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Epilepsy : Walking the line between privacy and a safe workplace

Workplace injuries are bad for everyone. Employers in Los Angeles genuinely want to keep workplaces safe for many reasons beyond simply complying with state and federal laws regulations or preventing workers’ compensation claims. For employers, sometimes following the letter of the law is much easier said than done.

Epilepsy is a disorder characterized by frequent and unexpected seizures. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on this disorder, but the truth is that it can make working on certain job sites dangerous for the individual and his or her co-workers. How should an employer balance safety concerns with the privacy right of an applicant or employee with epilepsy?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lists a few general guidelines, but it is important to note that employers should always seek the assistance of an attorney for specific advice in their jurisdiction. Much like many other laws, dealing with the safety concerns of a medical disability is very situational dependent.

What are a few general principles to follow?

  • Employers cannot ask applicants about a disability but may, under certain guidelines, ask about them about their health once an offer of employment has been made.
  • Where employees are concerned, employers may ask questions or require medical documentation when they have a reasonable belief the employee may not be able to safely perform the essential job functions.
  • Even if the employee has an episode while at work, the employer cannot disclose the disability to other employees. There are some very limited exceptions to this rule.
  • An employer must make reasonable accommodations and cannot share this information with other employees. Even if the employer never mentions epilepsy, admitting that reasonable accommodations are being made is considered a disclosure.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Questions & Answers about Epilepsy in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” Accessed March 19, 2015

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