In an ideal world, there would be no issue in disclosing a migraine condition to employers, but in the real world it’s often not as cut and dried as we’d like. Employers may or may not take a sympathetic stance, and the level of responsibility held by the migraine sufferer may impact how the employer reacts. They may feel that high-level employees with migraine may need too much time off and so won’t be able to properly carry out their duties.
However, most migraine sufferers need to let their employers know at some point, regardless of whether they feel they’ll get a sympathetic hearing or not. It’s better to disclose sooner rather than later since most employers would prefer to understand your condition and find ways to help you cope. When everyone understands what you go through, and what helps you, both parties benefit: you’re more confident and less fearful of migraine episodes at work, and in return employers get a healthier, more productive employee.
Letting coworkers know about your migraine condition is often an informal occurrence, with opportunities to talk occurring naturally. Speaking with employers is a more formal affair, though, and needs careful planning.
Considerations Before Disclosure
Here are some tips to help you approach the migraine discussion with confidence:
- Find out who you need to talk to. If you have a choice of several people, choose the one you think will be more sympathetic or receptive. While everyone within an organization should be working to the same set of guidelines and objectives, they are also only human, and some people understand illness better than others.
- Plan what you want to say. Knowing in advance exactly what information you wish to convey will help keep you on track. It’s okay to write down a list of the points you wish to cover, and to take in supporting material such as leaflets on migraine or helpful URLs. Many people don’t understand migraine, so be prepared to do some educating. Make sure they understand you don’t just have the odd headache; you have a neurological condition recognized by the World Health Organization as one of the top 20 disabling conditions in the world.
- Make an appointment to meet with the appropriate personnel in your workplace. Preferably, you need a dedicated appointment time where you can sit down in private, have your employer’s full attention, and take the time for a productive discussion.
Know What You Need
The purpose of the disclosure isn’t just to let employers know you have migraine, it’s to make sure they understand the ongoing, serious nature of the condition so you can work out mutually beneficial ways to help you cope. To that end, it helps if you’re clear in your own mind about what you need from them.
It’s important they understand that, despite migraine, you can still carry out your work to a high standard, but that you may need some help to do so. You could explain your triggers, for instance, and maybe request that your computer is located away from reflected glare, or maybe you need breaks to take medication.
It’s also important that employers realize migraine is unpredictable and can’t be cured, although it can often be managed. Removing triggers in the workplace will help greatly, but won’t guarantee a migraine-free day.
The Family Medical Leave Act
Since 1993, workers within the United States have been protected by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). There are some conditions attached, but basically the act allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year.
Some of those conditions include:
- Your company must have at least 50 employees. These can be spread out across several sites but they must be within a 75-mile radius of where you work.
- You must have been employed outside the home for at least 12 months during the last seven years.
- You must have worked 1,250 hours over the past year. That equates to 24 hours per week if you worked every week, or 26 hours per week if you had two weeks off during that year. Either vacation or sick leave counts as time off.
FMLA only applies in certain situations, such as for those with serious health conditions such as chronic migraine.
Although FMLA covers you for 12 weeks in any given year, you don’t have to take the time all at once. It covers you, for instance, if you wake up with a migraine and are unable to attend work. You must, of course, still follow your employer’s call-in regulations for unplanned absences.
As well as conditions, there are also positives and negatives to FMLA. The first negative is that your employer may request that you use your sick days and vacation time first, with a second negative being that leave is unpaid.
The positive is that although you won’t be paid while off work, you will at least keep your job while you take time to recover. Holding down a job while managing a migraine condition is possible with the help of sympathetic employers. If you have been trying to keep your migraine to yourself, consider disclosure since it could benefit both of you in the long term.