Not much is scarier than the idea of finding an employee in medical distress. It is important that we do as much as we can to prepare for accommodation when employees present with medical needs but also be aware of potential medical emergencies.
Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that manifests with the very rapid firing of neurons. The seizures may occur in one area of the brain or involve the entire brain. With an estimated thirty-nine million cases of active epilepsy as of 2015, the likelihood of having an employee with an epilepsy diagnosis is estimated at between three to 10 per 1,000.
Keeping employees safe while respecting their privacy can be a difficult task. Though many epileptic employees may choose to share their diagnosis or concerns with others, many others may not. It is not our role as HR practitioners to make these decisions or attempt to sway an employee’s judgement. HR does have a need to know if the employee controls their epilepsy anticonvulsant drugs and our company performs drug testing since the drugs can impact testing results.
Workplace safety plan of action
One option is to have everyone prepare to assist with various medical contingencies without disclosing any immediate benefit to the team. There are many medical concerns that may arise in both co-workers and customers. Basic first aid courses provide an overview of seizure management as well as many other extremely valuable skills.
Accommodations for employees with Epilepsy
Another concern for the HR practitioner may be establishing accommodations to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA. In 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) established that employees will virtually always be found to be covered under the ADA.
As people experience epilepsy in very different ways, it is very important to assess each person on a case by case basis. Involving the employee in the process as much as you can may significantly improve the efficiency with which you will arrive at an accommodation agreement.
Some considerations include:
1. Consistent employee schedules because sleep patterns can have a significant impact on seizure manifestation.
2. Extended breaks and breaks following any seizure activity because seizure activity is followed by a period where an altered state of consciousness (postictal) is expected.
3. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as pads to cover concrete floors, helmets, or guard rails.
4. Any specific requests from the employee for their personal plan of action should a seizure occur at work.
5. Replacement of fluorescent lighting computer monitors that regularly blink or flicker as this can cause seizures in photosensitive employees.
References and additional resources
American Red Cross First Aid App. http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/mobile-apps Retrieved on 4 November 2017
Epilepsy Foundation of America® (2015) Reasonable Accommodations: Living with epilepsy. https://www.epilepsy.com/living-epilepsy/independent-living/employment/r... Retrieved on 4 November 2017
Fraser, Robert F. (2011) Working Effectively with Employees who Have Epilepsy. K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability. Cornell University. http://hrtips.org/article_1.cfm?b_id=10 Retrieved on 4 November 2017
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion | Division of Population Health. (2015) Seizure First Aid https://www.cdc.gov/epilepsy/basics/first-aid.htm Retrieved on 4 November 2017
November is recognized as National Epilepsy Awareness Month. Thank you for taking the time to consider some of the HR implications for these employees.