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Epilepsy Blog Relay: Disability in the workplace

This post is part of the Epilepsy Blog Relay™ which will run from March 1 through March 31. Follow along!

First, like always I want to welcome those that are just reading this blog for the first time and welcome back to those that have been around a while. The topic of disability in the workplace has come up quite a few times in my group of epilepsy friends. Just for the record: I would like to make a point to state that this blog is not written about me or anyone, but instead to educate anyone with a disability trying to gain employment, those in the workplace, and certain laws that pertain to both.

After researching this topic for months, I have decided that the best way to tackle this important topic is to separate this into two or three different posts to do it justice (pardon the pun). This first installment I am going to explain what the Americans with Disabilities Act is and when employers can ask about your disability.


Americans with Disabilities Act

Before we dive into employment laws that pertain to epilepsy and disability, I think it is best that we establish what the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is and the history behind it.  According to the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, “Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — the ADA is an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities”. The ADA was passed in 1990. This was the first civil rights law that specifically addresses the needs of those with disabilities that prohibits discrimination in employment, public service, public accommodations, and telecommunications. Also, according to the US Department of Labor, “The ADA defines an individual with a covered disability as one who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, as well as those with a record of, or are regarded as having, such an impairment. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 (which became effective January 1, 2009), all persons with epilepsy should be considered to have a disability covered under the ADA, and therefore will be protected from employment discrimination.”

Related: The ADA and Epilepsy

Before you get the job…

One of the biggest questions I’m asked is when and why can people ask about your disability. There are usually three times in your career when this question usually comes up, the first of these is prior to a person receiving a job offer. According to The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a potential employer may not ask if you have epilepsy or another disability. They also may not inquire regarding the extent of a disability. The only real time that it is okay for someone to ask regarding your disability during pre-employment is if there is an assessment regarding to your skills regarding to the job in which you have applied.


On the ADA and Epilepsy


Now that you’ve got the job…

The second time that the question of whether an employer can ask you questions regarding your disability is while you are presently employed by a company.  The answer to this is a tough one on the side of the employee. According to the National Epilepsy Foundation, “An employer may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations only if they are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” This means that the employer must have a reasonable belief that an employee will be unable to perform the basic functions of his or her job because of a medical condition or that the employee will pose a threat to health or safety because of a medical condition. Again, the only time that your employer needs to ask about the extent or details of your disability is if you are not able to perform your job description without accommodation or assistance.

Related: When a seizure happens at work

The third time that the question of whether an employer may ask questions regarding your disability is when you are requesting an accommodation to complete your essential job duties. This is the time in which you are in a place you need assistance in the workplace. Many times, when I hear people discuss this situation, there is a negative stigma around this. There are completely varying degrees of the need for assistance. Most importantly, you must ask the question of how long you have worked for this company and if your performance in this position is truly due to the disability or being overwhelmed in the role. Also, there are situations that physically can keep you from accomplishing your job (ie; lighting such as blinking lights, a desk where you can access and utilize, and healthcare access).

Check out the resources we included here and keep an eye out for more on this topic.

NEXT UP: Be sure to check out the next post by Audra at livingwellwithepilepsy.com for more on epilepsy awareness. You can check out any of the Epilepsy Blog Relay posts you may have missed.

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Follow Rachel Ehrhardt:
Rachel Ehrhardt Streelman is from Houston , Texas. She has been a writer and contributor to Living Well with Epilepsy for two years. Rachel has had epilepsy since 9 months old. She comes from a family where her father, sister, and herself all have different forms of epilepsy. Rachel is married to Casey and they have a Cavapoo named Sheldon.

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