Employment and epilepsy
Skills, abilities, qualifications and experience are the qualities that employers are most interested in when considering someone for employment. Your epilepsy is only relevant if you have seizures that are likely to interfere with your ability to do your job.
You need a good deal of preparation and planning to find a job in today's competitive labour market. Every job seeker should have a job-search strategy. If you have epilepsy, you may also have to consider some additional issues.
Developing a job-search strategy
Before you start looking for a job, you will need answers to the following questions:
· What do you want to do?
· What are your strengths and what can you offer an employer?
It helps to choose something you will enjoy doing rather than taking the first thing that comes along. Seeking advice from someone who does the kind of work you are interested in can also help you. It may seem obvious but an employer will be more likely to employ you if you have a genuine interest in the job. It is also important for all of us to be realistic about our ambitions – we may become frustrated and disheartened if we seek a job for which we are unqualified or unsuited. All work is work and most of us do not always enjoy the grind of having to go to work each day, but you don’t have to love your job in order to enjoy being employed.
The ideal job is often portrayed as one where you get to work at something you would like to be doing even if you weren’t being paid to do it – and where you are in fact paid well to be doing it. A good job is one that you can fit into your life. A job that helps you pay for the things that you need. A job that gives you a feeling of satisfaction that comes from knowing that you are able to perform it well, and one where your employer not only gets good value from you as an employee but pays you accordingly. If you have such a job you are lucky. If you don’t then you are in the same boat as many other people and would do well to keep looking for a job that suits you better – while you keep the job you currently have. It’s often easier to get a job when you already have one.
If you don’t have a good job, your epilepsy is not necessarily the thing that is holding you back from the kind of job you might like to have. It is important not to use your epilepsy as an excuse for employment issues such as your general suitability, your qualifications and experience, your availability, your aptitude, your attitude, your ability to work with other people, your readiness to go the extra distance for you employer, your willingness to learn more about things that are related to your job, and so on.
Your epilepsy should not influence your choice of work unless there are obvious hazards involved in that area.
In most cases people with epilepsy are not permitted to drive commercial vehicles, fly aeroplanes or join the police or armed services. Where people who already hold jobs with police forces or in the armed services develop epilepsy, they are usually given less active duties. For example, a police officer in charge of a high-speed pursuit vehicle will be given other duties if epilepsy develops. Such responses to epilepsy are often inappropriate and reflect how little the community really does understand about epilepsy and people who control their epilepsy. A person with controlled epilepsy is as capable of driving a police pursuit vehicle or a commercial vehicle as any other person. The issue of who should drive such vehicles has to do with appropriate training, proven responsiveness and skill. The ability to handle stress and in some cases, extended hours of driving, and a range of other facts should be weighed up for any person, not just for people taking antiepileptic drugs to successfully control seizures.
No one should tell you that finding a job is easy. It sometimes is, but most people discover that they have to learn how to find a job. Securing a job involves more than just looking in the paper or sending off dozens of resumes every week. A well-prepared job-search strategy gives you the edge over other job seekers and helps you make the most of your time. There are some excellent books that can help you design a good job-search strategy and there are courses that you can attend through both government and private employment agencies.
In developing a job-search strategy, you will also gain confidence because you know what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. You will expect some rejection and while that can be difficult to take it can also be something you come to view as another practice run for the real thing – when you actually land the job. You must remember that while you may be fully able to do a job, it doesn’t mean that you will always be the successful applicant. Another candidate's experience, qualifications, personality, dress sense, whatever may have given them the edge over you. You might even have come within a hare’s breath of getting the job and still you might feel like a failure. You are not a failure if you are able to keep out there in the marketplace job searching. And your job-search strategy is meant to help keep you out there until that job you are after comes along.
Anybody who tells you that job-searching it is never dispiriting is a fool. It can be very hard. But you are not alone and people know how hard it can be. Most people are on your side. Most people want to help. You have to learn how to ask for work without feeling rejected when people tell you they have no work for you. If you can get over that particular obstacle your chances of success are greatly magnified.
Your job-search strategy may include:
· Preparing a script so you know what you are going to say to employers on the telephone, in letters and in person.
· A commitment to make at least three personal visits to employers every week. While this is one of the hardest things for some people to do, it is one of the most demonstrated successful strategies used by successful job searchers. Asking to speak to the personnel officer or the boss or the executive director is not always going to meet with success but it is never going to work at all if you don’t do it. Rehearse a script, take a deep breath, and do it. No one will throw rocks at you. You will only be unsuccessful until the time that you succeed. And eventually you will succeed. If you need coaching in this area ask your local epilepsy counsellor about where you might go to get some help with this.
· An undertaking to make at least one, preferably two or three, telephone calls to employers every day.
· Regularly visiting job centres, reading newspapers and contacting employers.
The hidden job market
A large number of job vacancies are not even advertised. These jobs form the 'hidden job market' which you can only access by actively seeking out vacancies. This involves:
· Asking family, friends and acquaintances to be your eyes and ears in the job market.
· Approaching employers in person as well as the usual telephone and letter applications.
· Keeping records of employers you have approached and re-contacting them after a month or so.
Job search services
There is no shortage of services available to help you find work but you must be willing to go out and use them. Libraries, job centres, youth access centres and government-sponsored training courses are there to assist you. You can also find employment opportunities on the internet at sites such as www.mycareer.com.au and www.monster.com.au
Should I tell an employer about my epilepsy?
In deciding whether or not to disclose your epilepsy, consider the following questions:
· Will my epilepsy affect my ability to carry out my work?
· Is my employer likely to find out, whether I tell them or not?
· Do my workmates need to know in case I have a seizure at work?
If you think an employer needs to know that you have epilepsy, then it is better to tell them rather than to have them find out for themselves. If your seizures are so infrequent that they don't interfere with your work, then you may decide that the employer does not need to know.
How do I tell an employer I have epilepsy?
The way you react to your epilepsy and learn to deal with it will often determine the reactions of others, including employers. Many people fear discrimination if they disclose their epilepsy. However, how you tell an employer will often determine their reaction.
Being prepared to talk openly and to explain your epilepsy at interviews is better than simply stating that you have epilepsy. By understanding the employer's concerns and addressing them, you can give yourself a better chance of securing the job. You are also giving the employer an opportunity to understand your situation. It is important for you to keep your epilepsy in perspective. After all, a job interview is all about your ability to do the job.
Both State Equal Opportunity Acts and the Federal Disability Discrimination Act legally protect people with epilepsy from discrimination. You are entitled to take legal action if you believe you have been discriminated against because of your epilepsy.