Many people with epilepsy are able to work and are gainfully employed. Finding a job may become more difficult if seizures are not well controlled, if there are misunderstandings about epilepsy, or if the job is unsafe for someone having seizures.
There are a number of things that a person with epilepsy can do to improve their chances of gaining and keeping a job in Australia’s competitive employment market. Being aware of your rights and responsibilities as a potential or current employee with epilepsy is a good first step.
The decision for people with epilepsy to seek or not seek certain jobs can be influenced by:
- The type of seizures and how often they occur
- Time of day seizures occur
- Whether the seizures are controlled by medication
- The risks involved if a seizure occurs in workplaces which involve heights, water, heavy or unguarded machinery, firearms or driving.
What jobs can people with epilepsy do?
Almost any job is possible as long as your safety and the safety of colleagues and the community are not at risk.
Remember, everyone has limitations so be realistic about your skills. If you are not successful at getting a particular job, reassess the job requirements and your skills, look at ways you can improve your qualifications and resume, ask for feedback from the interviewer to help improve your chances for future interviews. It is a competitive job market and epilepsy may not be a factor in not being offered the job.
However, there are some jobs prohibited for people with epilepsy. Even with good seizure control, someone with epilepsy will not be able to gain employment as:
- A pilot
- A deckhand or fisherman
- A commercial driver eg: public transport or truck driver
While organisations like Australian Defence Force don’t out rule employing someone with epilepsy, given the consequence of loss of consciousness in a military environment, they conduct a full medical assessment and take into consideration the type of epilepsy and treatment before considering enlistment.
Driving and employment
A person with epilepsy can be employed in a job that involves driving as long as they meet the medical criteria for driving and hold a current Australian driver’s licence. Strict criteria are applied to those people wanting to drive large vehicles such as trucks, buses, commercial or emergency vehicles. For further information about the criteria for obtaining a licence call Epilepsy Action Australia or download the Seizure Smart – Driving factsheet.
Does working with computers trigger a seizure?
For most people with epilepsy, working with computers does not increase or trigger seizures. However, in photosensitive epilepsy, seizures can be triggered by a flashing or flickering light or change in geometric shapes and patterns. This occurs in approximately 5% of people with epilepsy, so is quite uncommon.
People with this type of epilepsy may be sensitive to computers, but most monitors flicker at a frequency that does not tend to provoke seizures. Laptop computers, which have a liquid crystal display, are even less likely to trigger seizures. It is sometimes the content on the screen that can affect someone with photosensitive epilepsy.
If someone is sensitive to computer screens, it is suggested to lower the brightness on the monitor and sit at least 60cm away from the computer.
Telling an employer
The worry of experiencing discrimination at work is a genuine concern when disclosing epilepsy to an employer. This is not helped by the fact that the workplace is where people spend a lot of time, and work is central to our financial security.
The decisions you make about disclosing at work depends on how your epilepsy, or any other medical conditions or disabilities, may affect the safety of you and your colleagues. Critical factors include the requirements of the job, the workplace environment, whether you work alone or with a group and whether you will need specific accommodation made for your epilepsy.
Legally in Australia you are under no obligation to disclose your condition unless it affects your ability to meet the inherent requirements of your job. Unfortunately, there are circumstances when someone may lose their job because of their seizures, particularly if there are safety concerns. An employer has a duty of care to provide a safe working environment for all employees as per the Work Health and Safety Act (WH&S).
Where there is serious conflict between the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and WH&S laws, WH&S law may override the DDA3.
Even so, it can be useful to discuss epilepsy with a potential or current employer. For an employer to be able to fulfil their obligations under the WH&S Act, they need to be aware of any condition that may require them to change working practices or environment to improve safety.
If you do choose to disclose that you have epilepsy, your employer is required by law to keep the information confidential and must obtain your written consent to share the information with others.
For more information and tips on disclosure, see the EAA Factsheet – Seizure Smart – Disclosure
Unfortunately, there are circumstances where someone may lose their job because of their seizures, particularly if there are safety concerns. An employer has a duty of care to provide a safe working environment for all employees as per the Work Health and Safety Act.
If seizures are likely to impede a person’s performance at work, an employer is expected where possible to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace such as changing work hours or changing roles within the organisation until seizures are controlled. If you feel your job is in jeopardy it is important to seek professional advice before agreeing to any new conditions.
Do people with epilepsy take more sick leave?
Research has shown that people with epilepsy generally have average or less sick days than people without epilepsy – and have good job loyalty records. This is because many people with epilepsy have good seizure control with medication and therefore do not have seizures. For people experiencing seizures, the amount of time taken off work will vary from person to person.
There are specific employment agencies that can help find employment
EAA has a partnership with ORS employment group
Disability Employment Australia where you can search for local providers to help you source work if you have an illness or disability
Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres can help find a local employment agency.
- Call 1800 052 222
Local libraries may have details about what is available in the area.
Local colleges like TAFE offer a wide range of adult education courses.
Centrelink can assist in job education and training. Call 136 150
Is there any assistance available for travel to and from work if a person does not drive?
The State and Federal government provides a mobility allowance through Centrelink.
The Taxi Subsidy Scheme programs and eligibility differ from state to state. However, all offer significant discounts for taxi fares. Contact the transport authority for information and application forms. A letter from a neurologist is required.
Concession public transport travel cards are available from Centrelink for eligible customers.
For more information:
- Seizure Smart – Employment
- Seizure Smart – Disclosure