Epilepsy: what employers need to know

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Epilepsy advice for employers

Lesslie Young, CEO of Epilepsy Scotland, explains how a training DVD can help employers learn more about the issues faced by employees who suffer seizures 

With 600,000 people in the UK affected by epilepsy, you would be hard pushed not to witness a seizure at some point in your life. The question is, would you recognise a seizure if you saw one?

When most people think of a seizure, they have an image in their head of someone suddenly falling to the ground and convulsing. However, this type of incident is just one out of around 40 different variations of seizures and epilepsy syndromes.

Different forms of epilepsy

If you saw someone staggering around, with little or no awareness of their environment and not responding to verbal cues – perhaps taking their clothes off, indecently exposing themselves, urinating in public, or being caught shoplifting – would you think seizure? Of course not, most people would be more inclined to think that person is drunk or on drugs.

Would it surprise you to know that the person who has a seizure has absolutely no control over what happens during a seizure?

Being mistaken for a shoplifter or drunk is all too frequently the reality for many people with one specific type of seizure, called complex partial seizure.

It is not uncommon for someone to be inadvertently caught up in the criminal justice system, as a result of a perceived wrongdoing or indecent act during or after a seizure. Even though the person has no awareness or even memory of the incident, they may end up arrested and/or charged.

Further distress is caused by the length of time it often takes between the alleged crime and a decision on whether legal action should be taken.

If you are a law-abiding citizen who has epilepsy, being caught up in the criminal justice system can cause significant anxiety, possible depression and sometimes can even lead to the person considering or committing suicide.

Why is this relevant for employers?

It could be one of your employees. Many companies have a policy that considers arrest and/or a criminal charge as gross misconduct which can result in suspension from employment or instant dismissal.

What if the incident turns out to be seizure-related and not a criminal act? What if your employee could not cope with the shame and distress of being accused of a crime they did not commit and later suspended or dismissed from employment? What if they felt the only solution was suicide?

It is vital that employers who find themselves dealing with a situation like this work with and support their employee. They can only do this and act in the best interest of the individual and the business if they have a working understanding of this common type of seizure behaviour.

Because so many people contacted Epilepsy Scotland seeking support and guidance when they found themselves in exactly the situation described above, we felt we needed to do something which would have a big impact.

So we got together with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and Police Scotland to produce a DVD called Epilepsy and the Law.

The DVD is a great training aid which clearly explains the issues faced by people with epilepsy. It contains examples of behaviour during a seizure and post-seizure. It also features interviews with experts and contains reconstructed examples with professional actors.

The DVD is the first of its kind globally. We have already had requests for it from police forces, criminal justice agencies and other professionals from across the world.

Anyone who may need to speak with or investigate people, who may be wrongly thought to be drunk and disorderly but who are actually having a seizure, would benefit from the DVD, especially HR personnel.

We know this training material has already kept two individuals out of jail and one of them in employment. Both were wrongly accused of crimes when their behaviour was directly linked to seizure activity.

The DVD is available at freewebstore.org/Epilepsy-Scotland or by phoning 0141 427 4911

About author

Lesslie Young

Lesslie Young

Lesslie Young is chief executive of Epilepsy Scotland

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