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17 September 2015

Gordon Ramsay says epilepsy no problem

Just one tweet from Gordon Ramsay and the six short words 'I will offer you a job' and in a heartbeat the world has woken up to the challenges faced by people with epilepsy in the workplace. It started with a tweet from young chef Aaron Merry who fears he has been fired from his previous kitchen job because he chose to share the fact that he has epilepsy.


Aaron tweeted the notorious tv chef who is as well-known for his kitchen tantrums and fiery choice of words as he is for his cooking: '@GordonRamsay could do with your advice, got fired from my chef job on the way home on the same day I mentioned epilepsy, is that fair ?'

Outraged, the chef tweeted back: 'That's ridiculous DM I will offer you a job'

While many people are expressing surprise at the big-hearted gesture of the volatile and often hard-hearted chef, few people with epilepsy will be surprised at the experience of young chef Aaron Merry.

Employment and anxiety

Employment is one of the biggest causes of anxiety for people with epilepsy. For many whose seizures are well controlled the impact of their condition in the workplace is minimal. But for those with active seizures there can be many worries around employment. Anxieties range from concerns about whether disclosing epilepsy at an interview might reduce their chance of getting the job, through to the fear of having a seizure in the workplace and the worry of how colleagues might react.

The Equality Act of 2010 has done much to protect people with a long-term health condition such as epilepsy from discrimination in the workplace. And increasing numbers of employers are showing a real commitment to supporting people with the condition.

But the experiences of those with epilepsy too often underline the reality that many still feel vulnerable. Research has shown that people with epilepsy are up to twice as likely as those without the condition to be at risk of unemployment. They are also likely to be underemployed in relation to the level of their skills and qualifications.

In 2013 we carried out a survey into the experiences of people with epilepsy in the workplace which showed that 78 per cent of people have experienced problems at work related to their seizures, nearly 70 per cent have experienced problems due to having to take time off because of seizures and 60 per cent have had problems managing their seizures at work.

Unpredictable seizures

Chief executive at Epilepsy Society Angela Geer puts it in a nutshell: 'Often it is the invisible and unpredictable nature of the condition that people find hard to understand and deal with, but in the majority of cases epilepsy should not be a barrier to employment.

'People with epilepsy need to be empowered and confident in talking about their epilepsy and employers need to be informed about supporting them in the workplace.

'Our website has a lot of information about employee and employers' rights and how both can support each other. Our Helpline also offers both practical and emotional support for those who are experiencing problems or who wish to support a member of staff who has epilepsy.

'We hear about a lot of cases of bad practice but equally, I am happy to say, there are employers out there who will go the extra mile to ensure that epilepsy is not a barrier to employment.'

Of course there are areas where having epilepsy may be a barrier to employment for health and safety reasons. These include ambulance, taxi and train drivers, jobs near open water or at great height. Having epilepsy may also be a barrier to joining the Armed Services.

Dangers at work

As a chef, Aaron Merry has chosen a career where there are definite dangers for anyone with epilepsy: hot surfaces, boiling water and liquids, and sharp knives. But that doesn't mean that these should be barriers, more considerations.

The Equality Act requires every employer to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to enable someone with epilepsy to do a job as well as any other employee. As is so often the case, the Equality Act underpins what we, as humans, already know though not everyone practices.

On this occasion the Kitchen Nightmares chef is spot on with his reaction. Good on you Gordon. A job for one young lad and a hell of an awareness raiser for the employment nightmare that too many people with epilepsy know only too well.


Read more about employment, epilepsy and the Equality Act.