Supporting Employees with Epilepsy – National Epilepsy Week 22-28 May 2023
National Epilepsy Week is an annual event intended to raise awareness for and promote better support of those with epilepsy. This year National Epilepsy Week runs from the 22-28 May and it is a useful reminder for employers to continue considering how they can best adjust their practices to support employees with epilepsy.
Epilepsy is the fourth most common serious neurological condition in the world, with an estimated 251,169 people who are of working age currently having the condition in the UK. Diagnoses of epilepsy continue to increase in rate, with epilepsy currently affecting 1 in 97 people in Scotland according to Epilepsy Scotland. Contingent to this increase is a growing likelihood that employers will interview or employ, either currently or in future, someone with epilepsy.
Is epilepsy a disability under the Equality Act 2010?
Employers must be mindful to the fact that Epilepsy may be recognised as a disability by the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act protects people with epilepsy from disability discrimination if their epilepsy has a substantial, long-term negative impact on their ability to do everyday activities. Some forms of epilepsy may be recognised by this definition, even where the person does not think of themselves as disabled or where seizures are controlled. It is therefore crucial that employers understand the obligations upon them in order to avoid disability discrimination and to best support those employees with epilepsy.
During recruitment, candidate employees are not obliged to disclose that they have epilepsy unless their condition will specifically pose a health and safety risk. Therefore, usually the condition will be disclosed by the employee once they have received a job offer to make the employer aware of any reasonable adjustments required to be made.
The Equality Act prohibits employers from asking candidates about their health or disability until after a job offer is made, at which point it would be legitimate to carry out health screenings. Therefore, employers must avoid the subject of health or disability during the interview process, both in verbal and written form.
Employers can, however, enquire whether any reasonable adjustments relating to the candidate’s health will be required for attendance at the interview, or recruitment tests, and in the instance of specific skills imperative to the job, employers are permitted to inquire whether the employee is medically fit to carry out that role.
Reasonable adjustments and good practice
Moving past the recruitment stage, employers may have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments. Small and inexpensive changes can vastly improve the employment experience of people with epilepsy. Education of staff on epilepsy awareness can help reduce the stigma faced by people with epilepsy and reduce the workplace anxiety often experienced by employees who currently have epilepsy. Training staff on epilepsy recognition and appropriate responses to seizures, such as basic seizure first aid and common seizure triggers should they witness one, is hugely important and can ensure the ongoing safety and improved confidence of people with epilepsy when coming to work.
Good practice measures can improve the working relationship between employee and employer and by making reasonable adjustments to working practice pre-emptively, employers can minimise the risk of discrimination claims. Examples of reasonable adjustments include, but are not limited to:
- flexibility to working hours and time off, particularly as this relates to returning to work post-seizures;
- providing quiet places where a person can rest after a seizure;
- providing flexibility, and where necessary additional transportation support, to employees with Epilepsy who have lost their licence due to their condition;
- encouraging breaks and low-stress in the workplace as seizures can be triggered by increased tiredness and stress.
Ultimately, open lines of conversation and flexibility are crucial for employers wishing to ensure they do not discriminate against employees with epilepsy and will help safeguard healthy, positive work relationships.
Contact our Specialist Employment Team if you require advice on this matter.
For further assistance in ensuring the best possible outcomes for people with epilepsy in the workplace, please refer to Epilepsy Scotland’s comprehensive and up to date “Epilepsy and Occupational Health Guide”: ES-Occupational-Health-Guide.pdf (epilepsyscotland.org.uk)