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!


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