Ask LH: Should I Tell Potential Employers I Have Epilepsy?

Dear Lifehacker, I have epilepsy. Am I required to reveal that to potential employers when I apply for jobs? Do I have to declare this as a disability? The reason I ask is that there are varying grades of epilepsy. Mine is purely nocturnal and controlled by medication. There are other forms which are completely debilitating, and others that fall in the middle ground. This is confusing me and I am having a hard time finding employment due to it. Any insights? Thanks, Not Hired Yet

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Dear NHY,

The short answer: we don't think so under your circumstances. The longer answer: the Australian Human Rights Commission has a section dedicated to the question of whether people are allowed to discriminate when hiring based on a pre-existing disability or medical condition.

The site makes two crucial points. Firstly, businesses can choose not to employ someone because of a disability, but only if "the person is unable, or would be unable, to perform the inherent requirements of that job and this inability cannot be remedied by making a reasonable adjustment". Secondly, while employers can question potential employees about the impact of their disability, they must ensure that such lines of query are relevant to the job.

In practical terms, if your epilepsy is easily controlled by medicine, it seems unlikely to impact on a job performed during regular working hours, and there doesn't seem to be any reason you would need to mention this when applying. The key consideration is likely to be one of safety: working in an office doesn't sound like it would be a problem, but driving a forklift might conceivably require more discussion.

If the issue does regularly come up and you feel you are being discriminated against, consider getting a letter from your doctor explaining how your epilepsy is managed. That will make it clear that you aren't a "risky" candidate, and hopefully you'll be considered on your merits. However, start with an optimistic view: emphasise what makes you a good candidate for a position, not a non-issue that's likely to cause misunderstandings. Good luck with the job search!

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    As a person with epilepsy, which is controlled by medication and has not been active since 2000, I would not tell potential employers at an interview. I would explain it only if asked in a medical if I had epilepsy, and I would wait until I had a relationship established at work before casually introducing it into conversation. This has brought the most understanding and the least discrimination for me.

    Where I would NOT do this, and would instead be open:
    - If I had recently had a fit (within the last 24 months)
    - If I was being weaned off medication or reducing my levels drastically (quite common causes for fits reoccuring)

    You must strike a balance between your own employability (discrimination is a reality) and the safety and responsibility of your work/workmates.

    Keep in mind that some roles simply cannot employ a person with epilepsy for quite justifiable reasons - airline pilot, heavy machinery operator, etc. That said I've never really had an issue with the fact that I'm not allowed to operate a heavy tank...

    The key consideration is likely to be one of safety: working in an office doesn’t sound like it would be a problem, but driving a forklift might conceivably require more discussion.

    I think what's also a consideration is how the epileptic episodes are actually triggered. For a lot of people, it's flashing lights or fast moving images on a computer screen or TV. If you fall into this category, and the office job you are applying for will require you to look at screens all day, that's something that will probably need further clarification.

      I have a friend I work with who suffers from epilepsy. We work in an office & stare at eye melting white writing on blue screens all day, he is ok with it I think. Not sure the extent or severity of his condition though.

    No. Of course you shouldn't, if you're medicated it should be your business only.

    I had a seizure of some sort about a year ago where i ended up in the hospital for a few days. Shortly after i lost my license and had multiple tests done which showed no signs of any evidence f actually having epilepsy, but still i take medicated, see a doctor somewhat reguarly and have been diagnosed with it.

    I also work in maintenance & construction and quit a job i was working half way through this year. I worked for a few companies casually in between just taking some time off and travelling. I was over skilled for most of the work but still did it & was picked up by every employer i looked at, expect for one who seemed very keen towards me as well. What was the difference? I actually wrote on their employment forms that i was on medication and had had a seizure before. So whilst taking medication and feeling fine i will never again get into that with any employer in the future, casual or full time.
    good luck

    In my experience, no. Whether it's right or wrong, your (potential) employer judges you based on what they know, they weigh up pros and cons, and however unethical, an employer will factor this in as a negative. I've been targeted for my political views, my religious views and I can only assume based on these workplace judgements, facts about my health too. So, in my experience, until you're past probation (where in some situations they can let you go without giving reasons), and unless you're endangering yourself or others, it's a personal matter, treat it as such. Also, I wanted to say that I hate that you and other people have to go through this kind of quandary because of prejudice and ignorance, and that whatever you choose to do, I hope you're cool with it. Best of luck with your decision and any new job you get.

    Worth noting (also epileptic which is rather dormant), it is required by law to tell your HR Department in confidence at the very least if/when you do find employment.

    You're NOT required to tell them in an interview, however, unless you believe it will impair your work ability.

    As mentioned by a few other guys, I think it would be important to tell the employer in certain situations (e.g you would obviously tell them if you have photosensitve epilepsy if you were applying for a job that had strobe lights).

    I think it is bad that some people still judge people that have health issues that wouldn't really effect job productivity. But if you don't mention it during the interview, I think it is important to let either a boss or a foreman know after you get the job even if it is eased in during a general conversation.

    I had an employee that suffered from severe panic attacks every now and then. When she had the first one I kind freaked out because I found her on the floor balled up shaking and struggling to breathe. I called the ambulance straight away (even though she insisted not to, but I would do it again anyway to make sure), by the time they arrived (which was only 5-10mins) she was right.

    Moral of the story is she knew she had them, she didn't tell me that she had them but she knew how to control them and recover from them fearing I wouldn't hire her. I wouldn't care one bit, but if I knew I would have been a little more calm if it happened, and I would have learnt to help her when she had an episode.

    I always tell them once I'm actually employed... but if they haven't actually employed me then it's none of their business. My epilepsy is nocturnal too, and well under control.

    I agree that if your condition does not affect your ability to perform the job you're interviewing for, there's no reason why you should reveal it if you don't want to.

    Five or so years ago we hired a guy who neglected to tell us he suffered from narcolepsy. Needless to say, a week into the job we were all wondering why the new guy was constantly resting his head on his desk. When questioned he gave a bogus excuse about being up late at night renovating his house. He continued to 'rest' at his desk despite being given a warning and after a month - when he made a major oversight and almost lost us a client - he was confronted by the boss, to who he finally confessed about his condition. He was quite sheepish and told the boss, 'I know I should have told you but I figured if I did you wouldn't hire me.'

    Depends on the job.

    If it's an office job I wouldn't even bother disclosing it until after you are hired, it had no bearing on your performance and only is an issue if you have a fit, pre-warning people what to do - after you are hired - is wise so they don't panic.

    If it's a job that involved heavy machinery or people's lives though, you are pretty much obligated to disclose and provide a doctors certificate. You can do this at interview stage rather than on your resume though.

    One should never list any "personal information" on one's resume.

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