Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

What are some financial options for people with migraines who are unable to work?

There are about 30 million migraine patients in the United States and our work situations are impacted in vastly different ways by migraine disease. Most of us have migraines every once in a while and rarely, if ever, have to miss work. Some of us have more frequent migraine attacks and have to miss quite a lot of work when we have them. Others (like me) find it impossible to work because our migraines are so overwhelming. But we all have job-related concerns and need to know what our options are when migraines interfere with our employment.

Sick Leave

If you’re lucky your employer offers sick leave. Some employers are legally required to, but many are not. Some are generous enough to offer sick leave anyway. You can usually find out more about how this leave works in the employee handbook or by asking your boss, supervisor or human resources specialist for written details. If you have sick leave carefully follow the rules if you need to use it to deal with a migraine.

Family & Medical Leave Act

The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides some employees with the opportunity to take leave when their health or that of a family member requires them to be away from work. In many ways FMLA overlaps with traditional sick leave. If the employee has paid leave to use (such as sick leave or vacation) they can get paid while taking this leave. If they don’t they will not be paid while taking FMLA leave, but cannot be fired for taking advantage of their rights under the law. This law only applies to workplaces with a minimum number of employees, so people who work for small business are less likely to be protected by it.

Short or Long-Term Disability

Some employers, especially larger ones, have short or long-term disability programs. If you think this type of program might fit your situation, look for information in your employee handbook or make an appointment to talk with the human resources department in your company. Human resources specialists are often very knowledgeable and can explain your options in detail so you and your family can come to an educated decision about what is right for your situation.

Private Disability Insurance

In addition to employer-based disability programs there are also private disability insurance providers who sell policies to individuals. If you’ve been paying for one of these policies, especially one that requires only an inability to work in your own field rather than any field, your odds of getting help from it are good. On average a private disability insurance policy pays 50 to 70% of your income while you are unable to work. The amount you receive under this type of policy may be adjusted if you are receiving certain government benefits.

Social Security Disability

If you find yourself completely unable to work for an extended period it’s time to consider filing for Social Security Disability benefits. It is an intimidating process, no doubt. When you’re feeling unhealthy enough to be completely unable to work the idea of taking on this kind of challenge is daunting. Becoming informed about the requirements can help you get started on the right foot and make the strongest possible case for being awarded benefits. Hiring a lawyer is also something to consider. Having a lawyer on your side who is knowledgeable about the process and requirements can be invaluable and may help you avoid the seemingly endless appeals process so many applicants have to deal with.

If you have questions about how these programs differ or where to find more information, please leave a comment.

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


  • pigen51
    3 years ago

    I know this is a number of years late, but I will tell you my experience anyway. I had fmla at my foundry job of 35 years. They still found a way to fire me. Did a random drug test, said I had alcohol in my system. They would not prove it, and I could not afford to hire a lawyer to fight this huge corporation. So, I was given unemployment, because they also did not prove it to my state either. After that ran out, and still with migraines, I found a job, but after 30 days, they decided that I was not what they wanted and let me go. I found another job as a melter in an aluminum shop. I lasted about 3 months, and I just could not take it, with the long hours and the migraines getting worse. I quit, and took a part time job as a maintenance man in a trailer park, fixing mobile homes and doing park maintenance. I had already filed for disability, but had been denied. I hired a lawyer, Binder and Binder. They handled everything from that point on. They sent me tons of paperwork to fill out, as well as they took care of getting the reports from the doctors and hospitals that I gave them. I got a hearing and was awarded full social security disability benefits with nearly 2 and a half years of back pay. I had used up what little savings and a huge portion of my IRA just living, as the job and the trailer park was just part time, as that was all I could handle. And the boss was a great man to work for. He let me leave if I needed to, and didn’t shame me if I called in sick. So, yes, it is a tough thing to do, but it can be done. I have a few pointers for you. First, you need a lawyer. Period. Migraine is a tough thing to prove not like some other things you can point to, as we all know. A good, experienced law firm is the best route. They work on a percentage and only if you win, usually. Here in Michigan, they are limited to 6000$ max. Second, you need to be aware of the rules for how much money you are allowed to earn to qualify for SSD. I think it is about a thousand a month, but it is averaged to three months, or something like that. I have a stay at home wife, who takes care of my mentally handicapped 20 year old daughter. The social security worker at our local office was super helpful, in quickly getting both my wife and my daughter qualified under my case, and now they both receive a monthly stipend as well. Plus my wife got the same 2 and a half years back pay that I did. So a good local case worker is a blessing, but know that you have that possibility, and check into it, if no one tells you. Remember that once you begin getting your monthly checks, it might some time to get your back pay. Because my amount was so large, due to my high income as a foundry worker, it took extra steps. I contacted my lawyers several times, and they were wonderful. My worker contacted the district office in Chicago, who referred her to my local office, and she had to contact them a couple of times to get them to move on it. Then it was back to Chicago, where a fill in worker put the process in motion. The extra steps included 3 sign offs by high up agents due to the large payout. My worker kept me informed every time, and told me the date she would contact the office to check on it again. She did each time like clock work, and then called me and told me the results. All in all, it took about 5 months to finally get my check, which was about 60 grand. So for Binder and Binder, they only got 6000$ to do all of this work, and they even continued after they got paid to help me, until I was happy. I seem to be a salesman for this lawyer, but I am willing to assume that many other of the large law firms are just as good, and able to do as good of a job. This is just my experience. YMMV. So there it is. SSD is a definite option, but the road is long. FMLA is good, but not fool proof. And finally, as a chronic, near daily migraine suffer since adulthood, at age 56 now, I have lived through so many of the next miracle solutions to migraine that I tend to be jaded about all of them. I have tried most everything in nearly every combination. Botox, pain blocks, pills, patches, etc. The only thing that works for me is, and I know that the smart doctors say this is wrong, is a strong narcotic and an anti nausea drug like zofran or phenergan, etc. Of course, these same doctors at one time thought migraine was blood vessel related, then they said it was neurotransmitters, and seratonin levels, etc. And so it continues, that they still, after all this time, are not even in agreement on the exact cause of migraine, yet alone how to best treat it. And now, with our government involved, those of us who suffer chronic pain must deal with a medical establishment who are now increasingly afraid to treat pain, in fear of losing their license to practice medicine. And so, the struggle goes on. But the sun still shines, and people still love us and care, and so we wake up each day with renewed hope, and come to sites like this, to lean on each other. I wish all pain free days and restful nights.

  • JanetH
    3 years ago

    What city in MI is Binder out of? I’m in the Lansing area. You are also lucky you had a good caseworker(?) for the disability. If you don’t, you are probably sunk. Yours sounds like she really was on the ball with the paperwork, dates, etc.

  • That M Word: A Migraine Blog
    8 years ago

    This is a great article – lays out all the options really well for people with migraines who are unable to work. In my experience, the most important thing to do is keep all the paperwork your employer gives you and review it in detail. When the time comes don’t be afraid to ask questions and stand up for yourself!

  • Laurel Van
    8 years ago

    The things that you all are being put through with SSI, and the various other agencies is the reason why I’ve suffered for many years with chronic migraines and never applied for help, I cannot deal with the stress, it causes attacks, and I could not see myself sitting in an office moaning, throwing up, sweating…no…i am truly cnsidering killing myself, I feel like it’s the only alternative, I just have to find a way to do it without causing more pain….Good luck everyone.

  • Tralyn
    3 years ago

    Please don’t kill yourself!! There is much to live for. Call a crisis line or suicidal hotline.
    Get help from somewhere. Life is worth living.

  • Angie Adams
    8 years ago

    ive had migraines for 20yrs now..just now found out I have oppcital neuroalgia, i think that’s how u spell it.

  • Angela Locklear Simmons
    8 years ago

    I knw for myself…. I have had migraine for 18 yrz. and I hav been told on more than 1 time that its not that bad, faking it or beening lazy. 2 yrs ago I was fired from a job, i had be working for over 2 years due 2 my migraine. its been 3 yrs n I haven’t find a new job, but back n school n my teacher is indifferent abt it. it as if, k, its a joke 2 her, n she works a doctor office. LoL! its a sickness 2, jut like a cold so WHY? do we hav 2 suffer n the dark n pain with , NO 1 to have our back,……… jut wish the doubter could have a magraine 4 a day n see how THEY like it!

  • Missy Stafford Carlile
    8 years ago

    I have been told and have read several reports that your first DSSI petition/application will almost always be rejected. They do this because it is such a time consuming and frustrating process for us and they count on you to not go through the appeals process.
    Best thing to do… RETAIN A LAWYER! Especially a group that specifically does Disability suits. If you get denied, the lawyers don’t get paid. If they do win for you they get a federally set payment of 25% of your back payment of SSI or $6,000, which ever is less. Also, talk to your Dr.’s.. Let them know you are filing so they are not blind sided and can start to get paper work found and organized for you. Good Luck!

  • Newdancerco
    3 years ago

    I tried to let my doc know and he gave me a lecture about how disability isn’t just something they sign off on. Duh, I have 20 years of history fighting these migraines, it isn’t like I just walked in off the street!
    Feels like even they are working against me.

  • Christine Cadele
    8 years ago

    I suffer from migraines since I was 15 yrs old and now 50, that is a long time, I am now trying botox injections, sure hope these work, only one dose and it seemed to work for a month then now I’m suffering again almost everyday and they only do them once every 3 months, so I suffer tell the next dose. I do have fmla through work but only so many hours and I use them fast so I have to be very careful. I also suffer from diabeties, insulin dependent and still not under control, also from other things, its just a never ending thing, so all take it easy and have a great day.

  • Mary Mathis
    8 years ago

    I have

  • Carol Ann Velazquez
    8 years ago

    I have suffered from the same migraine for the last nine and a half months…. It has caused me to go blind on occasions and for my face to swell so bad that I look like I went a round or two with tyson… I hope all you migraine suffers get the treatment you need… I feel for you all and hope that it gets better for you.

  • Jenny Furnifur-Shreve
    8 years ago

    Hang in there ladies..your physician can offer additional paperwork to verify your condition and you can obtain FMLA/sick leave while too sick to work. There are (thank god) some meds that actually work now (side effects are not fun but they are doable) The sad fact is that many people do indeed take advantage of this system and make folks like us who do suffer from migraine headaches look bad. Take full advantage of the days you feel well and try not to make your family and peers suffer with your complaints. Unless they have also suffered these dibilating headaches they truley don’t get it! Feel better and smile when you can : ).

  • Carolyn Cappitelli
    8 years ago

    I suffer from migraines due to a traumatic brain injury and also depression. I was able to get SSI but the way they keep taking away benefits, the Medicaid card is now all but useless. Doctors don’t want to take it and the migraine drugs are expensive and they aren’t covered or if they are you only get 6 pills that have to last a month…..and it’s only going to get worse….

  • Deborah Wisehart Wilton
    8 years ago

    My problem is that I didn’t work enough outside the home, but now we could use the extra income. My husband makes a little too much for us to get disability too. What are people like me to do? I have migraines everyday, fibromyalgia, unidifferentiated auto-immune disorder, IBS, etc. I can’t even take care of my family and my husband has a demanding job as a pastor.

  • Teri Robert
    8 years ago

    Whether you can be awarded Social Security Disability has nothing at all to do with your husband’s income. It it totally based on your level of disability. Take a look at and

  • Stacie Smallwood
    8 years ago

    I’ve been denied twice for benefits. I have hmigraines up to 5 days a week. Even when I don’t have a migraine, I suffer from fybromyalgia and depression. The government just doesn’t get it.

  • Shelly Ramcharan
    8 years ago

    I suffer from them every single day…i don’t get a break…i pray that you all get relief some how…

  • Barbara Prendez
    8 years ago

    same here…fibro and migraines. after i turned 40 they came more often. i was denied once. trying different meds now and hope to find one that will allow me to work. if not, i will apply again and this time with a lawyer.

  • Jocelyn Martinez
    8 years ago

    I will say is like this so I do not affend anyone. There are people out there that are fighting for the help that they need and they are getting nowhere they live with pain everyday and there is nothing that can be done. On the other hand there are people out there that are taking advantage of the situation and those are the people that are getting everything and then some while others suffer.

  • Susan Hupp
    8 years ago

    I have many health problems incliuding migraines. I quit my job at 63 and was given disability. Now that I am 66, my extra social security money for disability is taken away. It does not seems fair.

  • Susan Hupp
    8 years ago

    Just feel that social security show not be decreased at full retirement age when someone has already been put on disability.

  • Jocelyn Martinez
    8 years ago

    I have to tell you that saying it is much easier then getting it. I have been trying to get SSI for about 4 years now and I have migraines as well as other health problems.

  • Jocelyn Martinez
    8 years ago

    Alysha Burge I am trying not to do that but it is hard I have fibro lupus to name a couple things and they cause my migraines to flair so bad. Thank you for letting meknow that I am not the only one

  • Alysha Burge
    8 years ago

    I want to tell you not to give up hope. I fought for 4 1/2 years to get SSI for migraines and I was finally awarded in Feb. I also have other health issues like you but the migraines are what sealed the case. GOOD LUCK!!

  • Cathy J frost
    9 years ago

    I have picked up the paperwork from my employer today for short term disability. My HR made me feel like a pariah. A memo was included from my manager with facts that were incorrect. I am in the process of writing a memo of my own to clarify and provide the correct facts. I found out recently that my employer is cutting 80 positions; this letter threatens me that if “I am not hear from by the 14th of this month then they will assume I have abandoned my position”. Other things have go on and I really feel like I am being picked on or made an example of. The thing is, I have complied with everything they have asked for.
    There is more detail, but I feel like I have given a lot here.

    If you have any ideas, let me know.


  • Poll