ADA Accommodations & Migraine Triggers: Making the Workplace Work for You

If you’re struggling with migraine triggers or other migraine-related issues at work you may have the legal right to request that your employer make certain adjustments in consideration of your health needs.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to accommodate the needs of their employees (and job applicants) when doing so would not cause the employer an undue hardship. This means that if you are qualified for the job and it would not be too burdensome, your employer is required to work with you to make the changes necessitated by your disability.

The standard employers are required to meet is to make reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations fall into one of three categories: (1) Changes to the job application process that allow people with disabilities to be considered for a job; (2) Changes to the work environment that enable a person with a disability to perform the essential functions of his or her job; and (3) Changes that enable a disabled person to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment equal to those experienced by a person in a similar situation without a disability.

What kind of accommodations might you request? Fluorescent lighting, a horrible migraine trigger for many people, is present in most offices and public spaces. Requesting an ADA accommodation for alternate lighting options is one way you can try to address this problem. I was able to get the fluorescent bulbs taken out of my work space and have a lamp provided at an old job. It was a simple change, but very helpful in allowing me to do my work. An accommodation request could be used as a strategy for eliminating certain odors or other common triggers from your work space. Unfortunately sometimes our coworkers don’t realize their perfume or cologne can be a nasty migraine trigger, so alerting your human resources department to this issue can help you get it solved. Finally, your request could take the form of a request for a more flexible schedule, an exception to ordinary sick or personal leave policies, the chance to work from home or unpaid time off.

If you want to explore the idea of making a reasonable accommodation request, here are a few tips:

1. Gather information.

Before you make your request, determine what responsibilities your employer has, what your job requirements are and whether you can reasonably meet them and what changes you need and whether they will still allow you to perform the essential functions of your job. Spend as much time as you can reading about accommodations and learning everything you can. (Some helpful resources are linked below).

2. Put your request in writing.

You are not required to, but making a paper trail is always advisable.

3. Include a report from your doctor(s) with your request.

This may not be required, but it is a good idea to put your best foot forward by having your doctor describe you condition and how it affects you and what might help you deal with it.

4. Consider seeking professional advice.

An attorney can help you decipher the complicated terms and standards involved in determining whether you are entitled to request or receive reasonable accommodations.

For more information about seeking ADA accommodations, check out these resources:

The Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network provides publications that explain more about how to request an accommodation, a sample request letter and tips on how to approach your situation.

JAN: Practical Guide to Requesting & Negotiating Accommodation
JAN: Ideas for Writing an Accommodation Request Letter

This article, which you can download in PDF, is another good resource:

How to Seek Reasonable Accommodation for a Physical or Mental Disability

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (17)
  • mia
    10 months ago

    Hi I’m new here but thank God to have found this site. I’m recently diagnosed having hemiplegic migraine after my 3rd attack in a span of 4months. Not really sure though if it’s definite. My 1st attack started with lightheadedness, palpitations, high blood pressure, pale looking and chest pain then developed Rt sided body weakness. I was already in the ER when it happened. I experienced headache 3-4hrs post episode. I did not have chest pain with my 2nd and 3rd but the rest of symptoms were similar. All tests and imaging were negative with all of the 3episodes but I’m left with mild residual Rt sided weakness, constant Rt sided headache/pressure, dizziness and light/sound sensitivity. I have been prescribed with several medications to control my headache but offers me ranging from more lightheadedness to not able to sleep and just making my symptoms worse. I’m on my 4th month on approved disability because I was diagnosed stroke with negative imaging after my 2nd attack. After the 3rd my neurologist was leaning towards hemiplegic migraine due to the attacks were closer to each other. Since my diagnosis change my doctor will not classify it as a disability. I’m working as a call center agent in cubicles with headsets and computer with my ongoing symptoms and the unpredictability of my attacks (I was driving with my 3rd) what do you think is the best thing to do? My company does not have a telework option. Thank you in advance to all!

  • omymigraine
    4 years ago

    I am a chronic migrainer. I work in a cafeteria as a manager. All the lighting is fluorescent. The figured out how to turn the bank directly overhead off. Here is a question, my triggers are perfume sometimes but can the polyurethane floor finishing fumes on the gym be triggering me too? My station as cashier is next to the gym door reeks. My headaches are changing in frequency and for a loss of words for it.. method. One time light kills me the next sound makes me outright jumpy. sometimes its like a blow from the back of the head sometimes an ice pick through my eye to the back of my ear. my doc says migraines are female hysteria.

  • Paintchip
    6 years ago

    I am a chronic migrainer. My employer (the DoD) has made accommodations for me. First is was light fixture changes and desk locations. While I was grateful for both, neither eliminated enough triggers to allow me to work 40 hour weeks regularly. I was still using up all my sick days and vacation days every month, plus some.

    So about 7 years or so ago I requested a telework arrangement. Even though the DoD had such a program available, my request was still denied and because of the laws of the time I had little to no recourse as Migraine disease did not fall under the ADA umbrella at that time.

    Thankfully the laws changed and the way the ADA rules now read, migraine disease can (under certain circumstances) be considered a disabling condition. I know that most of us who participate on this site would say a surround DUH! over that and agree that it’s about time they figured that out!

    After the wording in the laws changed I put in another request for telework accommodations. This time it was approved. So for 5 years now I’ve been working from home approximately 3 days a week. Sometimes I still go in to the office for meeting even on my telework days.

    Of course I still have migraines – much to their dismay (funny how people thought working from home would magically cure my disease). But I can do many more hours of work when I’m not in a trigger happy environment on base. Working from home allows me to minimize most of my triggers and manage my migraines better. So even when I’m in the midst of an attack I can sometimes get work accomplished.

    Most importantly for me – I don’t have to fear driving home from the office while migraining. Not only is that dangerous from the medication stand point, it’s also not the right frame of mind to be in while behind the wheel when meds aren’t even a part of the scenario. Driving while having a migraine attack can be likened to driving while under the effluence or while having other types of seizures. Face it. We should not be driving on the road when we are having a migraine attack.

    Teleworking is a better solution for me than walking away from a career or trying to be dependent on our Social Security program. If I can hang in there another 5 years I’ll be able to retire with some $$ benefits. If our country has any money left in the budget that is. LOL

    Before putting in my telework request I did a lot of research. I also educated my supervisor about how migraine disease affects me (and millions of others). I had to teach them fewer triggers meant fewer migraine attacks and more productivity.

    It helps that I am an exemplary employee. So my record for is part of what allowed me to gain support from management.

    Because of the rules surrounding the telework policies of the DoD and the military base where I work, I have to have the telework agreement reviewed and re-approved every time our chain of command changes. Which is usually about every two years, sometimes less. When these requests have to be repeated, I find I have to “prove” myself all over again to new people. And relive the stress of hoping my request is approved. Knowing that if it gets denied anywhere along the way I’ll have to use the EEO resources available to see if I can get it overturned.

    This is humiliating to tell my story all over again time after time. But it’s a necessary evil in order for me to keep working at this time. And since I did that for years in doctors offices and it seems it’s a rather constant thing with peers as well – I just suck it up and do it again and again.

    During my research and prep work I found the JAN website, the ADA website and the DoD telework website VERY, helpful! So if you are looking to request accommodations from an employer I encourage you to do your due diligence in researching and writing a good package ahead of time. If done correctly it’s actually pretty hard for an employer to legally dismiss the request. In the USA they are pretty much required to at least TRY to accommodate anyone with a disability.

    With the laws currently on the books here in the USA, no one should ever be dismissed from their job due to absence alone if they have a disability. That is *IF* there are reasonable accommodations that can be made in your work situation. Keeping in mind that no two work situations or health conditions are exactly the same.

    Proving you have this disability is actually not that hard to do. There’s plentiful (and free) guidance online teaching the how-to’s behind making your request, and who to turn to for assistance (such as EEO offices) if you need additional assistance. Unlike how things were about 10-years ago or so, we are now empowered to make reasonable accommodation requests and the laws are in our favor…. finally!

    Hope this helps.
    Cindy (aka PaintChip)

  • Cindi
    6 years ago

    Cindy, I would love to correspond with you. I also work DOD and have been under a sick restriction letter for a year now. Much of my work is customer service, which is hard to do as telework, but there is also a ton of information that is put into a database, etc. Would you please message me here?? Thanks!! And Diana, as alawys, this is a great article. [personal information edited by moderators]

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    Hi, Cindy! I’m so thrilled to hear you’ve been able to make the protections available to you work to allow you to maintain your position. Thank you so much for your comment, as well as your encouragement for others in similar situations.

  • Teresa Cole Cross
    7 years ago

    I’ve had chronic migraines for approximately 47 years. In all the years I have worked, my last employer was the most accommodating. I was relocated to a desk space in the corner of the office away from noise, high traffic and perfumes. There was a fluorescent light over the cubicle next to me and they took some of those lights out. When it got to the point that I still could not be depended upon to be a work every day, my supervisor (an attorney) made arrangements for me to transfer to another department where my attendance was not as crucial. It was really hard on me emotionally, since I absolutely loved working with my supervisor; but I was extremely thankful to still have a job with no change in pay or benefits. Then the office relocated and it was a fluorescent light manufacturers’ dream and a drywall company’s nightmare (i.e. a great big room with lots and lots of fluorescent lights, low wall cubicles and zero privacy.) You know the type I’m sure. I finally had to quit working in 2008 as my migraines were completely unmanageable. I said all that to say there are people out there who will work with you to make accommodations. There are professional advocates available as well. Best of luck to all you migraine sufferers out there still putting in the hours at work and at home.

  • Sherrill Turner
    8 years ago

    Nice to see you can request lighting changes! I did not know that! I do keep all the blinds closed out in the waiting room which helps alot. And the desk I am currently at only has one light fixture. Whereas my other desk has two or three in the work space!

  • Michelle Hicks
    8 years ago

    What a relief that the ADA has finally stepped in to help out us migraine sufferers. I worked at a great company for 7 years and it was a large place. The lighting was all fluorescent but the pharmacy were I was working in was not. I don’t know if it was the lights, cologne someone was wearing or the amount of stress I was going through at the time but I was missing at least 2 to 3 days a month (sometimes more) and at least 1 to2 trips to the ER. I couldn’t afford to go to the Dr. For the excuses, so they let me go. I tried to appeal the decision because at one time I had a permanent letter from my neurologist in my records excusing me from absences, due to bright light blindness and nausea, from my previous store before my transfer but it somehow wasn’t in my file when I was let go. So I couldn’t prove anything or plead my case. There was no way I could nor would I drive to work and cause danger to myself or others.

  • Yolanda Hunter Young
    8 years ago

    the next time you get a letter like that from a Dr. remember to keep a copy for your records

  • Michelle Hicks
    8 years ago

    We were living hundreds of miles from family in a large city alone. It was my income alone we were living on so I couldn’t afford to go to the Dr all the time as they asked me to just to please them. Those co-pays add up at the end of the month when all the bills are due. So it was pay the bills or lose my job .. bills got behind so bad I was way over my head. That added more stress and more migraines. So they let me go.

  • Michelle Hicks
    8 years ago

    What I meant from my comment above is that my son was younger at the time and he has asthma, therefor I couldn’t prove if it was my illness or his. I also suffer from Trigeminal Neuralgia as well but didn’t have attacks very often. I had many migraine attacks at that particular store. I just never could pinpoint the trigger.

  • Stephanie Chambers
    8 years ago

    What does having a child have to do with it? Can they terminate or fire you for this? I make a copy of every letter the doctor writes or sends to my employer.

  • Michelle Hicks
    8 years ago

    Yes I did and that’s exactly what happened to me too. I was verbally warned once and only written up twice. That was considered my 3rd strike. The comp handbook read otherwise but I couldn’t prove different because I had a child.

  • Stephanie Chambers
    8 years ago

    Did you have FMLA? I have epilepsy and migraines, I have used all of my FMLA time, and now my employer is telling me that because I have no time left it is advised that I miss no more work, or I could be terminated.

  • Karen Mullins
    8 years ago

    I am so glad to see this!

  • Migraine.com
    8 years ago

    Diana discusses additional factors for migraineurs to consider in the workplace.

  • Tina Castillo
    8 years ago

    I have one right now!!!!

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