Do I tell my employer about my epilepsy?
This post kicks off the Epilepsy Stigma Blog Relay which will run from June 1 through June 30. Follow along and add comments to posts that inspire you!
Congratulations! You just scored a new position in a great company, one that you can see yourself staying with and being fulfilled. Your co-workers are wonderful and you anticipate becoming fast friends with some of them. If that wasn’t enough, you get along with your boss which makes you even more excited about this opportunity. But still, there’s a looming question in your mind: do I tell my employer about my epilepsy?
This dilemma is not uncommon and is not limited to epilepsy. Any person who has an “invisible illness” may find themselves asking this question. So, how do you answer it? To start off you are not legally required, in the United States, to disclose your Epilepsy to your employer. During the application and interview process, your future employer may not ask you about your diagnosis. The employer may ask whether you can complete certain tasks, like operating machinery or driving. If you require certain accommodations to complete your job requirements, your employer is then allowed to ask additional questions. But, if your epilepsy is generally controlled and your functioning is not impaired by it, your employer does not have to know about your condition.
Should I Say Anything?
It might be wise to disclose your epilepsy. The most obvious reason is safety. Even individuals with well controlled epilepsy may have breakthrough seizures. If this happens at work, it is important that at least one person around you is aware of your diagnosis and has an action plan. This ensures your safety and those around you. Sometimes medications cause side effects that could impact the work environment. If you are changing medications or altering the dosage, telling your boss could be helpful. That way, there is an understandable explanation for a change in behavior at work. It also may help build rapport with your boss.
But what about stigma?
Perhaps you’re afraid that your employer will stigmatize you once you disclose your diagnosis. I have spoken with a few employers while writing this piece, and all of them agree that your job speaks much louder than your diagnosis. The biggest concern they had was safety. None of them, even when directly asked, had reservations about employing someone with a seizure disorder. As long as the job can be done safely, that is the most important thing.
How should I tell them?
The employers I spoke with didn’t express a specific way of revealing a diagnosis, just that it might be helpful information. I have done it in the past and have always done it very matter-of-factly. I sit down with my boss and explain that I have a diagnosis of Epilepsy that is well controlled with medication. I usually let him/her know what to do in the event I do have a seizure, thus creating an action plan. I also allow my boss to ask me questions. While this is not necessary, I want to answer any questions or concerns there are so we are both comfortable and confident moving forward. And, if a question were to come up that I was not comfortable with, I wouldn’t have to answer it. I’m providing the information on my own, not because I am required to under the law.
Most often, it is usually your decision whether you want to disclose your medical information to your employer. There are significant benefits to doing so. Stigma may be a legitimate concern but having a job is more about showing off your abilities. If you do that, then the diagnosis takes a back seat to all you accomplish.
For more information
More information can be found at the following website: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Passing the Baton
NEXT UP: Be sure to check out tomorrows post at Education and Epilepsy Support for more on Epilepsy Stigma.
For the full Epilepsy Blog Relay schedule visit: https://livingwellwithepilepsy.com/epilepsy-blog-relay-2015
Leila shares stories on stigma and epilepsy based on her experiences and what she hears from others. She was diagnosed with Epilepsy at age 8 and is based in Pennsylvania.