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Epilepsy Etiquette

2 March 2018

What is epilepsy?

According to ESA, the condition is neurological and is more common than many realise. Approximately one in 100 South African has epilepsy, which can affect anyone at any age.

Seizures are caused by abnormal chemical activity in the brain, but with the help of medication, people with epilepsy can lead normal lives.

The condition is not infectious or contagious and the number of men with epilepsy is slightly higher than the number of women.

Many people have been able to live normal lives, regardless of the fact that they have epilepsy. Epilepsy Talk cites celebrities, such as Evanescence’s Amy Lee, rapper Lil Wayne, actor Danny Glover, singers Sir Elton John and Prince, who lived and continue to live full lives, despite having epilepsy.

Do you have epilepsy? How have you managed with the condition? Has it had an effect on job applications and do your superiors, colleagues or subordinates treat you differently?

Share your opinions and experiences with us by emailing and we may publish your story. Please let us know if you wish to remain anonymous.

Should I tell my employer I have epilepsy?

Job interviews are daunting, especially if you’ve really set your heart on a position. When applying for certain jobs, you’re required to disclose information about yourself, but should it include your epilepsy?

One may think that it’s good for employers to know all your important medical information, but do you really have to – and when is a good time to tell them?

Should I or should I not disclose?

Marina Clarke, National Director for Epilepsy South Africa (ESA), told Health24 that it will always be your choice as to whether or not you want to disclose your condition, but, as always, there are pros and cons to disclosure.

“Employees who disclose may become victims of stigma and discrimination, often the result of insufficient knowledge about the condition.

“Disclosing epilepsy to your employer will positively impact on the BBBEE rating, as persons with epilepsy are considered disabled in terms of the definition in the Employment Equity Act. “It’s risky not to disclose, as a seizure might occur at work and your employer or colleagues will not know how to deal with this,” said Clarke.

Defeating discrimination

While employing people who have disabilities may improve a company’s BBBEE rating, many employers may shy away from hiring someone with a disability because they may think of them more as a liability than an asset.

Ingrid Daniels, Director of Cape Mental Health, told Health24 they recommend that an individual discloses any medical condition once the job offer has been made.

Daniels said, “This will ensure there is no discrimination against the applicant, but that the employer – once the offer is made – can consider reasonable accommodation measures within the workplace.

“A similar recommendation would be made in the case of epilepsy. It is, however, important that the applicant is given the opportunity to discuss their condition to ensure that protective measures and reasonable accommodation measures are in place.”

In certain cases there are positions, such as driving or operating hazardous machinery, which aren’t suitable for people with epilepsy due risks for the applicant and the company. This isn’t classified as discrimination.

When it isn’t discrimination

Justene Smith, a disability expert at equity solutions company, Progression, told Health24 that there are circumstances where prospective employers are within their rights to exclude someone from a role with legislated exclusion or clearly assessed risk.

Smith said: “If a person discloses epilepsy and has applied for a role, for example, as a scaffolder or someone that will need to work at heights, then it may be fair to decline this person based on assessed risk.

“It is important, however, to make sure that the assessor of the risk is a person qualified to do this and that the risk assessment has formally been documented to clearly stipulate the assessed risks.”

Daniels added that there should be no reason for a job offer to be withdrawn or the person be discriminated against, should they qualify and have the skills for the job.

“The only consideration would have to be safety and reasonable accommodation measures. There may be certain types of jobs that may not be suitable for someone with epilepsy, for example driving certain vehicles or working with certain types of dangerous machinery. “In cases of this nature, you would need to find alternative employment as a job-seeker,” said Daniels.

Source: Health24 Writer: Stefni Herbert