Unfair and illegal though it is, many migraineurs experience discrimination at school and work. Knowing the law helps provide a defense against harassment and discrimination, in the event that it occurs.
One form of discrimination faced by migraineurs is not being allowed enough time for medical appointments. Especially in the early days of diagnosing chronic migraine disease, there is usually a multitude of appointments (scheduled at the doctor's convenience, of course) with physicians, neurologists, and other specialists. Exams such as MRIs or CT scans must be scheduled, and those can take hours depending on how busy the office is on the day of your appointment.
Employers need to allow reasonable amounts of time for an employee to visit the doctor when she is ill. However, do your best to schedule appointments during times when your absence at the office will not disrupt key workflows. Look for after-hours, lunchtime, or early morning appointments.
If an appointment must be scheduled in the middle of the workday, try to make sure it does not fall in the middle of an important meeting or conference call. And remember to give your employer plenty of notice, informing him of appointments and estimated time needed away from the office as soon as you have scheduled them.
There are several ways in which migraineurs can make modifications to their work environments to lessen the impact and discomfort of their disease. However, some employers refuse to make even the most modest of accommodations, citing a disinclination for “special treatment” as a reason for refusal. This behavior constitutes discrimination, and may clearly violate a company's stated anti-discrimination policy, not to mention requirements under the ADA.
Read the corporate handbook, know your rights, and insist on fair accommodations per your disability. If your immediate supervisor is not amenable to your needs, do not be afraid to take your concerns to the head of the human resources department or another relevant personnel office.
Glare-resistant screen coatings, removal of strong perfumes and colognes, and a consistent source of fresh drinking water are small things, but ones that can remove several migraine triggers and contribute to a healthier, trigger-free workday. Another beneficial accommodation would include a quiet room for sleeping in the event of a migraine attack at work.
Find more information on dealing with migraine effectively in the workplace.
Reasonable Time Off
Another way in which migraine sufferers might be discriminated against is in the amount of time they are allowed to take off from work. Some offices have a set number of sick days given to salaried employees; when those days are all gone, so also is the employee's ability to take time out during a migraine attack without having to use vacation hours.
The employer's point of view must be considered. If someone is hired to do a job, and is getting paid to perform the functions of that job, that person is reasonably expected to be in the office doing that job. However, everyone falls ill from time to time, and employers should be willing to make reasonable exceptions for times when an employee is simply unable to function.
If choosing another line of work (one with more flexible hours, for example) is not an option, consider talking to your employer about ways to make up the time. Can you work evenings on the days when your migraine is under control? Can you put in extra hours on the weekend? Coming up with a plan for finishing projects on time, despite the possibility of needing to take a day off when a migraine is at its worst, can go a long way toward building goodwill with employers.
If you work for a public agency, a private or public elementary or secondary school, or a company with more than 50 employees for a period of at least a year, you may also have coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The act enables you to take unpaid time off if you experience health problems and your employer does not provide disability or sick-day benefits. It also provides for up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period for medical and family caretaking reasons.