Were you told you can't be a police officer or firefighter because you have epilepsy? If so, we want to know. Please share your story via email at [email protected]. Be sure to include your name, address and phone number so that we can contact you.

There are no federal laws barring people with epilepsy from working as a firefighter, police officer, correctional officer or in other law enforcement officer (LEO) jobs. In fact, federal civil rights law, and many state laws, may protect your right to work in these professions. Some private organizations do, however, recommend that LEOs and firefighters meet certain medical requirements as a precondition for employment. These requirements, which have the effect of excluding many people with epilepsy from serving as a firefighter or LEO, have been adopted by many fire and police departments across the country. We believe such blanket policies violate federal civil rights laws and many state civil rights laws.

Under federal law, an employer generally cannot refuse to hire or fire an individual with a disability who is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation, because of his disability. The only two exceptions are 1) if the individual poses a "direct threat" to the health or safety of himself or others, and this risk cannot be eliminated by using a reasonable accommodation, or 2) providing the reasonable accommodation would impose an undue burden on the employer in terms of expense or administration. Reasonable accommodations for LEOs with epilepsy may, depending upon the job and the individual's medical condition, include shift changes, working part-time, regular breaks, and temporary reassignment of certain tasks until seizures are controlled for a specific period, as well as other modifications.

The employer must determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether the individual is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job and whether a reasonable accommodation is available, if necessary. Consideration should be given to such issues as the specific seizures the individual experiences (time of day they occur, whether they are preceded by an aura, etc.) and the circumstances that may trigger them (such as sleep deprivation).

To learn more about your rights under federal law, read our fact sheets on each federal law. State and local police and fire departments, as well as privately-operated police departments, must comply with the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Federal agencies that employ LEOs and firefighters must comply with Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.


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