Finding paid employment is difficult. It is therefore essential for anyone with epilepsy to have qualifications of a standard at least as high as other job applicants.
Your skills, personality and ability to present your epilepsy to a prospective employer are crucial to your success in the job market.
Your attitude, honesty and enthusiasm, coupled with the ability to ‘sell’ yourself at an interview are vitally important.
Qualities that will make you ‘attractive’ to an employer are:
- Educational or technical qualifications
- Good references.
What are my Employment Prospects?
Prior to applying for a position, find out what the job entails. Should there be something that could trigger a seizure, look at strategies for overcoming these.
Epilepsy does impose some restrictions on employment options. It is not possible to be accepted into the armed forces, police or fire service, or obtain a pilot’s licence. You will also not qualify for a licence for:
- Passenger service vehicle
- Vehicle recovery vehicle
- Heavy goods vehicle.
You are responsible for your safety. Look at the work environment, what would happen if you had a seizure, and would anyone be seriously hurt.
Can I Work With Machinery?
It is impossible to generalise. For some people with epilepsy, working with machinery may be quite safe, for others it may be hazardous. It depends on the type of machinery, the work environment and your seizure type.
Health & Safety in Employment Act 1992 (HSE Act)
The object of the HSE Act is to promote the prevention of harm to people at work, in the workplace or in the vicinity of a place of work. The term ‘all practicable steps’ is used in relation to achieving this result because it is understood that circumstances are many and varied. A person required by the Act to take all practicable steps is required to take only those steps which are reasonably practicable to take in the circumstances, and only in respect of circumstances that the person knows about or ought reasonably to know about.
It is not the intention of the HSE Act to discriminate against people with epilepsy. The Occupational Safety and Health Service (OSH) does not expect employers to hide behind the Act as a reason not to employ people with epilepsy.
In considering the extent of the practicable steps an employer might need to take, an employer may be advised to seek guidance from the prospective employee or their doctor. An Epilepsy New Zealand field officer may be able to help clarify any uncertainty.
An employer should consider the likelihood of ‘serious harm’ should a seizure occur. The doctor can advise or clarify issues of medication and seizure control.
Every situation is unique. In some circumstances it would be foolish to employ someone who was expected to work in an area, situation or circumstance where serious harm could occur as a result of a seizure.
In most cases there would be little if any risk where the work is not particularly hazardous, the employee’s condition is well controlled and colleagues appreciate the person’s situation and accordingly know how to act.
The Occupational Safety and Health Service of the Department of Labour (OSH) can give further advice.
When Should I Disclose My Epilepsy?
This is an individual decision. Those whose epilepsy is well controlled may choose not to reveal their epilepsy. If you experience frequent seizures it is probably beneficial to both you and the employer to discuss your epilepsy. Talk about it at the interview in a positive way. Seizures will not usually interfere with your performance or attendance.
If you are asked whether there are any health issues, you should mention your epilepsy but concentrate on presenting your skills and qualifications. Sell yourself not your epilepsy. Epilepsy should not be the focus of your interview, but the employer will benefit from an understanding of your particular type of seizure and the implications of this should he/she employ you.
What Happens if I Have a Seizure at Work?
It is your choice whether or not you tell your co-workers you have epilepsy. If you are likely to have a seizure, you might feel more secure if you know they are aware of what to do.
An individual with skills but who has a few seizures is much more employable than someone without seizures who has no skills.
Research has shown that on average, people with epilepsy have fewer accidents than other employees, are absent less and have good job loyalty records. These facts, together with your skills and self-confidence are positive selling points to an employer.