Epilepsy, a chronic neurological disorder that manifests itself in seizures, can occur at any time in an individual’s life. Seizures can vary in both length and severity, from staring blankly for just a few seconds, to convulsions of the arms and legs. Many Americans have or will experience at least one unprovoked seizure in their lifetime. However, for a diagnosis of epilepsy, an individual must have had at least two unprovoked seizures. Exact causes of epilepsy are unknown, however there are some common factors among those who develop the disorder. Some factors include head trauma, brain disorder resulting in damage, such as a tumor, infectious disease, injuries occurring before birth, and it can sometimes accompany development disorders. Many of the complications that accompany epilepsy are natural consequences to living with a disorder that potentially renders someone unconscious, such as falling, having a car accident, or drowning. Additionally, epilepsy can cause pregnancy complications. More serious complications can also occur, usually as the result of prolonged seizures, those lasting longer than five minutes, or short seizures that come close together, where the individual seizing does not get the opportunity to fully regain consciousness. These variations of seizures can result in permanent brain damage or even death. Epilepsy is generally considered an impairment under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), and persons diagnosed with epilepsy are protected from discrimination.
As those diagnosed with epilepsy are aware, the condition has a detrimental effect on an individual’s life, both personally and professionally. Epilepsy occurring in adulthood can have an extremely adverse effect on an individual’s job performance. Frequently, individuals diagnosed with epilepsy are forbidden to drive until clearance is obtained by a doctor. This is extremely limiting, and often results in the inability to complete essential job functions if an employer refuses to provide reasonable accommodation. However, it is important to know that employers are required to provide such reasonable accommodation. For individuals newly diagnosed with epilepsy, they may need to miss multiple days of work due to symptoms or transportation issues. Someone may be forced to leave work early if a seizure were to occur at work, as finding out what medication works for each individual can be an extended process. These changes in an employee’s ability to perform a job function or adequately complete assigned tasks.
Discrimination in the workplace has many faces, including outright dismissal, changes in responsibilities, change of position, demotion, and failure to promote. Additionally, rather than make these affirmative changes, some employers choose to create a hostile work environment in order to push employees out, or force them to quit. Further, employers sometimes commit violations with discriminatory acts during the hiring process. Employers are prohibited from asking an applicant about medical conditions, medications, and past medical history. They are only permitted to ask if there is anything that will limit an applicant’s ability to complete the essential functions of the position.
As mentioned above, persons suffering from Epilepsy are considered disabled under the ADA and are therefore entitled to protection against discrimination. If you live in the metro New York area, including Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan, or on Long Island and have experienced discrimination in the workplace because of your epilepsy condition, you should contact a New York disability attorney.