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Supporting employees with epilepsy

Information and guidance for employers on supporting employees who have epilepsy including legal obligations

​These pages give more information on the specific condition.  They should be read in conjunction with our Supporting employees with long term health conditions pages to help you understand how a workplace can assist in helping an employee return to and remain at work.

Epilepsy is one of the most common serious neurological conditions in the world. It affects around 600,000 people in the UK. This means that almost 1 in 100 people in the UK have epilepsy. Around 87 people are diagnosed with epilepsy in the UK every day.

Epilepsy can be caused by

  • stroke
  • a brain infection, such as meningitis
  • severe head injury
  • problems during birth which caused the baby to get less oxygen.

Often the caused is not determined.

The main treatment for epilepsy is management by epilepsy medicines, often called anti-epileptic drugs or AEDs to stop or reduce the seizures. It can take some time to find the right type and correct dose of AED before seizures can be controlled.

If epilepsy medicine doesn’t work well then doctors might suggest other treatments including surgery, nerve stimulation or special diets.

There are many different types of seizure. What happens to someone during a seizure depends on which part of their brain is affected. During some types of seizure the person may remain alert and aware of what’s going on around them, and with other types they may lose awareness. They may have unusual sensations, feelings or movements. Or they may go stiff, fall to the floor and jerk.

Anyone can have a one-off seizure, but this doesn’t always mean they have epilepsy. Epilepsy is usually only diagnosed if someone has had more than one seizure, and doctors think it is likely they could have more. Sometimes epilepsy can stop and in other patients it is a lifelong condition.

How to support employees in the workplace

You may find employees with a diagnosis of epilepsy may have increased levels of sickness absence or they may need to attend the hospital, their GP or their specialist more frequently than those without the health condition.

Authorised absence, out with the normal organisation sickness absence triggers, should be considered an appropriate adjustment under the Equality Act 2010, this would be identified within your Supporting Staff Attendance Policy.

If you feel your policy doesn’t include this, you can get support from our Supporting staff attendance pages.

Other areas that you can consider when supporting an employee with epilepsy may include

  • fluctuating health and stamina levels which may affect them more if they do shift work or full time hours
  • does their medication have side effects that you need to consider when looking at their job role and their work rotas
  • consider if they have triggers and if they do have time before a seizure to get to a safe place, ensuring that you have identified a safe area for them
  • consider the nature of the work they do
    • is it physically demanding for them
    • can they be redeployed or their duties amended to allow them to continue to work
  • do they drive as part of their job role? If so do they need to inform the DVLA and insurance company of their diagnosis?
  • review the risk assessments for the job they do. Consider if your employee is working alone and how they would call for help if a seizure occurred
  • do you have contingency plans in place if your employee becomes unwell, has a seizure at work and / or is unable to remain at work?
  • review your first aid arrangements
  • encourage the employee to discuss possible signs, symptoms and emergency treatment with work colleagues and first aiders.

Key sources of support

Key sources of support for both the employer and employee include

Healthy Working Lives can help you to develop supportive and inclusive workplace policies and offer support both online and on the telephone. You can contact the free and confidential advice line on 0800 019 2211 for more advice.