The Equality Act

Epilepsy meets the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010, which gives people with epilepsy the right not to be discriminated against because of their epilepsy.

The Equality Act protects people with epilepsy not only from unlawful discrimination in the workplace, but also in education and in wider society such as in the provision of goods and services. 

The Equality Act does not allow a blanket ban for people with epilepsy on any job apart from joining the Armed Forces.  Some careers have their own strict criteria based on health & safety, such as fire fighters, police officers, pilots, train drivers, doctors, nurses, teachers or nursery nurses, however, the Equality Act still applies to them. 

These professions will not be allowed to reject a job application from someone with epilepsy from the outset.  If a person with epilepsy is the best candidate for the job, a prospective employer will need to carefully assess any risks based on that person’s seizures.  If they identify a risk they will need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the job if possible.  We can provide more information on this.

For more information about the Equality Act and what this might mean for you, read our Equality Act – summary of key rights publication. 

Also check out our Epilepsy and occupational health publication for more information on rights and responsibilities at work under the Equality Act.

For employees

Taking regular breaks to avoid tiredness, ensuring you eat regularly, staying well hydrated, and addressing any stress at work can all help to keep you seizure free at work.

Some people’s seizures can also be triggered by getting too hot.  Make sure your work environment is at a comfortable temperature and your work area is well lit.

You do not need to disclose your epilepsy unless there is a health and safety risk if you had a seizure at work.  For more information on this see below.  If you choose to inform your employer or colleagues about your epilepsy it can be a good idea to let them know what happens when you have a seizure and what they may need to do to support you.

If you are working later than usual be mindful of potential seizure triggers such as tiredness, eating much later than normal, getting stressed, and possibly not taking your medication on time.

If you find that being tired leads to more seizures, establish a good sleep routine at home making sure you always get a good night’s sleep.  Tiredness and lack of sleep is one of the more common triggers for seizures.

Some people who work night shifts have trouble sleeping during the day.  If you find that being tired is likely to trigger a seizure for you, avoid working night shifts if you can.

 

The right not to disclose your epilepsy

When you are looking for work, you do not need to disclose your epilepsy during the application and interview process.  In fact, it is unlawful for prospective employers to ask you questions about medical conditions and disability during the recruitment process.

Once you have a job offer, you may want to consider letting your employer know about your epilepsy, so that they can do a risk assessment and provide appropriate support for you if this is needed.

You only need to disclose your epilepsy by law if there is a specific health and safety risk, such as if the job involves working at height, with heavy machinery or hazardous chemicals.

 

Reasonable Adjustments

The Equality Act gives you the right to ask your employer to consider making reasonable adjustments to help you carry out your job safely. These adjustments can be very specific to an individual and should always be discussed with the employee to find out what specific support they may need.

Reasonable adjustments for people with epilepsy could include:

  • allowing a person whose seizures occur during sleep making you more tired in the morning, to start and finish later
  • setting a fixed shift pattern for people who find their seizures are triggered by tiredness or varied shift work
  • getting another employee to do part of the person’s work they cannot do because of their epilepsy, eg climbing up a ladder to arrange files
  • re-arranging working hours for a person who has lost their driving licence and cannot get in on time by public transport
  • providing a quiet place where a person can rest after a seizure
  • providing a support driver for some journeys where the person cannot drive because of epilepsy and public transport is not practical
  • redeploying a person to an alternative job at a similar or higher level if they meet the essential criteria

A reasonable adjustment can also be temporary, for example until medication begins to control seizures in someone newly diagnosed with epilepsy or if someone is undergoing a medication change.

What is reasonable for one employer/organisation may not be considered reasonable for another.  It will depend upon factors like the size of the organisation and the cost.

For employers

Using good practice towards people with epilepsy can help your organisation to benefit most from their skills and also helps to identify any issues early to avoid more significant problems developing later in a person’s employment.

As an employer, it is important not to make assumptions about someone’s epilepsy and the impact it may have on their work.  Always carry out individual risk assessments and find out from your employee how their epilepsy affects them, the type of seizures they have and the kind of support they may need.

 

Risk assessments

According to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to make sure the health, safety and welfare of all employees is looked after at work.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers also have a responsibility to:

  • Carry out assessments of risks to employees and other people that arise from their work activities.
  • Make arrangements to implement any controls and precautions found necessary by the risk assessment
  • Appoint one or more competent people to help apply these measures
  • Provide employees with clear and understandable information about the risks arising from their work activity and any precautions to be followed
  • Provide employees with sufficient health and safety training to enable them to carry out their work safely
  • Work together with other employers sharing the same workplace

Working with an occupational health professional can be useful in helping to identify how an individual’s epilepsy may or may not create risk in a particular employment setting.

Find out more in our Epilepsy and Occupational Health guide.  The publication explores in further detail: epilepsy; good practice; the Equality Act; privacy, confidentiality and Data Protection, and provides further useful resources.

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