Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA,) an individual with a disability is one who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Whether migraine headaches fit under this definition is questionable since the seriousness of migraines can greatly vary from one individual to another. However, if the condition significantly limits or alters life activities, it is entirely possible that migraines can fulfill the definition of a disability.
It is not enough to garner protection under the ADA by simply having something that is classified as a disability. An individual must also demonstrate that he or she is able to perform the essential job functions. In order to prove that, it is generally necessary to maintain a regular and dependable level of attendance.
Performance of essential job functions can be accomplished with or without reasonable accommodations, which include making existing facilities more readily accessible, modification of work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position and modification of policies.
Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations. However, they are not required to make an accommodation that would impose an undue hardship on the operation of their business. Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considering the nature of the employer’s business, its size, financial ability, and the nature and structure of its operation. Further, an employer is not required to make an accommodation that would lower the quality of production standards, nor provide inherently personal items such as hearing aids. It is a difficult to assess how reasonable it is to permit an employee an accommodation such as time off on account of migraine headaches.
It does appear that migraine headaches could be considered a disability under the ADA, however they are so subjective that employers should assess claims on a case-by-case basis. It is necessary to decipher whether the condition rises to the level of a disability, and further, whether there exists any reasonable accommodation that would permit the employee to maintain their performance of essential job functions.