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Migraine Workplace Horror Stories

Migraine Workplace Horror Stories

Migraine attacks are known to negatively impact many aspects of everyday life, one of which is how we function in the workplace. Migraine prevalence has been shown to peak between the ages of 25 and 55 years, which coincides with the time that most individuals with migraine are most likely to be employed.1,2 Migraines not only affect our overall productivity, but also how we are treated by our coworkers and our superiors. So, we asked our Facebook community if they had any migraine workplace horror stories to share. Here is what some of our community members had to say:

 My boss doesn’t understand

  • I had a boss tell me that if I was not home in bed in a dark room, it was not migraine.
  • After my first big attack at my job, my boss stated, “You don’t handle pain well, do you?” I’ll never forget that comment. I wanted to say actually I handle it all time. My migraines are weekly but I still do my job well.
  • “Oh big deal. I get headaches all the time. Take some Tylenol and get back to work.”
  • I finally told my boss I needed to go home. He told me that I could wait an hour and he wouldn’t let me leave. I promptly signed out of my phone, went to the bathroom and threw up. Which only made my head hurt worse.
  • I began getting a migraine at work and told the receptionist that I was going to have to go home. Her response was, “Don’t you have any aspirin?”
  • My boss thinks I’m stressed and maybe I should get another job.
  • I have many stories, but one sticks out. My boss sent her assistant to the ER to see if I was actually there.
  • My employer is not sympathetic to anyone no matter what the illness.
  • I went in to see the new boss who had just taken over and told him I had a migraine and I have to go home. He looked at me for a few seconds then half closed his eyes and said “I’m Emma, I’ve got a migraine and I need to go home” in a mocking, whiney voice.
  • My boss asked “and when will your condition be over?” I have chronic daily headaches and chronic migraines and vertigo for the past two years. I no longer work there.

I lost my job and/or they threatened to fire me

  • I was once told that if I had a migraine and couldn’t find a substitute, I would be written up. The last thing I feel like doing is spending time on the phone, begging people to cover my classes for me when I’m in the middle of a migraine cycle. Ugh.
  • I eventually got fired for mine … that was after 20 years of excellent service to the company.
  • I lost my job because I have a rare migraine condition that apparently made me an expendable employee, even as loyal as I was. I fought through my migraines until they became debilitating. So I lost my job and because of whatever they said on my “departing papers” I also ended up not get unemployment so they said it was my fault I got fired.
  • I was let go shortly after providing an employer with FMLA paperwork.
  • I had an episode last week of a migraine headache, went to emergency room and my boss fired me the next day by sending me a text saying to stop being a fool and not to come back anymore to work.
  • I lost my job because of severe uncontrollable migraines.
  • I lost 2 jobs due to migraines. 40 years of these headaches.
  • I got fired from a job for missing to many days due to my migraines and my severe back pain. I was even in the hospital.
  • I’ve been fired eventually from every job I’ve ever had because of absences. Absences caused by migraines.
  • My migraines cost me my job 10 years ago. Not enough sick days in the month / year to accommodate the amount of severe migraines I still have.
  • I get regular migraines the same days every week. I was taken in to a meeting and I was told to stop having headaches on a Monday or else.
  • I’ve been fired from a few jobs because of my migraines and they didn’t believe me.
  • Was let go from my hospital tech job even though I just was approved for FMLA. I went to work through many horrible migraines, even vomiting in the locker room. I only missed 5 days in an entire year, but the boss was arrogant and didn’t believe me even though she was a nurse.
  • I took family medical leave from work because of the migraines turning chronic. Two days before I was scheduled to return, they called and told me they didn’t have any money to hire me back. Yeah. Right.

 My boss wanted proof that I have migraines

  • I’ve had so many issues to the point where I left my job because they were trying to force me to go to one of their “selected” GP’s to assess how bad I “really” was because I was missing a lot of work. Because they think I really don’t want to work and make an income to pay my bills and live a normal life.
  • My workplace sent me on 3 different “independent medical evaluations” at their expense. All it did was verify that, yes, I do have chronic migraines & have done everything I can to help myself. Made for plenty of paperwork to support my claim for disability, which sailed right through and was accepted. Not an easy thing to go through, but it was worth it in the end.

 I’ve been accused of faking it

  • He told my coworkers I was hung-over.
  • My boss at the time said “do you need some crackers to go with that whine?” Thought I was faking it.
  • My coworker told some people I was lying and just was hungover, since she’d seen me online late. Yeah, I wasn’t up with blinding pain and trying not to puke. I was ‘just drunk.’

 People tell me to work through it

  • I had a R.N. for a boss. She told me they are painful but eventually do go away, so tough it out for 8 hours and get to work. She would take the day off when her husband had one. I had to find another job.
  • Yeah, I get them often, but the one bad experience I had, I was mid-shift and he said just take some Tylenol and get back to work.
  • A lady I used to work with who claimed she suffered from migraines told me it wasn’t reason enough not to come to work as she can do it after two painkillers.
  • My boss once told me, “I have a headache too so get over it & get back to work.”
  • I had a principal one year – not this year – thankfully, that said, “Do you have a migraine right now? I said, yes, and she said, “you don’t look like it and you can just stay at work.”
  • I was laughed at and belittled when I had a migraine.

There are a lot of triggers in the workplace

  • I have to get a docs note to wear my sunglasses. The lighting sucks and chit chats seem louder when u have migraines.
  • I worked 32 years and dealt with at least a couple of migraines per week. The smells and the intense noise in the building along with constant stress would trigger these headaches with no warning. But the really painful part was dealing with the snide remarks from the supervisor and fellow employees.
  • I can no longer work as a photographer as the flash causes me to collapse sometimes or become paralysed.
  • I was hit with a massive migraine at work, I took my break and turned off the light in the employee break room and sat in misery before vomiting in the trash can as my boss walked in, turning the lights on showing a small group around the building. I mean I was mid-hurl and it was by far the most humiliating migraine moment.

 Do you have any workplace horror stories to share? Please post in the comments! Also, take a look at what Diana had to say about the ADA accommodations and migraine triggers as well as her thoughts on migraine-triggering fragrances and the workplace!

  1. Stang PE, Osterhaus JT. Impact of migraine in the United States: data from the National Health Interview Survey. Headache. 1993;33(1):29-35.
  2. Lipton RB, Stewart WF, von Korff M. Burden of migraine: societal costs and therapeutic opportunities. Neurology. 1997;48(3)(suppl 3):S4-S9.


  • MaryBoBerry
    4 years ago

    I havent had a bad experience, until today. Upon searching for answers, i found this article. My workplace horror.. i didnt start getting migraines until about, 1 year ago. Ill be 26 on the 20th of this month. It hasnt interfered with work, until today. Normslly when i feel the head ache coming on, i can take excedrine before it gets bad, and then it goes away. Today i woke up with it… and it was horrible. I took meds asuming itd go away, but as soon as i started helping customers, my vission blurred, my head pounding harder, and i felt nauseous. I went to the back room and stood there closing my eyes. It was the only way to feel somewhat normal. My manager approached me and asked whatwas wrong, i told her and said i just need some time to relax, and wait for more meds to kick in… she sajd “if youre here you need to work, so find someone to cover your shift” now im panacking, and i ran outside to throw up. I started crying and started dialing my co-worker. I am the assistant GM at my place of employment, and the only person who coyld cover my shift had his phone turned off. I called the regional manager to see if someone from another store could cover me. He said he would check.. then she came to me and said “what part of if youre going to be here, you have to work, dont you understand” so i said “well since im not aloud to wait it out i guess i have to go home”.. she snarks and says “dont forget your doctors note”. An hour later my regional manager texts me and says “so i found out you left without telling anyone, hope youre going to the clinic tonight”… and i never asked to leave, she told me to! She thinks im faking how i feel so shes trying to get rid of me!

  • Willow
    6 years ago

    After asking my students to try and keep the volume down (as I was having a migraine and trying to stay at work) … A student walked up to me a screamed into my ear. That’s just fabulous. 🙁

  • Docharl
    6 years ago

    I was working as a waitress and carrying three plates of food out to tables. It was relatively dark in the restaurant as it was, then out of nowhere I started to experience the visual disturbances, as I always do. Things were disappearing before my eyes, causing me to accidentally walk right into the fireplace (which obviously I didn’t see), falling over and covering myself and another girl in three plates’ worth of roast dinner and gravy. So embarrassing. It was a total mess and I couldn’t see to clean anything up. Needless to say my non-migraine-sufferer boss nearly fired me…

  • Ohio Gal
    6 years ago

    I got dizzy, fell down in the office hallway, slurred my speech like a drunk person and could not remember the name of a co-worker I had known for 7 years! Eventually ambulance came and I was sent to the hospital. The ER people thought I was using drugs! They actually said that. Then the doctor told my family I was hysterical. I began to have a panic attack in the ER because I could not remember peoples names, nor speak correctly. Terrifying experience!

  • Laurie Vincent
    6 years ago

    I work in a women’s specialty apparel store. Some of the customers who shop wear really strong perfume. I get a Migraine instantly when this happens. I can’t say anything about their strong perfume because they are a customer. All I can do is take some medicine fast and rub peppermint lotion under my nose and chin to keep the Migraine from getting a lot worse. If it is an employee then I can tell them about their perfume causing my Migraine and very politely ask them to please not wear that brand on days that I work with them. If only I could ask our customers too.

  • khaat
    6 years ago

    that’s a wonderful trick. I do run into the same thing, so years ago I found a small, lipstick sized roll on of essential oils to reduce migraine pain. there were times it definitely helped if I got to it early enough. however, I can’t find the roll on easily anymore because I live in a rural area.

    So–I went to my local organics store and bought a bottle of peppermint oil and a bottle of chamomile and a bottle of lavender. I keep them in my office and when I get those early warning symptoms, I use the oils. I try to just barely get my fingertip wet with the oil and then just touch my temples. Peppermint oil reduces pain and nausea. Chamomile and lavender promote relaxation and reduce all that muscle tension that can come along with migraine.

    I don’t always use all three, but I’ve “played” with them enough to know what works best for me and when. Three bottles of essential oils can be a bit of an investment at first, but they seem to last forever because I use such a minute amount when I use them.

    If you could find that roll on of oils, it would be very easy just to drop the roll on in your pocket and have it right at hand anytime you need it. I think they might have been called Migrasticks or something like that. LOVED them!

  • Sonya
    6 years ago

    Dyanne, in answer to “Oh, I had a migraine ONCE!” My co-workers totally dismissed my migraines as being over-exaggerated. One day a 30 something divorced male co-worker came in and said to me “I will forever respect what you are going through. Saturday night I had a headache and nausea so bad that I had to call my mother to come over and take care of me!” I told him I would not wish that on anyone but I was glad that SOMEONE finally understood and that I would pray that he would never have another one.

  • mia
    6 years ago

    I’ve had migraines for 20+ years and have always worked a full time job. Over the past couple of years, my episodic migraine has moved into chronic migraine. Despite excellent work history (results and work ethic), I was told no more time off would be approved for me. Therefore if I missed any more days, my job would be given to someone who was reliable. I was devastated. I knew I wasn’t going to be magically cured just because the boss said “Don’t miss any more days”. Luckily I was about 6 months into my trial Botox treatments, which have given me significant improvement, even though they also are not a magic cure.

    I’m missing less days and the boss has backed off. If they start coming more frequently again, I have no doubt I’ll be without a job, and without insurance to cover all the expensive meds I take just to have a somewhat normal life. At least after reading this great article, I know I’m not alone, for what it’s worth.

  • Candy
    6 years ago

    I worked a job for 7 years, and was actually diagnosed with chronic migraines while working there, and would get comments all the time from other employees. “It’s just a headache” was the most common one. I got reprimanded by my boss for my absences, even with FMLA, after SHE was the one to tell me how to go about getting it since she also suffers from migraines. I also got comments about “entitlement” and “milking the system” from coworkers. I left that job recently to pursue a new career.

  • Christina
    6 years ago

    To go or not to go, to work. I have had migraines all my life, since I was 4 years old. They became chronic in my early twenties. Some days the pain ( 2-6 on pain scale) I could work. I have even worked up to an 8, but not very productive. I have either quit to keep from being fired or lain off with out reason and well, we know why. I had a hysterectomy in 2010 and this decreased my migraines by at least 15 days a month ,due having severe PMS Migraine. UNLESS the weather is crazy. I live in Texas if you live here you know what I mean. I love the job I have now. I would hate to lose it. I have missed multiple days of work and the weekends are a bust, no time with the grandkids or even a date with my husband. April and May so far have been horrible. I run out of sumatriptan before I can refill it. I can’t get docs to understand pain killers are only going to make me start vomiting, and once that starts I end up in ER because it doesn’t stop and the pain level is way over a 10. Yes we get ugly looks for saying that to. Okay vented a little. Just want to keep my job which has excellent benefits. I have had a good boss who doesn’t complain verbally about my absences but there have been issues when I wasn’t at work to take care of certain aspects of my position.
    Big Prayers for all of you. Stay strong and God Bless.

  • Dyanne
    6 years ago

    For sure I know exactly what you are saying. I, too, live in Texas and the weather here is crazy and my head goes crazy with it. The ER has been an only option for me at times as well, because the pain has been so severe I needed IV infusions. I thank God that I have been able to retire from my stressful job and I no longer have to deal with the ignorance and the insensitivity that go along with this disorder. I hate it when anyone tells me, “Oh, I had a migraine ONCE!” No, you did not!! It’s like because they had a bad headache once or twice in their life time and they survived, we need to just get over it. No Big Deal. Well, it is a Big Deal. My Primary Care Physician, in going over my meds, asked me why I take Depakote? I responded, “For migraines.” He said he can work with ANY OTHER pain but he cannot work with a migraine. He told me he used to have them too and that that is the most debilitating pain he has ever experienced. I would put it right in the same category as being in labor. Take care.

  • khaat
    6 years ago

    Okay, so I’ve read the horror stories in the article and the ones listed below. But that brings me to a question–and probably because I’m dealing with it this morning because of a vestibular migraine.

    My question is this–when you find you wake up with the same migraine you went to bed with, how do you personally weigh out whether its better to stay home and take care of yourself to, hopefully, take care of yourself and end the migraine–or, whether its just not worth the hell you’re going to go through at work for taking a day of sick time?

    What do you use to weigh that out? And if you do stay home, how do you keep from perpetuating the whole stress-migraine cycle just by the guilt of not being what your employer believes you should be and the anxiety of what you might be going back to?

    I am so tired of it feeling like a life and death decision when I have to choose to go to work or stay home because of my anxiety about “What are they gonna say THIS time?” I certainly can’t be alone in this dilemma.

  • Sara
    5 years ago

    There is no easy way to make the decision. This is often something I express a lot frustration about to my husband and family. Every single day is a weighing of decisions, but my head is pounding, my emotions are out of control from the migraine, and the last thing I want to do is try to decide if THIS migraine merits the “full-service” treatment or only partial treatment.

    So, there are a few things I do try to make my life work. Since my FMLA time is limited, I try to say my rescue meds for days I’m actually at work (or have other places to be). Is this how it should be? No. However, I live in a place called REALITY. Reality says, I can only use my rescue meds a max of 3 days in a 7 day period. Reality also says I can only use my FMLA time so much in a 12 month period or even in a 1 month period (so much number crunching)
    Reality also tells me that I will have a minimum of 5 migraines this week, NOT including prodrome phase and possible silent migraines which may or may not be prodrome/postdrome phases. Especially, I’m probably living in a constant state of migraine being in one phase or another at all times.
    So, I do what I can. Then there are some days, I sit at work holding back tears because my head is screaming, my stomach is nauseous, I can’t focus, and the lights and noise in the building are like 100 toddlers screaming at point-blank range in my ears.

    Last week, I sent paperwork to my Neurologist. I keep exhausting my FMLA hours, so I have asked for work accommodations. My company has telecommute positions (but every time I apply & interview for a job somehow I get reject even if the interview goes really well – probably when the pull up my absences). I am asking to have work move me to a position that would allow me to work from home & my neuro seems to think it would be great. fingers crossed. – When I asked for lighting accommodations they told me to “wear a hat”, so I don’t know how this will go.

  • mia
    6 years ago

    You are certainly not alone, I think this is a very common dilemma among migraine sufferers. I know I probably make mine worse at times, because I start to get stressed the night before, or sometimes a day or 2 before I have to be back at work. If I have a migraine on Saturday, it’s difficult not to start freaking out about Monday morning and the possibility that you won’t be able to go in. Again.
    There’s no easy answer to this question, for me if I can possibly get up and go despite the pain, I will. Sometimes I can not. Often the longer I’m up the worse it gets and then the nausea/vomiting starts, which just makes it harder to recover from. I guess it’s different for everyone.

  • CheriS
    6 years ago

    Everyone is different, but I can tell you for me, the decision is made when I can’t even walk 10 feet to the bathroom without waves of nausea coming over me and the beating of the drum corp in my head gets worse with every step.

  • Dizzy1i
    6 years ago

    The stories here confirm choices that I made when I began to suffer vestibular migraines at age 56–however, since these began a year before they were diagnosed, I had no idea of the nature of my debilitating attacks. Foremost in my mind at the time was my parents observation 30 years earlier that all employers and most co-workers afford no sympathy to sick employees.

    Numerous times, I staggered out of my building, hoping that my instability went unobserved. Since my employer has an aggressive anti-drug program, the appearance of drug abuse would trap you in a meat grinder. Fortunately, my wife is very supportive and was available to pick me up at work as I waited and puked in the parking lot. Since my job performance is judged on annual accomplishments, nobody noticed my absences of the few hours/week.

    Now, my drug protocol prevents most attacks, and I have not needed to retire too early. Maybe, during my newly-empowered, extended career, I will help find an effective drug for one of the several diseases I research.

  • Sonya
    6 years ago

    Several years ago my manager commented after a 2 week hospitalization at Diamond Headache Clinic that “all of this is for a headache?”
    I have been unable to work for the past 4 years because of my chronic daily migraines. I was even dismissed from a volunteer job!

  • Lacie
    6 years ago

    I was told by my boss that “he has them all the time ” and would not let me go home. Then give me more work ! Then just before I was to go on vacation they fired me . I lost all my vacation time , sick time Andy bonus ! I have been fighting them for 4 years . Did I say it was from a work place injury ?!

  • khaat
    6 years ago

    I do understand how demeaning that feels to hear comments like that. I get so frustrated with the one upmanship that sometimes “needs” to happen. It is so unnecessary to try to prove that “my headache is worse than your headache.” The truth is that we’re all part of the same group. You would certainly think we could agree to be at peace amongst ourselves, but I do have to wonder if that sense of competition doesn’t come, at least to some degree, from being invalidated and ‘blown off’ by so many other non-migraine people that when we get around fellow migraine sufferers, we are still seeking validation for ourselves–trying to prove to someone that our own pain is real and justified by comparing it to someone else’s.

  • nikkiwills
    6 years ago

    I had a coworker tell me that I shouldn’t have the job I had with my migraines. That I should quit or that I needed to “find a cure”. I told her that I would win a Nobel Prize if I could do that. I ended up quitting as I couldn’t take the bullying anymore.

  • khaat
    6 years ago

    I’ve had migraines for decades, and I am frustrated and repulsed by the reality that the healthcare industry is often the least empathetic and supportive of workers with migraines. I find myself in an industry that prides itself on putting people first and being a community of altruistic Samaritans, but when I would like to be understood and treated with a bit of the same ethics that we pretend we have for others, I have been often been seen as ‘milking the system’ for time off because I ‘look okay.’ Further, it almost doesn’t matter if I am taken seriously or not because I am expected to be on the job, no matter what, and looking bright eyed and perky. I am supposed to master the theater skills to do that, I suppose. I have been told that I need to report in, no matter what: “You can hurt at home, or you can hurt here. And you might as well hurt here.” I do understand there are hurting people to take care of, and I work hard to do that. But there are times when I am one of those hurting people, and when that happens I am seen as some sort of a ‘workplace deadbeat.’ Much as I am grateful for an income, there are times when it would be far less humiliating and painful if I weren’t being looked down upon by people who are supposed to be educated enough to know better.

  • bluesguy
    6 years ago

    I certainly relate this this. I worked for 22 years in the Mental Health field as a Social worker and MFT. I started with the Migraines becoming worse in 2008. I was in my mid 40s by that time. I was amazed by the lack of compassion by my so called altruistic supervisors, who were MFTs, LCSWs, PHDs, and the like. I was harassed for the increased frequency of my migraines, and the resulting missed work. After I turned in the FMLA paper work, they made my work place horrifying, with pressure to be at work, pressure for falling behind on paperwork, and not being there to provide my work services. It was terrible . Even some of my peers were becoming rude and disrespectful. They had no idea what it was like to deal with frequent migraines. I eventually had to go on disability retirement from my career. It has been 5 years since I last worked. I very much miss my career. I do not miss the judgmental #@%holes. I still have chronic migraines. These migraines were partially a result of other events that I was victim to at my workplace that were very dangerous and violent. Bless all of you who are still fighting the fight to maintain employment. I wish the very best for you all.

  • Hyena8
    6 years ago

    My boss upon finding out I had a migraine said ‘you’ll live’ right in front of the entire training class. Fortunately, he was my boss for only two weeks before I was transferred over to an understanding boss.

  • Janice
    6 years ago

    I had a boss who micromanaged everything. I get severe chronic migraines and had to miss work a lot. I was reprimanded several times for having migraines and missing work. I even sat through staff meetings in severe pain, and she would make comments in front of all my coworkers about me. I was eventually fired after working there 11 yrs. I had to hire an unemployment attorney to help me get unemployment because she fought it saying I did not have migraines, just wanted extra days off. She gave me a no rehire. Due to help from my attorney(which I could not afford), I was able to get unemployment. I had to pay the attorney back in installments when I had money. It was both offensive and humiliating.

  • JennMilwaui3
    6 years ago

    My boss berated me over my migraine-related sick time as not having “a good work ethic.” Never mind that I took work home and spent healthy days in overtime. It got so disgusted with this treatment over time that I finally asked the head of HR to sit in while the two of us discussed the situation in a formal setting, in hopes that his backhanded comments could be addressed. Although she was understanding, the only outcome was her telling me “not to be concerned” with his treatment, because everyone knew my boss to be verbally abuse to almost everyone, as well as being a bully. I guess it was another time for me to get a grip on understanding that it’s pretty useless to try and convince someone who’s not reality-based to change their mind, so in the end, the HR was right, albeit it meant that I would need to change my attitude towards him, and accept that sympathy or understanding was not going to be coming my way. I eventually decided it was taking too much of me to pretend not to see my boss’ disgust–the first time I acted proactively in my employment.
    I have a friend from Norway, where health care is a right, not a compensation. In this setting, mistreated workers can much more easily leave an abusive employer for much more humane employment. It was not surprising to hear that this type of mismanagement is not overlooked by HR, but instead it is viewed as a true detriment to the company when good employees can find a better situation.

  • art lover
    6 years ago

    My favorite was a former co-worker who thought that I was having so many migraines because it was my body’s way of “trying to get more time to myself”. WTH? This is a person with a Masters Degree and knows that other disorders are genetic and that they’ve found the gene for migraine etc. Oh well…

  • Negri Saliceti
    6 years ago

    My school director would tell, “You can’t be having a migraine, you are wearing makeup”. If I was absent due to a migraine she expected me to come to school with swollen eyes and face, wearing rags, no makeup and my hair all messed up and then she could probably believe me. I told her about the “hangover” effect the next morning and she said I needed to see a different doctor. She even told to come to her church and they would fix me.
    I would like to know how did she handled it when she learned her own daughter was suffering from migraines. I feel pity for her.

  • lepoppet
    6 years ago

    My boss told me I could order a second plastic trash can for my cubicle. That way I could vomit at my desk without having to leave my chair and go to the bathroom.

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