Migraine in the workplace is a billion-dollar issue. Absenteeism, presenteeism, stigma, discrimination, and employee health are issues that affect both the employee and the employer. Knowing how to navigate the workplace with migraine can be tricky, and it can make or break your career. That’s why it’s important to know your rights and how best to engage your employer.
Stacey Worthy, Esq. is an expert in U.S. workplace law and policy for people with health issues, such as chronic migraine. Ms. Worthy also assists in coalition-building efforts with allied organizations that focus on common goals. She currently serves as counsel to and is a member of the board of directors for Aimed Alliance, a nonprofit organization that works to protect and enhance the rights of health-care consumers and providers. Ms. Worthy is a published author of scholarly articles, a regular speaker at national conferences, and a partner at the DCBA Law and Policy firm in Washington, D.C., where she specializes in health care law.
Ideally, at what point should you inform your employer that you experience migraine attacks?
Stacey Worthy: “Preferably, when you start, if you’re comfortable doing so.
It also makes sense to inform your employer if something in your office is triggering your migraine. If you need an accommodation, then let them know right away. Also, if you’re having attacks or episodes more frequently, let them know so they can be aware that you might be out of the office or need other accommodations.
Plan to meet with your doctor first and get a letter, just in case you need it as proof. If you aren’t able to get a letter from your doctor, you can always request your medical records. Then, write your own letter and share whatever you feel comfortable with.
You may want to talk to an attorney ahead of time so you know exactly what you should and shouldn’t say.”
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act and how does it apply to migraine?
Stacey Worthy: “The Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA, is a federal law that protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination and allows them to request accommodations in the workplace.
You have to prove that you have a disability, and disability is defined as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity, such as sitting, standing, walking, talking, thinking, or concentrating—many of the functions that are impaired by migraine.
For example, some individuals need to lie down when they’re having an attack because they can’t stand or think. Once you can prove that you have a disability, then you also have to prove that you’re a qualified individual. To be qualified means that you’re able to meet the requirements of the position. In other words, you’re qualified if you can fulfill the requirements of the job description and meet the essential functions of that position with or without a reasonable accommodation. Once you meet the definitions of disability and qualified individual, then you’re protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
What are some accommodations that people with migraine would benefit from in the workplace?
Stacey Worthy: “Migraine can be triggered by things like light, scents (or smell), and sound. Easy accommodations could include changing fluorescent lights or installing anti-glare screens on computer monitors. Employees could use noise-canceling headphones, or they could request to move to a part of the office that is less congested and more quiet. Accommodations could also include flexible work schedules or telecommuting.”
What are the benefits to employers and to the economy for providing accommodations for people with migraine?
Stacey Worthy: “In addition to increasing productivity, it can increase morale; it can reduce absenteeism, so employees spend fewer days out of the office. It can potentially reduce the likelihood that individuals would go to a hospital emergency department unnecessarily if they have the proper treatment and access to care. And it simply creates a better sense of community in the workplace.”
Watch the full interview to find out:
- How do you fight the misconception that people with migraine are weak or lazy, or even faking it?
- How does presenteeism come into play with migraine?
- Why should an employee tell an employer about a migraine condition, and when is the best time?
- What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
- Does migraine qualify as a disability under the ADA?
- Under the ADA, what does it mean to be a “qualified individual”?
- How can people with migraine benefit from accommodations in the workplace?
- If you experience migraine, can you ask your employer for a flexible work schedule?
- What should you do if your employer is not willing to make accommodations for you?
- What is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and how does it apply to migraine in the workplace?
- Can your employer legally terminate you if you miss work due to migraine?
Watch Stacey Worthy’s interview preview here, or order it as part of the Migraine World Summit package from this page.
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Posted in: Migraine Education