On any given day and in any given federal district courtroom across the United States, a case involving the Family Medical Leave Act and migraines is likely being argued. In July 2014, for example, a court in the Southern District of Indiana ruled in against the plaintiff in Hamilton v. Republic Airways, in which a flight attendant was fired because she claimed to be unable to work a specific flight due to her alleged migraine episodes.
Unfortunately for patients who must live with migraine conditions, the above-mentioned case is an example of malingering and trying to abuse the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) just to get an unfair advantage at work. It is important to discuss the actions of the flight attendant and how this case does not help migraine patients who want to seek to protect their jobs under the FMLA, but it is also important to understand how this federal law works.
Understanding the FMLAThe U.S. Congress passed the FMLA during the first term of former President Bill Clinton; it provides certain benefits and protections to American workers who experience a period of illness or who need time off from work to care for an immediate relative who is sick. The FMLA, which was enacted in 1993, is often considered an extension of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.
Chronic migraine patients can take advantage of the FMLA insofar as taking time off beyond sick days and vacation time to recover from episodes that leave them unable to perform their duties at work. The four main benefits of the FMLA are:
- It does not discriminate against migraine patients
- It allows employees to take just one day off if needed
- It directs employees to guarantee that their workers will still have a job after taking medical leave under the Act
- It ensures that health insurance benefits do no lapse while workers are on leave
What the FMLA ProvidesTo qualify for the FMLA, an employee must first have:
- Worked at least 12 months in the last seven years
- Worked a cumulative, minimum amount of 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months
Time taken off work under the FMLA does not have to be paid; for this reason, most migraine patients who need to recover from an episode usually apply for FMLA benefits after they have already used up their allotted sick days and paid vacation. Workers whose spouses or children need to be taken care of due to a medical condition can also seek job protection under the FMLA.
When the FMLA Is Abused
Back to Hamilton v. Republic Airways: The flight attendant who brought up the complaint against Republic Airlines was found to have refused an assignment because she did not have any clothes to change into. When reminded that assignment refusals were considered violations of company policy, the flight attendant then claimed that she had a migraine and demanded time off under the FMLA.
The terminated flight attendant complained that her rights under the FMLA had been violated, particularly since her employer did not believe she had a migraine in the first place. The complainant argued that the airline should have retained a medical professional to make such a determination, but she did not cite proper case law in her complaint to the court.
In the end, the complainant's allegations that her employer retaliated for her use of the FMLA were baseless. It is important for migraine patients to discuss their migraines to their bosses when it comes to applying for FMLA benefits, but it is even more important to remember that employees must not abuse the system.