Workplace Policies

Migraine Management Toolkit

Plan Design & Policies: Workplace Policies

Employees suffering from migraines often present a challenge for employers from an attendance and productivity perspective. Since migraines are unpredictable, and when they occur can be debilitating, they can result in frequent short-term absences, leaving work suddenly, or staying on the job with a migraine but at reduced productivity level due to headache symptoms.

Considering that the absenteeism rate among migraineurs is much higher than the average employee, it makes sense to put policies in place to support affected individuals, keeping them on the job and productive. In addition, promoting an open environment where sufferers feel comfortable talking with management about their condition contributes to a healthier work environment and goes a long way towards improving absenteeism and presenteeism.

Examples of policies that can be put in place to accommodate employees with migraines include:

  • Flexible leave: To support an employee when they experience a migraine (which can be unpredictable due to the fluctuating nature of the condition) or are recovering; can include unpaid leave if necessary
  • Adjusted work hours: Allows a migraine sufferer the flexibility to start their work day earlier or end later when they have a migraine
  • Telecommuting: Allows an employee to work from home when they are not comfortable traveling to work either due to the feeling that a migraine is coming on or because they are recovering from a headache
  • Access to: and use of a quiet room (if available) for migraine prevention and symptom relief

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA contains a broad, general legal (not medical) definition of disability that a person must meet before being eligible. The definition is centered on whether a physical or mental impairment “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” If an employee diagnosed with migraines is deemed eligible under the ADA, an employer must make “reasonable accommodations” for the employee that may include making exceptions to the regular sick or personal leave policies, allowing a flexible work schedule and/or the ability to telecommute and use unpaid leave if necessary. Other accommodations might involve the work environment, for example offering alternatives to fluorescent lighting.

Find out more about determining whether a person has a disability under the act. 

More information about migraines and the ADA, including a list of questions to consider. 

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA allows an eligible employee to maintain their employment status (but not their income) when they need to be gone from work for covered reasons. It applies to any employee who has a “serious health condition” that renders them unable to perform the functions of their position.

If an employee diagnosed with migraines meets the eligibility requirements under the FMLA, they can apply for either one continuous block of time off or intermittent leave. Since migraines are unpredictable, most migraineurs will choose intermittent leave and update it yearly.

Intermittent leave is challenging for the employer as notice may be given the same day and hourly workers may need to leave during their shift. For salaried workers, offering flexible schedules, including flexible start and leave times can be helpful.

Learn more from the American Migraine Foundation about FMLA for migraines.