, long-term condition and people with epilepsy are protected under the Equality Act even if their seizures are controlled or if they don’t consider themselves to be ‘disabled’.
Types of disability discrimination
The Equality Act protects people from several different types of disability discrimination, in terms of employment. Volunteer (unpaid) work is not covered by the Equality Act 2010.
It is illegal for an employer to treat someone with a disability worse than a person without a disability, without a justifiable reason. Direct discrimination includes the following.
Perceived discrimination is where someone is treated unfairly because it is assumed that they have a disability, and that this affects their ability to carry out day-to-day activities. For example, making an assumption without any basis that a person's epilepsy will mean they can't do a job as well as someone without epilepsy.
Associative discrimination is where someone is treated unfairly because they are connected to someone else with a disability. For example, not promoting someone just because they have a child with a disability.
Harassment is being treated differently because of a disability, in a way that is humiliating or offensive and can't be justified.
This is treating everyone the same in such a way that it puts someone with a disability at a disadvantage. For example, a rule that 'everyone must use the stairs' is unfair for people who use wheelchairs. To treat all employees equally, employers may need to treat someone with a disability differently to someone without a disability.
Discrimination arising from disability
This is treating someone unfairly because of something connected with their disability. For example, someone with a visual impairment is told they can't bring their guide dog to work, without a justifiable reason.
Failure to make reasonable adjustments
Reasonable adjustments are changes that employers are expected to make so that a person with a disability is not put at a disadvantage. For example, time off work for medical appointments should be recorded separately from sick leave. If an employer refuses to do this without a justifiable reason, their employee is at a disadvantage.
This is treating someone unfairly because they have complained about any type of discrimination. This can be complaining on behalf of themselves or for someone else.
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© Epilepsy Society
Information produced in September 2012
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