Workplace Accommodations for Light Sensitivity

Light sensitivity, or photophobia, is often a symptom of certain medical conditions. This can mean you’re sensitive to sunlight or bright lighting. You might also be sensitive to certain types of light, like the fluorescent lights found in many workplaces.

What reasonable workplace accommodations are you entitled to?

While light sensitivity often affects the eyes, it can also cause other, more severe symptoms throughout the body. For those with eye conditions, harsh fluorescent lights can cause eye pain and irritation. Furthermore, it can increase stress in people with autism spectrum disorders, trigger severe lupus symptoms, and set off a migraine attack.

These conditions can quickly become debilitating and prevent workers from completing necessary tasks at work. Conditions that cause light sensitivity are often invisible. This forces employees to struggle with their symptoms, accumulate an abundance of absences, or even quit work entirely.

Fighting through the symptoms of a serious condition isn’t the answer. Instead, ask your employer about accommodations that help you keep your symptoms under control and increase your productivity.

Why Should My Employer Provide Accommodations?

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It’s the law. Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act states that an employer must provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, except when such accommodation would cause an undue hardship. The statement might seem like a vague suggestion, but it has significant meanings behind certain words.

  • Reasonable accommodations:  Any change to the application and hiring process, the way a job is done, or the workplace environment that allows a qualified employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job.
  • Person with disabilities: Someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person perceived as having an impairment.
  • Qualified individuals: A person who is able to perform essential job functions in a position. Additional determining factors may include the skill required and the number of other employees who can fulfill the same duty.
  • Undue hardship: Excessively expensive changes or changes that represent a direct threat to others.

Simply put, your employer must make reasonable changes to your workspace unless those changes are overly expensive or cause a direct threat.

Are Migraines Covered Under ADA?

Migraines can be covered under ADA, but sometimes they aren’t. Surprisingly, there is some controversy surrounding this question. Since migraine symptoms and the triggers that set them off vary so widely, determining whether they fit the ADA definition of disability is a challenge.  The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

The Migraine Research Foundation describes migraines as “an extremely incapacitating collection of neurological symptoms …  accompanied by one or more disabling symptoms.” Severe throbbing head pain, visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and tingling or numbness in the extremities or face are all symptoms of migraines.

Additionally, extreme light sensitivity as well as sensitivities to sound, touch, and smell are frequently experienced as well. Often, these symptoms substantially impair your ability to work.

Unfortunately, migraines are considered an invisible condition. Employers who are in the dark about your condition have little to no knowledge of the effects of a migraine attack during the workday. Still, migraine sufferers who experience symptoms that impair their work are eligible for ADA accommodations.

Migraines and Employment Rights

Migraines affect more than 38 million people in the U.S. Still, many people who suffer from migraines experience discrimination at work. Migraine symptoms are widely misunderstood and devalued. The symptoms are typically not visible to others.

Unfortunately, coworkers and employers often equate migraine symptoms to their own mild or moderate headaches. All too often, migraine sufferers feel like they’re lazy or weak because they don’t just “power through” the debilitating symptoms of an attack.

Here are a few truths about how migraines affect employees.

  • Untreated migraine attacks force more than 90% of people with migraines to miss work.
  • 63% of people with migraines suffer from at least one attack a month.
  • 73% of migraine sufferers are women.
  • 41% of women with migraine disease are more likely to suffer from depression.
  • Migraine attacks are sometimes triggered by everyday occurrences like a coworker’s perfume, fluorescent lights, or stress.
  • 57% of accommodations for migraines don’t cost anything.

Accommodations for Light Sensitivity

Fluorescent lighting triggers migraine symptoms in several ways. The flickering effect of fluorescent bulbs isn’t noticeable to your eyes. However, it triggers migraine symptoms. Additionally, harsh overhead fluorescent lighting provides poor task lighting which leads to eye strain, another potential migraine trigger. Multiple glare points and unnatural bright lights provide overstimulation and can set off a migraine attack.

Employers must accommodate the needs of employees and job applicants with a disability when doing so wouldn’t cause undue hardship. A variety of changes exist that help improve symptoms that are triggered by light sensitivity. Many of these changes only affect a small space within the building. Here are some of the most common accommodations for light sensitivity.

1. Alternate lighting options:

Many lighting choices in the workplace trigger migraines. Fluorescent lighting has an almost imperceptible flicker that triggers migraines. Additionally, the bright, unnatural light creates a glare that triggers symptoms as well. LEDs are a modern replacement, but often create harsh light that increases glare as well. Fluorescent light filters remove glare and create full-spectrum light that mimics natural light.  These filters are also inexpensive and installation is easy.

2. Flexible scheduling choices:

Unfortunately, migraine attacks often occur more than once a month. Flexible schedules can work in a variety of ways to allow migraine sufferers to make up for lost work time. Allow employees to work in low-traffic hours (like evenings). Additionally, implement scheduling choices such as unpaid time off, working remotely during attacks, or working part-time.

3. Anti-glare cover for monitors:

Office workers often spend hours in front of a computer. This intensity of light is a common migraine trigger. Anti-glare covers are an inexpensive fix that eliminates the problem on specific computers.

4. Dress code changes:

Glare from overhead lights is a major problem in most workplaces. Therefore, wear hats with wide brims and/or tinted glasses. This option can help eliminate the glare to avoid worsening symptoms during an attack.

5. Dark-room:

A dimly lit, agreed-upon room provides a restful place for employees. Curb escalating migraine symptoms in a calm, dark room. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you can either continue working or lie down to rest and interrupt symptoms.

How to Request Workplace Accommodations

If you suffer from migraine attacks, create an open dialogue with your employer. First, understand that your employer likely has no knowledge of your debilitating symptoms. You are a qualified employee that your employer values.

Simply sharing your history will get you one step closer to getting a healthier workspace. Take these steps to ask your employer about workplace accommodations to avoid triggers and relieve your migraine symptoms.

1. Gather Information

Learn about potential accommodations and how they may help you meet your job requirements. Determine what changes you need and be certain these changes will allow you to complete the essential functions of your position.

2. Put your request in writing

This may not be required by your employer, but it can help you verify the process if you have difficulty getting the changes you need. Occasionally, it might be necessary to seek assistance from more than one person in your office. The presence of a paper trail helps speed up the process.

3. Get a doctor’s note

Proving your disability can be one of the biggest hurdles for migraine sufferers. Gather a documented history of your symptoms from a medical professional. With it, provide consistent information to your employer. It’s important that your employer understands how your symptoms affect your daily functions.

4. Consider getting professional advice

If you face difficulties when seeking accommodations, an attorney may be able to help. Unfortunately, the terms surrounding disability can be difficult to navigate when migraine symptoms are so diverse. An attorney helps you determine whether reasonable accommodations are something you are entitled to.

Migraine disease is a serious condition affecting millions of Americans in the workplace. Symptoms are often debilitating and make work functions impossible. Still, migraine sufferers are typically capable of being excellent employees under the right conditions. Furthermore, daily work triggers are often simple to eliminate and may help a variety of employees within your company.

Workplace accommodations help employers retain valuable employees and make the workplace safer for those suffering from disabilities. For more information about how lighting affects various conditions and the changes you can make, see our NaturaLux light filter products.

Make Great Light is a company that specializes in the creation of light filters that block dangerous rays and remove harmful glare. Natural, healthy light in the workplace increases productivity and makes the space more comfortable and enjoyable for all employees.

Sources:

1. https://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html

2. https://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/what-is-migraine/

3. https://www.migrainedisorders.org/migraine-disease-and-the-americans-with-disabilities-act-ada/

4. https://migraineagain.com/migraine-and-work-understanding-your-legal-rights/

5. https://migraine.com/migraine-basics/ada-accommodations-the-workplace/

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