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« Employee disciplinary investigations must be handled properly | Main | Hiring temporary workers as permanent employees »

July 31, 2006

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Martha Gaie, PhD, RN

It's true that each case of migraine is highly individual. It is considered a chronic episodic condition. This means that there are repeated attacks with periods of relative health in between. There are many variables that can affect the frequency, severity, and duration of attacks.

It helps to think of a person with migraine as someone with an unusually sensitive nervous system. Factors that can cause or contribute to migraine problems include exposure to bright or flashing lights, loud or continuous noise (even if not very loud), strong odors, poor workstation ergonomics (especially for office workers), hormonal fluctuations, prolonged sun exposure, dehydration, and more. Each migraineur tends to have a personal constellation of factors that trigger attacks. Shift work can also bring problems having to do with irregular sleep and wake cycles. Depending on the individual, attacks can range from once a year to daily. Accommodations should flow logically from there.

People who have been diagnosed with chronic or transformed migraine (or chronic daily headaches) experience the highest degree of disability. If they are on an effective preventive drug regimen, their conditions may be decently controlled. However, migraine is a daily factor and a constant threat in the lives of these people. This is the group most likely to require accommodation.

Some accommodations for migraine can be very easy and inexpensive to provide. For light-sensitive employees, remove the light bulbs from above their desk and provide task lighting. (This is usually very appreciated!) Allow them to wear sunglasses indoors, if that helps. For noise sensitive employees, provide noise-canceling earphones or ear plugs. (White noise may add to the problem.) Scent-sensitivity can be accommodated through low- or no-perfume policies.

For acute attacks, provide access to a darkened area with couch or cot for the employee to lie down. Medication plus a couple hours of undisturbed rest MAY allow the migraine to subside, which allows your employee to return to work. An unshared workspace or office with closed door can serve this purpose.

The unpredictability of migraines means time issues and unscheduled absences may be unavoidable. Reasonable accommodations may include alternative schedules, schedule adjustments, telecommuting (full- or part-time, or on days of attacks), and extra flexibility on deadlines and time matters.

The employee can be expected to communicate on an ongoing basis about what's going on with migraines. There should be a protocol for what to do when migraine attacks hit. S/he should make a phone call or send an email to notify a designated contact person. It is also very helpful to encourage an ongoing dialogue about how things are going. Flexibility is the key. Your employee with be very grateful and is more likely to be productive with reasonable accommodations tailored to the individual.

M. Joyce

These provisions sound absolutely perfect for someone like me, who "suffers terribly" with acute chronic classic migraine with aura. I heve been fired from every job I have ever held due to these headaches for 60 years. People have have ridiculed me, belittled me, and emotionally abused me becaus I cannot perform my tasks perfectly each day of the week. No accomodations are acceptable to most employers, I should tough it out and take two aspirins. Sunglasses make me look like a beggar or drug addict and are not tolerated by most employers. My life has definitely been hindered and l/3rd of my life lost to severe migraine from childhood. Even my parents were sick of me - they were hindered from enjoying life due to me. My h usband and children feel the same. I am not allowed to care for my baby grandaughter in case I get an attack.

Pat McCann

How does accommodation work in shared spaces? Is it alright to inform other employees that share the space of the individuals disabilty? How does a business keep confidential, the disability of said person while removing half of the lighting? This is certainly going to be noticed by the other employees. Does the individual have any recourse if the other employees make comments in an unfavorable way of the inconveiniences that may arise from said accomodations?

Bacon Wilson Law

Hello, Pat. Thanks for your questions. We can't respond to individual inquiries on our blogs. Please email or call us, and we will connect you with an attorney who can help you.

Crystal .

I work as a receptionist at a small hair salon in Michigan (under 15 employees). They knew I had migraines before they hired me. I work 8.5 hours a day with no breaks or lunch breaks. I am to try to eat at the desk when I can. The stylists come and go, and assistants usually work 5.5 hour shifts. Most of them smoke and take breaks throughout the day. All I can say is the lights, noise and smells can really trigger my migraines. I am also sensitive to the weather and lack of sleep. Lately, the boss has taken to "punishing" me if I miss a day by telling me to stay home extra days and miss pay. Has anyone else had these kind of problems?

Crystal L. Beattie

I started having intense/severe migraines almost two years ago. I know that the weather and my menstrual period effect me, but I don't know what else is causing them. Some weeks aren't bad. But it goes up and down. Here lately I've been having disabling migraines 2 to 3 times a week...lasting anywhere from 1 to 2 days..sometimes longer. My employer is wonderful and does everything he can to accomidate me. Luckily he's a doctor so he understands the severity of my situation. However I'm in fear of him not being able to tolerate my situation forever. It does cause a hardship at work when I am not there. I guess I'm asking if it were to come down to it..would I be a likely candidate for disability benefits? I'm starting to get scared...My family depends on me.

Bacon Wilson Law

Hi, Crystal. Thanks for your question, however, we can't respond to individual inquiries on our blogs. Please email or call us, and we will connect you with an attorney who can help you.

Sandy B

Hi,
I have been plagued with cluster migraines since the age of 11 or 13. I have used medications for most of the time during this period. I have held many jobs since then and for the last 35 years, most of my employers have never known about it, since I found a way to manage leave and absences for the most part. I have taken several leave and informed absences as well as worked from home during such episodes. However as I grow older the severity and frequency of the migraines have grown and the medications I take, have been less effective. On many occurrences I have had to get shots to tame the migraine beast. The migraines periods have grown. I finally had to inform my employer about my condition. I fear that this information will be used against me, and my employer might fire me. I am the only earning member in my family. My work performance has always been appreciated by my former boss in the current organization. However my new boss is not very appreciative or accommodating and therefore, I had no option but to let them know the reason, why I request to work from home on a few occasions, during migraine episodes. If my employer fires me, what options do I have. I live in a place where jobs for me are very hard to come by and I need to have my family close to me, because they help take care of my kids, when I cannot, severely restricting my ability to move to another place. How can I resolve my current situation. My work provides a income for my family that is very much required. I don't think disability would be much of an option as it wont be enough to meet my families needs. I don't qualify for FMLA and I haven't even looked at what ADA is, but I am pretty sure, it wont be much.

Bacon Wilson Law

Thanks for your comment, Sandy. Unfortunately we cannot respond to individual legal inquiries here. Please direct your questions to attorney, Kevin Maltby: 413.781.0560 or [email protected]

Sheilah

I started having grade a disabling migraines about 3 years ago. When they first started, I had no idea they were even migraines until I was having one and went to my doctor. I have been on fmla for the last 2 or 3 years because of them. I work at a sheriff's office. Every time I have been off because of my migraines, my supervisor never had anyone fill in for my position. As of 9/14/12 they have given me a written reprimand for neglect of duty and moved me to a shift position that is very stressful and worse for my migraines. I have been there 11 years and now this. Today was my first day in this shift position and halfway thru the day I had a migraine. Why am I being punished for something my supervisor failed to do while I was off on fmla for Migraines?

Lisa Neagle

Hi,
I suffered with migrains in my 7th & 8th grade years of school them abruptly ended until December of 2004. Since then I have suffered 3 to 4 or more a week and lasting anywhere between 1 day to 2 weeks. I have been on every medication on the market even the self injections. I have 6 children and 1 grand baby that depend on me. More demanding are my last 3 teen angers that are currently in high school. I cannot participate in school functions and can manage to clean maybe one room at a time in my home. My husband works internationally and rarely home so therefore my kids completely depend on me and I am not able to give what is expected of me due to my migrains. I have worked several jobs since 2004 and have had to quit because I cannot do what's required of me. In my last job my manager made fun of me and my headaches to my face and to other employees and really embarrassed me which ultimately took its toll on me and I quit.
So any advice what I can do?

Bacon Wilson Law

Thanks, Lisa. Unfortunately, we cannot respond to your individual legal inquiry here. Please direct your questions to attorney, Kevin Maltby: 413.781.0560 or [email protected]

Bacon Wilson Law

Thanks for your comment, Sheilah. Unfortunately, we cannot respond to your individual legal inquiry here. Please direct your questions to attorney, Kevin Maltby: 413.781.0560 or [email protected]

Alisa Elswood

Hi, I've worked for the same employer for over 10 years now. Bright fluorescent lighting triggers my debilitating migraines and until May of 2012, my employer was kind enough to allow me to have light diffusers ($10.00 plastic sheets) over the lights above my cubicle. I was also allowed to put up 2 umbrellas as well. My migraines went away and none of my co-workers ever complained. Then suddenly, they said I couldn't use umbrellas or have any light diffusers. My migraines came back immediately and I lost a lot of time from work. So much time that they threatened to fire me if I missed anymore work. Still, my employer refused to work with me to find a solution. I even wore sunglasses and a big hat, but it wasn't enough. Finally, my neurologist put me on temporary disability while we worked to find medications that might help me to be less sensitive. Six months later, and with 3 different medications, my neurologist released me back to work as long as they would allow me to have the cheap light diffusers. I'm just happy that I don't have to wear sunglasses and a hat anymore so that's a big improvement! Anyway, my employer still refuses to allow me any kind of relief from the lighting. Even with the neurologist's request. I'm so frustrated! I have no idea what to do anymore.

Christina C

Is there forms you can take to your doctor to have signed stating you have a migraine disability and they can't fire you for it. I believe my mother told me about some form she had used for her chronic asthma. Any ideas?

Bacon Wilson Law

Hello, Christina. Thanks for your questions. We can't respond to individual inquiries on our blogs. Please call us, and we will connect you with an attorney who can help you. 413.781.0560

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