Working With Epilepsy
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2021 | Last updated: March 2022
One of the challenges of living with epilepsy is finding and keeping a job. People with epilepsy may miss work because of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations, or the need for time to recover from a seizure. Seizures may interrupt work or limit the jobs you can hold.
When employers do not understand how epilepsy impacts daily life, they may make unfair assumptions. However, laws protect job applicants and employees with epilepsy.
What laws protect employees with epilepsy?
A few different laws give you rights when mental or physical disabilities affect your daily activities. By law, epilepsy is not automatically a disability. However, many people with epilepsy satisfy the requirements for disability. That is because normal activities may be too hard.1,2
Even if your seizures are controlled by drugs and other treatments, these laws apply. Very small companies (less than 15 employees) may not have to follow the same rules as larger companies. Two federal laws protect employees with epilepsy:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas of life. This includes employment. It protects employees during application, hiring, promotion, compensation, and training. The ADA requires companies to provide “reasonable accommodations” for applicants and employees with disabilities. Accommodations fall into 3 categories:3-5
- Changes to the application process
- Changes to the work environment or how a job is performed
- Enabling equal access to benefits of employment (cafeterias, lounges, etc.)
The ADA makes it illegal for employers to ask applicants about whether they have a disability or how severe it is. Companies also must keep any medical information confidential, including requests for accommodations.3-5
The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks off per year for health issues. One qualifying reason is a serious health condition that leaves you unable to work. The time can be taken off can be:6-9
- All at once, like for maternity leave or after a major surgery
- In separate blocks of time for a single reason
- In a way that reduces your weekly or daily schedule
Serious health conditions most often require time off through FMLA when:6-9
- You need an overnight stay in a hospital
- You are unable to work for more than 3 days
- You have periods of disability and treatment
How can I stay healthy while working with epilepsy?
You are not required to tell your boss or coworkers about your diagnosis. However, it can be safer for 1 or 2 trusted people to know what to do if you have a seizure. And, if you need job accommodations, you will have to let your boss and human resources know why.
Your doctor or friends from your epilepsy support group may have suggestions for talking to your company. You can ask your epilepsy doctor for a letter to give to your employer explaining your condition and any limits you may have. It will probably help to reassure your boss that most accommodations are no- or low-cost.
Some accommodations you may want to discuss with your company include:10
- Reassigning or reducing driving or climbing duties
- Allowing you to work from home
- Flexible deadlines to minimize stress
- Working in a carpeted area, if your seizures cause falls
It may then help to make sure someone you work with knows seizure first aid. This plan should cover:11
- What to do or not do when someone is having a seizure
- How to keep the person safe
- When to get emergency help
- Key contacts
What if I can no longer work?
If epilepsy keeps you from working, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). This program pays monthly benefits if you meet certain requirements. Having epilepsy does not automatically make you eligible.
During the SSDI application process, you must document your diagnosis and how it impacts your life. Your doctor can help you with the paperwork to apply for SSDI. The Social Security Administration will look at your application and medical records to decide if you are eligible.2
Places to look for work
Many groups help people with disabilities connect to potential employers. These are often agencies within the U.S. Department of Labor and include:3
- Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP)
- Job Accommodation Network
- Office of Disability Employment Policy
- Campaign for Disability Employment