By finding out about your employee’s epilepsy and what support they need, you can help them to stay in work and retain their knowledge and skills.
Not everyone who has epilepsy will have seizures during the working day – some people might only have them when they’re asleep. Others might have them when they first wake up before they need to be at work. And some people will be seizure-free.
If you don’t know much about epilepsy take a look at About epilepsy to find out how it can affect people.
Once you know an employee has epilepsy, you’ll need to ask them questions about how their epilepsy affects them, such as:
The answers to these questions will help with deciding, with the person, what type of support, if any, they need.
Epilepsy is different for everyone. To understand how epilepsy affects an employee, it’s a good idea to work with them to complete an individual seizure action plan.
If your employee usually recovers quickly after a seizure, they might be able to get straight back to work. Or they might just need a quiet place to rest, before going back to work. Their seizure action plan should say where they can rest.
If they normally take longer to recover from a seizure, they might need to go home. Their seizure action plan should include options for how they will get home, and who will travel with them, if necessary. This should be in line with company policies and procedures for anyone who becomes unwell at work.
A health and safety risk assessment is needed for anyone who might have a seizure at work.
Complete a risk assessment with your employee. Start by using the same risk assessment that would be used for any employee. You can talk about whether your employee’s epilepsy increases the risks for their job or not. There may not be any additional risk. See our risk assessment template.
There are different types of seizures which affect people differently. There could be other factors that affect what support people with epilepsy might need at work, for example, coping with the side-effects of epilepsy medicine.
People who have had a seizure but don’t yet know if it’s epilepsy may need different support to people who have lived with epilepsy for a long time.
It can be a shock to have a seizure – for the person it affects, and for those around them. It’s difficult to know when a first seizure is a ‘one-off’, or the first of many.
A one-off seizure doesn’t always mean someone has epilepsy. Around 1 in 10 people globally may experience a one-off seizure in their lifetime. Epilepsy is only diagnosed if a person has had more than one seizure or a doctor thinks there’s a high chance that they could have more.
It might take time to get a diagnosis. If someone is well enough to be at work, there’s no need for them to stay off work until they get a diagnosis. However, they may need some time off for diagnostic tests. A fit note isn’t needed for time off unless the employee is off work for more than 7 calendar days.
Being newly diagnosed with epilepsy can be a very unsettling time. It can take people a while to adjust to getting a diagnosis and find the right treatment. Some people have to try different epilepsy medicines to find one that controls their seizures. They may be having more seizures until they find the right treatment. They may also be getting used to the side-effects of epilepsy medicines, such as tiredness, poor concentration or memory issues.
People will also be learning about epilepsy themselves, so may not have all the answers to questions their employer might have.
Some people will have had epilepsy since childhood, which may well be controlled with their epilepsy medicines. This is not ‘cured’ epilepsy, it’s just that the seizures are controlled with the medicine.
Bear in mind that people with seizure control may still need to avoid any potential triggers for their seizures. They may also still experience side effects of epilepsy medicine, such as tiredness or memory issues. If they are seizure-free they are still protected by the equality laws.
Epilepsy can change over time – for better, or worse. Seizures can be controlled in around 6 out of 10 people with epilepsy. But sometimes a breakthrough seizure can happen unexpectedly. This might be because the person is unwell with something else or needs their epilepsy medicine re-assessed.
If the employee’s epilepsy changes you will need to review their health and safety risk assessment and consider if any new reasonable adjustments are needed. You will also need to review their seizure action plan. People can become seizure-free and no longer need the same level of care or reasonable adjustments.
Some people with epilepsy have things that trigger their seizures. Possible triggers include:
Find out if your employee has any seizure triggers. If there are triggers, discuss how they can be avoided or minimised. Make a plan for how you can work together to help avoid any triggers at work.
Seizures triggered by flashing lights are known as photosensitive epilepsy. Computer screens are unlikely to be a seizure trigger. However, if there are flashing or flickering images, or some types of pattern on the screen, these could be.
Some people with epilepsy find that during periods of stress they are more likely to have seizures. This can be particularly likely if the stress happens over a long period of time.
If work-related stress is a trigger for your employee, work with them to identify the issues and agree realistic and workable ways to tackle them.
You could also encourage them to enrol on our self-management course, Epilepsy and you. It contains helpful strategies for managing stress.
Under the equality laws employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with epilepsy. Many reasonable adjustments involve little or no cost. If there are costs involved, funding might be available from Access to Work.
Sometimes a small, inexpensive, adjustment can make a big difference for someone with epilepsy.
For more information see the section about reasonable adjustments.
If you’d like to print the information on this webpage or see the information with references, download it here.