Having Migraine in the workplace presents unique challenges. There are labor laws and federal programs designed to assist employees with disabilities. Yet the precise legal status of Migraine as a disability has yet to be firmly established. Courts have ruled inconsistently on the issue. Part of the ambiguity is that Migraine is a spectrum disease, affecting some people more severely than others. If Migraine is interfering with work productivity, here are a few places that may help sort out your options.
Department of Labor
The US Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing laws related to the wages, safety, and welfare of individuals employed by all US-based companies, including those with disabilities. This is the first place to start when learning about Migraine in the workplace.
Job Accommodation Network
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a public resource provided by the Department of Labor. JAN assists with workplace accommodations. It is not an enforcement agency. Instead, it is an information resource. JAN consultants work with employers and employees in all industries, regardless of company size. They help to create accommodations within the law, that offer the best solutions for both employers and employees. JAN may work with your employer to create effective accommodations for Migraine in the workplace.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for enforcing all forms of discrimination in the workplace, including disability discrimination. It also offers guidance and education to employers regarding compliance, including instructions on how to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
Possible accommodations for Migraine in the workplace:
- Flexible break times to allow employee to abort and recover from attacks
- Providing a private area for employees to abort or recover attacks
- Permitting employee to store medication and comfort items in the workplace
- Flexible scheduling to accommodate doctor appointments, severe attacks, etc.
- Allowing food, beverages, and medications in employee workspace.
- Permitting employee to wear sunglasses or specially tinted glasses to ease photophobia
- Replacing fluorescent lighting with incandescent or natural lighting
- Creating a fragrance-free workplace to accommodate osmophobia and chemical sensitivities
- Offering Family & Medical Leave benefits
- When accommodations are not possible in current position, offer alternative job assignment(s)
Americans With Disabilities Act
Americans with Disabilities Act specifically addresses the rights of disabled workers and the responsibilities of their employers. In some cases, people with migraine in the workplace may be protected by this act.
- Employers may not discriminate on the basis of disability when an applicant is otherwise qualified to do the job.
- Employers are limited in what they may ask an applicant about his or her disability.
- Requires employers to make reasonable accommodations that do not present an undue hardship.
- Applies to all businesses with 15 or more employees.
- Complaints of discrimination must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged discrimination.
- Employees or applicants may sue only after receiving a “right to sue” letter from the EEOC.
Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. FMLA may be a good option for those coping with Migraine in the workplace when irregular or extended absences are common. A word of caution: Many people are surprised that insurance coverage only continues if the employee pays the full premium, even if not receiving a paycheck. That does not imply paid leave, which would be at the discretion of your employer. It does mean that the employer is required to allow you to take up to 12 weeks of leave in a year. That time does not have to be consecutive. A letter from your doctor is usually sufficient to qualify for leave for medical reasons.
FMLA is a good place to start if you are having trouble making it to work some days. Let your employer, both supervisor and human resources, know what is going on with you and that you may need to take a periodic leave. Talking to your human resources representative is not “going over your supervisor’s head.” You should definitely talk to your supervisor first, but human resources will understand the legal obligations of the company better than your supervisor and will provide you with appropriate job protection. A word of caution—they are not often your “friend,” but they will be fair. In a case like this it is better to be honest, in advance, about your condition rather than for your situation to be represented as a performance issue.
Employee pre-qualifications for FMLA:
- Worked for a covered employer
- Employed for at least 12 months
- Worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months
Covered Employers include:
- government agencies
- all companies with 50 or more employees
Other important provisions
- Employers may require that you use all your paid time off (vacation and sick leave) as part of FMLA
- Employers are not required to offer paid leave as part of FMLA
- Employees are not required to take leave for the full 12 consecutive weeks
- Employees caring for an injured service member are eligible for up to 26 weeks leave