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Accommodating Workers with Epilepsy

The Employment Standard under the AODA requires employers to accommodate workers with disabilities.  This article will specifically look at accommodating workers with epilepsy and outline the kinds of accommodations workers might need.

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes people to have seizures. A seizure happens when brain activity is disrupted for a few seconds to a few minutes. The kind of seizure a person has depends on which parts of the brain are affected.

Some people experience tonic-clonic seizures, which involve loss of consciousness and convulsions, while other people have seizures that cause confusion for a few moments, staring, or brief involuntary twitching of one part of the body such as eyelid movement. After seizures, people’s ordinary brain function returns, although they may be confused at first. They may also need to rest for a few minutes or an hour, depending on the severity of the seizure. Many people with epilepsy are able to reduce or eliminate their seizures through medication or other treatments. Workers may require brief leaves of absence as they adjust to new medications.

Accommodating Workers with Epilepsy

Explaining Accommodations

Since epilepsy affects everyone differently, individual workers will be best able to tell employers about accommodations they may need. Workers who disclose epilepsy may explain:

  • What usually happens during a seizure
  • How often they have seizures
  • Whether seizures usually happen at certain times of day
  • How long their seizures usually last
  • Whether seizures happen randomly or in patterns
  • Whether seizures are triggered by certain environmental conditions, such as:
    • Flashing lights
    • Increased stress
  • If they have warning signs before seizures, and if so:
    • What the warning signs are
    • How much time there is between warning signs and seizures
  • Whether they need to rest after seizures, and for how long
  • What colleagues should do during a seizure
  • Whether they will need first aid and what first aid procedures might involve
  • Under what circumstances they might need further medical intervention

Action Plan for Seizures at Work

Workers and employers should develop an action plan detailing what to do if workers think they may have seizures at work. This plan must be confidential and stored in a worker’s medical file, not a personnel file. If workers require assistance before, during, or after their seizures, they should choose a colleague to whom they will disclose and show that colleague what kind of help they might need. Workers who receive warning signs can arrange ways to alert colleagues to a coming seizure.

Colleagues may accompany workers to a peaceful location, call emergency contacts, determine whether workers need medical attention, or offer explanations to relieve workers’ disorientation after seizures. If workers are temporarily unable to see, hear, or speak after a seizure, they should identify hand signals or other methods they can use to communicate with colleagues until their sensory processing returns. Workers may spend time alone after seizures for rest or daily living needs, or to calm down after the unsettling experience of a seizure away from home.

Coworkers should be trained in first aid. Employers can post first aid charts prominently for all workers to see. Colleagues not involved in assisting workers during seizures should continue working. Workers may wish to have general information about epilepsy available for colleagues, customers, or clients to read if they are concerned while witnessing a seizure.

Everyday Accommodations

Workers might need other accommodations to minimize the likelihood of seizures by reducing their exposure to environmental triggers. The nature of the accommodations will depend on the kinds of job tasks workers perform, the kinds of seizures they experience, and the warnings they receive before seizures. Someone whose seizures are triggered by flashing lights may need natural light or full spectrum lighting rather than fluorescent lights. Such a worker may use a computer with a flicker-free monitor, a monitor glare guard, a cubicle shield, or frequent breaks from the machine. Workers unable to drive whose jobs involve some travelling may car-pool or use public transit. Those who use machinery and have difficulty balancing or climbing may use machine guarding, rolling safety ladders, head and eye protection, or cushioning.

Workers may sometimes have difficulty with memory or fatigue because of recent seizures or side-effects of medication. They may need written or recorded instructions, occasional re-training, secure lists of passwords, or directories and nametags to match colleagues’ names and faces. They may keep track of tasks with checklists, charts, and calendars, or rest in a quiet location during breaks.

Benefits of Accommodating Workers with Epilepsy

Employers accommodating workers with epilepsy will support not only workers who have disclosed, but also workers who have chosen not to disclose and workers who may develop epilepsy in the future.