Options for Employers When An Employee with Migraines Is Missing Work

Medically reviewed and updated for 2024 by Molly Duong, M.D.

The American Migraine Research Foundation reports that migraines affect 39 million people in the United States. More than 90% of migraine sufferers report that they are unable to work while suffering from a migraine.

If you are an employer, that means there is a good chance that you have at least one employee with migraines who has had to miss work because of it. It’s even more likely there are several more who suffer from migraines but don’t disclose it. Those missed days start to add up for many employers.

Fix Your Work Lighting

Light covers that solve lighting headaches & migraines.

See Light Filters to Prevent Migraines

The American Migraine Foundation reported that migraines cost American businesses more than $29 billion a year in lost time and productivity. Migraines are a costly neurological disorder and one that employers can’t afford to ignore.

Furthermore, a Harvard Business Review article on the impact of migraines in the workplace provides crucial statistics and insights. Migraines, affecting more than a billion people globally, are a significant issue for both employee well-being and productivity. The article emphasizes the effectiveness of organizational strategies such as educational programs, migraine management tools, and workplace environment modifications to reduce migraine triggers and enhance productivity. Implementing these strategies can lead to substantial improvements, with migraine education programs alone boosting productivity by 29-36%.

Additionally, personalized accommodations for employees, such as telemedicine visits with headache medicine specialists, have shown impressive returns on investment, exceeding 490% in some cases. These approaches not only reduce the financial burden of migraines but also significantly improve the quality of life for employees, creating a win-win situation for both the workforce and the organization​​​​.

Glare Filters

Light covers that solve lighting headaches & migraines.

See Light Filters to Prevent Migraines

Migraine Attacks and Employment Rights

Employees with migraines have the same protection that an employee with another major illness or disability has. That may be surprising news to some employers. 38% of surveyed supervisors said migraines weren’t always a justifiable reason to call in sick to work.

The stigma of calling in “just for a headache” keeps many employees from seeking treatment or being honest about why they can’t make it in. According to employment laws and the federal government, though, migraines count as a serious illness. In some cases and, as of this writing, a migraine is a medical condition that would qualify as a disability.

Can An Employee With a Chronic Migraine Use Family Medical Leave Act?

One very important thing employers should note is that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be used by migraine sufferers. FMLA leave allows certain employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12 month period for serious health condition, including a migraine and other serious health conditions.

If you have an employee with migraines who is taking a lot of sick time for chronic migraine issues, they should consider getting onto FMLA. This protects their employment status as well as their health insurance benefits. However FMLA is not paid time off from the company. Employees can take the 12 weeks of unpaid leave all at once or broken up into smaller chunks of time, and they don’t have to use it all.

or employees missing work due to migraines, they are more likely to end up taking a day here or there as needed for FMLA leave.

Are Migraines Covered Under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Some migraines may qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The determination comes on a case by case basis for each individual. For people suffering from migraines to qualify as a disability, an individual assessment will take into account:

  • Whether the migraines are serious enough to limit the individual’s ability to perform the job or impacts the workplace negatively
  • Whether the individual would be otherwise qualified to do the job
  • How frequent and severe the migraines are

If an employee’s migraines are severe enough to meet the criteria to be considered a disability, the employer will need to provide reasonable accommodations and support. However, it is the employee’s responsibility to request for an accommodation.

This can start as simple as an informal conversation. Formalize the plan through written documentation to protect both the employee and the business.

Can An Employee Lose Their Job For Having Migraines?

When an employee is missing work due to chronic migraine issues, it can start to affect their job performance. That doesn’t mean employers can terminate employment without first going through a legal process, however. This should include:

  • An interactive discussion process. This involves a discussion between the employee and the employer. It should focus on what job roles are being affected by the migraines and what reasonable accommodations the employer could make.
  • Medical certification. The employee will need to get paperwork filled out by their doctor indicating they need special accommodation or that they need to take FMLA time.
  • Discussing the situation with the company’s labor law expert. Employment laws vary state by state, so before you terminate an employee, it’s important to make sure you aren’t leaving your company vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit in the future.

In most cases, making reasonable accommodations for an employee with migraines will be far easier (and less expensive) than terminating them. Most employees are looking for small changes to their work environment or flexibility with their hours. That will allow them to do their job without sacrificing their well-being. Approach the situation with an open mind, and it may surprise you to find that the proposed solutions are very simple.

Making Reasonable Accommodations for Migraine Attack Sufferers

Once an employee requests an accommodation, it’s up to the employer to work with them to find solutions and implement  them so that the employee can continue to do their job successfully. Some of the most common accommodations recommended by occupational health and human resources professionals for migraine sufferers include:

  • Offering flexible hours. If the job doesn’t require an employee to be there at a certain time, consider flex time. Flexible hours can allow the employee to work  when they are able to without worrying about punching a clock.
  • Allowing them to work remotely. This doesn’t mean they’ll be working when they are dealing with a migraine. What work-from-home does allow, though, is the ability to control their environment when they feel a migraine coming on. This could help them reduce the severity of migraines or prevent them altogether.
  • Moving their desk. Some migraines are triggered by lighting, smells, or noise. Simply moving their workspace or altering the environment a little can help a lot.
  • Creating migraine-friendly break rooms. Migraine sufferers may find relief in a dark, quiet room, free from visual disturbances. If you have the space for it, create a migraine-friendly break room for co workers. This can be as simple as a comfortable couch in a dimly-lit room for rest or even sleep support.

The most important thing an employer can do for employees with migraine symptoms is to be proactive about listening to their needs. Instead of assuming you know what they need, ask them. This can help you start a conversation about what would be useful and how you can meet their needs so that they can do their job.

Reducing Migraine Triggers in the Office

It’s not clear what exactly causes migraines in a person. Generally, research indicates it could be hormonal, environmental, stress related, or a misfire somewhere in the brain. What is clear though, is that there are many environmental factors that play a role in triggering migraine pain.

If employers can help reduce those triggering factors for people with migraine symptoms, they may see the number of sick days due to chronic migraine attacks go down. That means a boost to productivity, decrease in absence and reduced insurance costs, too.

Migraine Miss Work?

Some of the most common triggers are those associated with the five senses, including loud noises and strong smells. Implementing a no-perfume policy and encouraging coworkers to keep noise to a minimum can be a good start towards creating a migraine-friendly workplace.

Stress is another common trigger for migraine sufferers. Some jobs are naturally more stressful than others. However, as an employer you may be able to help by moving the employee into a position they find to be less stressful. They may also offer assistance through job-sharing with another employee.

Finding those solutions can make a big difference to the well-being of the employee without any loss of productivity for the employer or a visit to the doctor.

Employee Missing Work Due to Migraines?

One of the worst triggers for many office workers, however, is the overhead lighting. Fluorescent lighting and newer LED lights can be particularly triggering for migraine sufferers. Fluorescent lighting creates bright, unnatural light that can be harmful to those with  light sensitivity due to migraines. The overhead lighting from fluorescents can also cause a lot of glare on the computer screen, creating another trigger for headaches and migraines.

Why Lighting May Be Your Biggest Issue

There are some studies that show the biggest issue with fluorescent and LED lights could be the blue light they emit. According to an article from Harvard Medical School, research shows that blue light can trigger headaches even in those with profound vision loss. Thus,  reducing blue light emission can potentially reduce the frequency of headaches for an employee with migraines. Furthermore, blue light has been shown to influence our circadian rhythm- or our body’s internal clock. Excessive exposure may lead to less sleep, as well as lower sleep quality. Article source

This doesn’t mean you need to take on all the time and expenses of retrofitting your existing lighting fixtures, though. If your office uses fluorescent lights, consider looking for ways to mask the blue light and make it easier on your employees’ eyes This may also help to prevent the chances of a headache or migraine attack. Let’s explain how we can prevent workplace absence:

The overhead lighting from fluorescents can also create a lot of glare on the computer screen, another trigger for headaches and migraines.

There are some studies that show the biggest issue with fluorescent and LED lights could be the blue light they emit. According to an article from Harvard Medical School, research shows that blue light can trigger headaches even in those who are blind. So reducing the blue light can reduce the number of headaches happening for an employee with migraines.

That doesn’t mean you need to take on all the time and expense of retrofitting your existing lighting fixtures, though. If your office uses fluorescent lights, consider looking for ways to mask the blue light and make it easier on employees’ eyes. and to prevent the chance of a headache or migraine attacks. Let’s explain how we can prevent workplace absence:

Items like tube covers and light covers can create more natural lighting while also reducing glare on computer screens. These covers can block UV radiation as well, which can trigger other health conditions like stress, lupus photosensitivity and fibromyalgia, as well as ocular conditions such as pterygium and cataracts.

Light covers are much less expensive than retrofitting all your lighting fixtures and take just minutes to install. It’s a simple fix for one of the office’s most harmful migraine triggers. Help your employees improve their work and family life by requesting NatuaLux to support health in your workplace life.

Make Great Light offers the most advanced light covers in the industry. The selection of lighting and tube covers give you the ability to increase productivity through the improvement of your office lighting.

Sometimes the simplest changes make the biggest differences to the health and happiness of your employees, as well as a boost to your bottom line. Check out the available lighting solutions today and place your order for better office or school lighting.

Implementing lighting changes doesn’t have to be expensive either- as discounts are available for larger orders. Read our reviews from people with migraine and headache issues.

References and Sources
Migraine at Work https://migraineatwork.org/articles_migraine/how-much-does-migraine-cost/
Harvard Business Review https://migraineatwork.org/news_articles/harvard-business-review-migraines-are-a-serious-problem-employers-can-help/

Light Filters

Reduce eyestrain and increase productivity.

Lighting Solutions

About Dr. Molly Duong

Dr. Molly Duong is a therapeutic and glaucoma certified optometrist. She obtained her doctorate degree at the University of California Berkeley, School of Optometry, and graduated with Honors in Research. Upon graduation, she completed a residency at the Major Charles Robert Soltes Jr. Blind Rehabilitation Center located at VA Long Beach, gaining expertise in primary care, low vision, and traumatic brain injury cases.

She is passionate about expanding innovations in technology and medical devices to improve vision care, and is always looking to build her professional acumen. On top of patient care, she also works in medical writing for ophthalmic trade articles and blogs, as well as consulting for a new vision-based web application in development.

3 thoughts on “Options for Employers When An Employee with Migraines Is Missing Work”

  1. I don’t know what to do I have FMLA with the Company that I work with we have been changed over to a new Company and I have to wait until one year to get it and I know that I’m not going to make it that long without getting a migraine to keep my kob

    • If we can help, let us know. I suggest speaking to your employer about the conditions that are triggering your migraines. Fixing the lighting is relatively inexpensive and can really help.

  2. I have had migraine with aura since I was 6. They are familial hemiplegic migraines. Genetic. I have terrible health insurance, cannot access the meds that work to slow them down. Nothing prevents them. I have only been at my current job 2 months, so I do not qualify for FMLA, and my manager has told me that if I don’t “get them under control”, I’ll lose my job. I’ve had to leave 3 times already in 2 months. There is no way for me to control them, even on Topiramate 100mg QD and Rizatriptan 10mg PRN. How do I prevent job loss and manage a lifelong condition that has no cure and very little understanding from employers? I cannot work my job from home, ask for accommodation or light duty. I’m a nurse.


Leave a Comment